Are you settling? Lots of lovers are.

Whether going into a relationship or rotting in one, many are disregarding the power of passion in their union. Many are resigning themselves to a life without romance, saying "science says it should be so" as justification for a lack of effort.

Yet an absence of sensual pleasure often leads to frustration and disappointment — and this leads to divorce. So should you be striving to find or revive a magical sexual connection?

Historically, we've been taught to fear passion. It has long been dictated to us that its seductive power may lead to an unhealthy, chaotic relationship. While more accepted today, we're typically not taught how to keep the ardor alive. Ironically, it's a primal love that can make for a deeper union. The potent fusion of sizzling sexual chemistry and an emotional connection are essential to short- and long-term matters of the heart.

Having an initial powerful sexual attraction helps the relationship to evolve into passionate intimacy. This passion, in turn, keeps the home fires burning. Together, this nurtures a lover's desire to care for the other's well-being, to remain interested and to stay committed. Passion makes it likelier for a couple to maintain romantic love's intoxicating emotions than compatibility alone.

Sadly enough, many young people, especially women, are discounting the role of passion in their rush to get to the altar.

I remember when an old roommate called me late one night to announce that she had just gotten engaged. Given her relationship had been lacking a passion pulse, I couldn't help but blurt, "But are you in love with him?"

She faltered before managing, "Well, of course." And as she chattered on about her wedding plans, I found myself thinking, "You just got engaged, girl — shouldn't you be celebrating with him instead of talking to me?"

It's hard to be excited for the couple that's a divorce in the making. It's hard to get caught up in a love affair lacking passion.

Call me Cupid, but people need to pay more attention to what's known in French as "le coup de foudre." This heart-stopping lightning bolt is the crème de la crème of passion meets romance. It involves being obsessive, infatuated and lovesick. Sure, researchers say that being in love makes for "mental chaos," but this rollercoaster ride has tons of benefits.

Passionate love has been found to suppress activity in the areas of the brain that control critical thought. But the areas activated during passionate love are identical to those fired up during other euphoric states, such as with cocaine use and sexual arousal. So how does this "drug addiction" of sexual desire help you and your relationship?

Passion ...

— helps you get closer to one another. There's less of a need to critically analyze one's character and personality. This love-is-blind component helps you tolerate your lover's faults and get along better.

— motivates you to work harder for the relationship. It increases areas of the brain associated with euphoria and reward.

— fulfills your needs, e.g., self-esteem, nurturance, dominance, submission and self-actualization, making it even more of a personal investment.

— keeps you happier, decreasing levels of brain activity associated with distress and depression.

— is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Research continues to find that passionate love and sexual arousal are tightly linked.

The tricky thing about passionate love is that it is often fleeting. Romantic love largely is seen as temporary, often dying after two or three years or once a couple moves in together. Making matters worse, going from being in love to out of love follows the same pattern as having an addiction.

After the initial euphoria, over time it takes more to produce the same weak high. And as withdrawal settles in with the loss of passion, it’s easy to feel depressed, agitated, fatigued, angry and lonely.

The consolation prize for your efforts is that companionate love is supposed to evolve. Yet research has found that the compatible love between once-hot lovers also wanes over the course of a relationship. This indicates that this comfortable form of love may not be enough to sustain a union.

So what's a lover to do? Strive for an afterglow. Unless you're perfectly fine with a ho-hum relationship (and some people are), don't brush it off as "it's just not there." Don't let what everyone — and what research — dictates as a time cap on passion become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can stay passionately mad about each other. It just takes work!

As crazy as it sounds, do things that are risky — travel to exotic destinations, skinny dip or bungee jump. Studies have shown that couples who do exciting things together report more satisfaction in their relationship. This is because danger leads to an adrenaline rush, which can make the heart grow fonder.

Doing novel things together also helps keep the passion alive. Learning how to express your true sensual nature further adds to the flame. In taking the time to discover and rediscover your sexual self, your partner and your erotic potential, you continue to invite a sense of newness that keeps things thriving.

As strange as it sounds, think "Material Girl." Love her or hate her, the world still has a passion for Madonna 25 years after her first album. How does she do it? In remaking herself time and time again, this entertainer has continued to feed the universal drive for physical attraction, romance and sexual consummation.

She's changed her look, pushed the envelope with sexual experimentation and rolled the dice with different gigs. You want to keep your lover — and your own interest — engaged in much the same way.

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Dr. Yvonne Kristín Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hand Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."

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