By Barbara Rainey
Perhaps you are one of the 51 million women in North America who read romance novels. More than 50 percent of all paperback novels sold in America are romance books. Harlequin Books, the largest publisher of romance novels, has printed more than 3 billion books since 1992.
Or think about the movies we women love, our favorite “chick flicks,” like An Affair to Remember, Roman Holiday, You’ve Got Mail, Pride and Prejudice, Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, First Knight among others. Hollywood knows we thrive on romance.
I’ve never read a Harlequin romance novel primarily due to the often racy elements, but I have seen most of these movies and have read other novels with romance woven into the story. Most novels and movies contain a romantic theme. It goes like this: A handsome, intelligent, adventurous, single man on a mission unexpectedly meets a beautiful equally intelligent single woman under improbable circumstances often in an exotic foreign location or in a lavish historical setting. Though their personalities may clash at first, and though they may even be on opposing “teams,” eventually they fall madly “in love.” And while this love is often impulsive and always new—never mature—in most cases the story ends with the unspoken assumption that they will live happily ever after.
How many romance novels or all-star chick flicks feature a faithful husband and wife with two, four, six, or eight children, living a normal life (whatever that is!) going to work and school and church, and enjoying passionate romance on a regular basis? Not many that I know of.
How many couples really live like people in the movies and novels? Who can maintain that level of intensity? Or adventure, intrigue, and surprise? Does that sound like your marriage relationship? I’m guessing it doesn’t.
Everyone must come down from the high of new love and make the transition to everyday romance. But it’s also important to work at renewing some elements of that “first love.” That’s why a good book or movie with a romantic theme, as shallow as they may be, can also be instructive; they can cause us to reflect on and remember the flavor of new love. They show us how couples in love act with each other, and they remind us of the effort that many of us once put into our marriage relationship.
Imagination and creativity
Couples in the new love season of romance are often so focused on pleasing each other that they devise ingenious means of capturing each other’s attention and create endless ways to say “I love you.” Their courtship is marked with creative notes and gifts, interesting dates, surprise parties, and much more. But at some point complacency sets in to a relationship, and creativity often goes out the window—or is refocused toward the children.
The ability to imagine and create sets humans apart from the animal world. It’s a connection to God Himself—using your mind to think of something that is different or unique or distinct and then expressing that idea in some kind of action.
In an article titled “God Is Not Boring,” John Piper suggests that using our God-given imagination is a Christian duty. He writes, “Jesus said, ‘Whatever you wish that others would do to you do also to them’ (Matthew 7:12). We must imagine ourselves in their place and imagine what we would like done to us. Compassionate, sympathetic, helpful love hangs much on the imagination of the lover.”
The application for romance in marriage is this: As we seek to understand our husbands, feel some of what they feel, and think of what they think, we can imagine what would spark their romantic interest.
Small actions of creativity can include phone calls, e-mails, and little notes that express your gratitude and praise for who he is and what he does. Whisper in his ear, telling him you enjoyed your most recent lovemaking; that will make him proud to be your man. Thank him verbally for his manly qualities that you love—his strength, his work, his leadership, his faithfulness, his way of serving you and your children.
Then, there are those medium-level creative touches that contribute more directly to a romantic rendezvous. Buy candles and romantic music for your bedroom. Replace your worn-out panties and bras with something new and more interesting. Demonstrate greater affection by giving him a back rub or more passionate kisses or some other affectionate means of extra attention. My husband always appreciates a new nightgown because he knows it’s not important to me what I wear to bed as long as I’m warm. The truth is, I’d wear the same thing for years until it wore out if it weren’t for my husband!
Ultimately the best creativity is your imaginative new ways to give yourself to your husband sexually. Depending on your background and your husband’s level of interest in trying new things, this could require a great amount of risk for you. The only guidelines for your creativity are that it be pleasing to your husband, not offensive to either of you, and within the boundaries of Scripture. Plan a special love feast for his birthday; find different places to enjoy love; dream up different things to wear … or not wear.
Variables affecting baking a cake
One last thought as you sift through these elements for creating your own romantic marriage. In some ways, renewing romance is like baking a cake. Many common ingredients, such as flour and sugar and eggs, go into every cake recipe, but there are also many variables that affect the baking. Oven temperature, altitude, humidity and the inevitable mistakes of inaccurate measuring, incorrect ingredients, or inadequate equipment have an effect on the final product.
Each partner brings to the marriage a host of romantic variables. Each of us brings a way of thinking from the past. Each of us has experienced disappointment and failure and rejection in life unrelated to romance and sex that influence the ability to take further risks. Many marriages deal with repeated health issues for one or both spouses.
Your individual personalities will also be factors. Some are very expressive verbally and physically. Others enjoy new experiences, are somewhat impulsive, and think fun is more important than frugality. Still others are extremely practical and evaluate the actual monetary cost and the emotional cost of each decision. More cautious, not impulsive, and less expressive would better describe them. Be careful not to ignore or minimize these variables in rekindling your own romance.
In the end, renewing romance in your marriage means taking the time to work on your relationship by gathering the right ingredients and being willing to “love your neighbor as yourself”—and your nearest neighbor in this case just happens to he your husband.
Then be ready for the variables that you can’t always control to make it more difficult. Always be willing to fight for your relationship and to try again if the cake falls in the baking. I promise it’s worth it in the end. How can I be so sure? Not long ago I was talking with my dear friend, Vonette Bright. Vonette is the wife of the late Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. As we talked about romance in marriage, with a twinkle in her eye, she said, “If there’s a better way to bake a cake, I’d want to know about it!” No wonder she and Bill had been married more than fifty years—she never stopped working to perfect their recipe of romance.
Excerpted from Rekindling the Romance. Copyright © 2004 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson Publishers. All rights reserved.