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Keeping the magic alive

February 27, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

In the new film "50 First Dates," Henry Roth, played by Adam Sandler, falls for Lucy Whitmore, portrayed by Drew Barrymore.

Because she suffers from short-term memory loss, Lucy can't ever remember meeting Henry, and he has to woo her anew every day.

Keeping a relationship new by means of amnesia may be cute on the big screen, but, thankfully, it's not something that often happens to real people in real life.

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There are other ways to keep relationships fresh.

Commitment, thinking about the relationship, and making time to be with your partner are among them, experts say.

Sally and John Miller would agree. The couple, married 15 years, lives in Keedysville. They both work full time. John, 41, teaches second grade at Boonsboro Elementary School; Sally, also 41, is a fifth-grade teacher in Myersville, Md. They have a 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. Their lives are busy.

Yet John and Sally Miller know that taking time to do things as a couple is important.

You have to pay attention to what your spouse likes to do, John Miller says. You have to stop and think, "It's time we had a date." You have to make it happen, he adds.

The couple buys season tickets to Potomac Playmakers' performances. "We get it on the calendar," Sally Miller says.

Married couples say they're together all the time, says psychologist Barry W. McCarthy. "We sleep together, we eat together," they tell him.

But that's not really "quality" couple time. Taking time to date each other is important. It sends the message that you do special things together as a couple, McCarthy says.

Quality couple time doesn't have to - and should not - always result in intercourse.

Sex plays a positive energizing role in a relationship, but a relationship is not all about sex. Sex should be about 15 to 20 percent of the energizing bond between the couple, McCarthy says.

Co-author of "Rekindling Desire: A Step by Step Program to Help Low-Sex and No-Sex Marriages," McCarthy delineates "five gears of connection."

They are affectionate touch, such as holding hands; sensual touch - cuddling on the couch, for example; playful connection - dancing, sharing a shower; erotic stimulation not leading to intercourse; and intercourse as part of the relationship's erotic flow.

Bookstores have shelves of sex books, McCarthy says. But he says most of them are intimidating with their advice for "ultimate satisfaction" and "two-hour orgasms." The eroticism in that approach is disconnected, says McCarthy, a certified marriage and sex therapist.

"Eroticism has to be integrated into who you are as a couple," he explains, adding "Most of us are never gonna make it to the movies."

Couple time should be planned and also spontaneous, McCarthy says, and couples do much better when they are open to both.

California psychologists Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks also break some of their recommendations into five categories. The subtitle of their latest book, "Lasting Love," is "The 5 Secrets of Growing a Vital, Conscious Relationship."

The book is based on their 10-year study of more than 3,000 long-term, committed couples, as well as insights from their own 23-year marriage. "Everything is kitchen- and bedroom-tested," Kathlyn Hendricks laughs.

The Hendricks' big five include a new kind of commitment. The idea is not to view commitment as something etched in stone, but rather being fully involved and willing to learn - really getting into the game, Kathlyn Hendricks says.

Emotional honesty is another aspect of keeping a marriage fresh. This involves learning to recognize and express your feelings and hearing those of your partner.

Most people waste energy on power struggles, Kathlyn Hendricks says. Unequally shared day-to-day responsibilities is a common source of conflict that leads to stagnation in relationships.

Sally and John Miller have that part of their marriage worked out. Whoever gets home first starts doing what needs to be done. It's not an issue. "You just do it," Sally Miller says.

Stop efforts to "fix" your partner. Instead, focus on your own creativity and expressing it.

Practice "tandem acts of kindness," the couple suggests. Develop a daily habit of verbal and nonverbal appreciation.

Appreciating your partner and expressing that appreciation is the single most important thing you can do to keep a marriage fresh, Kathlyn Hendricks says.

Sally and John Miller get this. They leave messages on each other's cell phones. Sally will sometimes slip a note in her husband's planning book.

John Miller says Sally is his best friend. "I want to do stuff with her. I look forward to seeing her. I know I love her, but I really like her, too."

A relationship is something more than just two individuals.

Kathlyn Hendricks calls it the "third entity" - the relationship needs attention and consideration as do the two people in it.

The Millers' involvement for 14 years as leaders of Pre-Cana - marriage preparation classes - has provided them a four-session-twice-a-year opportunity to consider their relationship.

"We wanted to help," Sally Miller says of the Archdiocese of Baltimore's program at St. Ann Catholic Church in Hagerstown.

But, she says, it's almost selfish.

"It makes us think about our marriage," she says.

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