wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

romantic relationship can be easily recognized by its intense and sometimes irrational driving force of emotion. Passion fuels our behavior, guides or distorts thoughts, changes physical and chemical functioning, and alters lives. 

The romance might begin with a “coup de foudre," or the lightning bolt that we think of as love at first sight. The attraction can seem to have no earthly reason or explanation, and may appear to emanate from another planet, lifetime, or dimension. It could be the sort of experience that compels someone to abruptly stand up in the middle of a meeting and follow an invisible beam pointing to a person standing across a room.

Romantic love can also arise more slowly, building on a firm foundation of friendship. A base of shared history allows reason to remain in control for at least an initial critical period. It doesn't matter how you found your perfect partner; you typically know when he or she has arrived—and the rest is in the details. (As I have argued elsewhere, you can marry the right person.)

Roni Beth Tower
Source: Roni Beth Tower

But you must tend to these details to make your relationship flourish. These 10 strategies will help you nourish and sustain a close, romantic relationship.

  1. Appreciate surprises. Part of the magic of your beloved is precisely what is not known: Discovering that your partner loved wood-burning as a child, played the clarinet in high school, or studied French in third grade and still loves the language. Watching his delight when he plays with a puppy or hers when she eats salted caramel ice cream. The discoveries you make about your partner enable you to see him or her as unique. 
     
  2. Accept potentially annoying traits or habits. Trying to change someone into what you want him or her to be often dooms a relationship to failure through suffocation. Let judgments soften, and allow limitations and vulnerabilities to be embraced: Do not reject parts of the whole person. It really is OK that she is mechanically challenged or that he is a klutz. Getting to know and accept the real-life (rather than idealized) person is a life-long process but essential to maintaining the magic.
     
  3. Understand that passion has cycles. In the end, emotions are labels we give to the chemicals that flow through our bodies, combined with the ways our bodies, thoughts, and impulses react to them. We can, indeed, change an emotion—our chemistry—by changing our perceptions or perspectives, our behaviors, or the situations in which we put ourselves. Take a few slow, deep breaths and observe your internal shifts. The more quickly we let the influence of external triggers dissipate and our internal center of calm guide us, the more quickly we will be able to see where our heart is directing us. Then we can follow it instead of fleeing from it. During bouts of all-out joy, permit your emotions to flow freely when they are aroused, censor actions when appropriate, and know what helps you return to your baseline. I am a huge fan of meditation, stretching, and reflection, but any activity will do: Consider prayer, running, volunteering, engaging with a pet, or getting a good night’s sleep.
     
  4. Broaden the knowing and share your secret fears. The more you understand how your partner feels, what he or she thinks, and why he or she behaves as he does, the more fully you can embrace each other. The energy required to hide a secret from one’s own or another’s awareness takes a toll by constricting the energy available for the flow of emotions. Passion grows when these barriers are removed.
     
  5. Confront the future. True mystery lies in what's ahead—in what is yet to be and who we are yet to become. Allow room to grow, dream, and imagine life together. Let the possibilities of shared experiences become realities. Let differences become reinforced and treasured, so that partnership becomes possible and friendship flourishes. Make plans—just don't get too invested in their outcome.
     
  6. Practice tenderness and caring. Romantic love and courtship were initially based on the chivalry of medieval knights in shining armor. These thrive on acts of sacrifice—tending, nurturing, nourishing, and sometimes even rescuing another. Just as friendship and honesty can sustain passion, selflessly taking care of another can stoke the oxytocin that keeps us seeing beyond our own myopic interests.
     
  7. Recognize the role of physical contact. Almost by definition, a romantic relationship rewards lovers with the joys of touch and the infusion of positive feelings and energy that result from physical contact with each other. The sensations of each other’s chemistry and electricity are themselves seductive, creating a craving for continuing or repeated contact. Whether dopamine is rewarding us with pleasure or oxytocin with warmth and access to our own altruistic feelings, physical contact has no substitute: Sex can be the most honest and powerful type of communication.
     
  8. Accept jealousy and learn to work with it. Jealousy can alert you to when you have a need that is not being met. It inevitably arises when a romantic partner showers attention elsewhere instead of on you. Not only can the discomfort of a perceived disconnect be troubling, but the target of the attention can feel like a threat. Whether it is another person, an activity, or a demand like a sick child or work deadline, beware feeling betrayed when your lover focuses on another important aspect of his or her life. The best solution for dealing with this is to recognize your discomfort, do everything you can to meet it more appropriately by caring for your own needs, express your feelings directly to your lover, and give each other space to relate to other people, places, and passions. Keep updating your understanding of what is OK in your relationship and what is not.
     
  9. Learn each other’s language. When do you feel most loved? When do you feel most loving? A simple reflex can cause a person to give what he or she desires. If she feels loved when her lover rubs her shoulders, she may try rubbing her lover’s in return. If he feels most loved when his lover makes him a delicious dinner, he may feel most loving when he takes his lover out, whereas the lover would prefer to stay home and snuggle on the sofa.
     
  10. Do not make assumptions. Even though lovers may want to believe that they know and understand everything about each other, our evolving destinies guarantee that the unknown—the mystery of the future and of becoming—is always there, perhaps a bit deeper, a bit broader, and a bit in the distance. Keep the romance alive by allowing yourselves to become the best you can be.

Copyright 2016 Roni Beth Tower

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