There was a time, just a few years ago, when I came down with a vexing case of romance envy.
I lusted after men who were not my husband -- and I lusted after them because they seemed to have a romance gene that my husband most certainly seemed to lack. A girlfriend would tell me how her husband left love notes for her all over the house and I would think, “Why can’t I have a husband like that?”
Well, as it turns out, I could, and the answer did not involve swapping my seemingly romance-flunkie of a husband for a romantically gifted one.
No, it involved something else: Figuring out what I wanted him to do, and then telling him. There is no romance gene. Most people -- men and women alike -- learn how to do it through trial and error. Some get it right earlier than others, but none of them are born with an instinct. Romance can be taught, nurtured and strengthened.
It's the figuring out what you want part that's toughest. That’s why I listed the following romance starters -- many of which were suggested by other previously romance starved men and women. Do and ask for any or all of the following:
1. Affection. Show how much you adore your spouse through your body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. Smiling, sounding excited, and leaning in are all subtle ways of saying, “I could eat you for dinner.”
2. Touch. Rest your hand on your spouse’s thigh. Sit closely. Hug. Stroke her hair. Run your fingers over his forearm. Do this as often as possible, and do it with gusto.
3. Compliments. This can be as simple as a “thank you” and as grand as gushing about your spouse to someone else while your spouse is in earshot.
4. Initiate. Seduce your spouse into the bedroom. Master the art of the throw down. (See next ‘Frisky Business’ column for tips on how to do this).
5. Favors. Make your spouse’s life easier. Favors are most romantic when you give up something you enjoy (such as your favorite ball game) in order to help your spouse. These sorts of gestures say, “You are more important to me than anything.”
6. Listening. Do not multitask while your spouse is talking. Focus all of your attention on your spouse, and show your spouse just how much you want to understand him or her by asking questions, especially questions that help you understand your differences
7. Cook and clean. Many women -- especially mothers -- tell me that a clean bathroom and hot dinner on the table make them feel more loved than anything. But as my friend Sarah Damron warns, “Don’t reheat frozen pizza or pick up fast food. Actually cook dinner.” A true romantic dinner doesn’t necessarily involve candlelight, but it does usually involve turning on the oven or grill.
8. Personal pampering. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t appreciate a foot rub, neck rub or back rub. To really up the romance ante, however, add a personal spin. For instance, my friend Bruce Kelly, who happens to be married to Harlequin romance author Leslie Parrish, says, “There was particular scented massage oil that we loved, but it was discontinued. In searching the Internet for an alternative, I discovered that I could purchase the components and make my own scented massage oil. I put it in a decorative bottle with a label of a made-up brand named after the working title from her first book and gave it to her for Christmas. The message here is to be creative, pay attention to what she likes, and make an effort.”
9. Dating. This can be as simple as taking a daily walk together and as involved as having a picnic in the living room.
To makeover your spouse, you need to know what you want. Then ask for it. Also, do the romancing you want to see in your relationship. Model the behavior you seek. Your partner just might copy you.
Finally, reinforce your spouse’s romantic gestures with consistent rewards. Say “thank you” with your words, reaction and body.
Alisa Bowman is author of “Project: Happily Ever After” and collaborator of seven New York Times bestsellers. She offers marriage advice at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com. Alisa is a former magazine editor and newspaper reporter who lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter.