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How to Keep the Romance Alive

Expert advice on rekindling the passion in your long-term relationship

Here is the transcript from the online chat with Dr. Pepper Schwartz on Aug. 5, 2010:

Question from Lynn: What advice would you give someone [who] has been married for 28 years to keep romance in their relationship?

Pepper Schwartz - Relationships - Love & Sex

— Charles Gullung/Corbis

Pepper Schwartz: Well, I guess you need to change things up. You can't keep things fresh if you do things as you've always done them. So here are five new ideas:

  1. You need to develop a new hobby together. It could be woodworking, gardening, etc.
  2. Do something new that's physical. Learn how to dance. Or hike.
  3. Do something creative together. Take a painting class, or a poetry workshop.
  4. Volunteer together. Making a difference really bonds couples.
  5. Go someplace together you've never gone before, and make new friends.

It’s easy to renew a relationship if you make it a serious goal.

Question from GretchB6: I want him to notice me! After 31 years, I feel invisible. How do I shake things up without feeling foolish?

PS: Great question, GretchB6. Why not go on a paint-up, fix-up campaign? Exercise, get a new hair color. If it's short, grow it; if it's long, cut it. Think of something to do that he would never expect you to do. If you wear a T-shirt to bed, get a black nightie. If you're the wholesome type, put a paint-on tattoo on your shoulder. Surprising your partner is actually pretty erotic.

Question from Amyswrite: Timing’s everything. What happens when the timing is always off? "Scheduling" romance just sounds the opposite of romantic.

PS: Ohh .... good one. I don't' think scheduling is unromantic and here's why: Remember when you were starting to date someone and you had to wait a week to see them? Remember the anticipation? So scheduling isn't the issue ... it's what you schedule and how you lead up to it that makes a difference. Schedule a romantic drive, a perfect place for drinks and a great B and B, and it will only add to the experience as opposed to [making] it dull. Remember, that there's some couple-time you have to protect. If you let everything else come first, you're investing in those other things, not your marriage. You need to make sure that quality time is planned for, and then figure out how to make it fun and sexy.

Question from Bob: Would you say distance makes the heart grow fonder? Sometimes, some time apart can give you some breathing room.

PS: Yes, Bob, some time apart makes you appreciate each other. But too much time apart can make you wonder why you're together. There's a thin line between having a good amount of independence — and neglecting the relationship. So a guy’s golfing weekend occasionally is a good thing. But having a guy’s golf weekend EVERY weekend is not so great.

Question from Carolsrp: My husband and I own a business together, so it is hard to keep my husband from making couple-time into business rehash. Ideas?

PS: Carol, Make your bedroom a No Business Zone. In fact, create a time every day that is a No Business Zone, too, and stick to that rule unless it’s an absolute crisis. It's extremely important for people who work together to stop intrusions of work into their personal lives together. You could use a transition time, like having a drink at the end of the day or a cup of coffee, that signals the end work time.

Question from Guest: We had a lot of property in 2006. Of course, we either had to foreclose [or have a short sale] after depleting all of our money trying to hold on to [the property], thinking things would get better. Emotionally, we are exhausted and dead. How can we work on our love life now?

PS: I'm sorry for what you're going through. I think now you need to concentrate on what gives you the most pleasure, and there are plenty of things in that category that don't cost a lot of money. If you like being surrounded by nature, take picnics in the park or go on free tours offered by zoos and county parks. In fact, most cities and counties have a huge number of offerings that are free for residents. Whatever it is that makes you happy, you need to take that time so you can remember that even though there's been economic fears and disaster, the fact you have each other is precious. And you can still give each other comfort and hope. When you're together, think of things that would be fun to plan, things to look forward to, and have the fun of realizing some of those goals. Keep away from activities, such as a good but depressing movie or book, that will bring you down. Keeping your mood up and happy as much as possible will be a gift you can give each other.

Question from Susan: Do you think it's OK for long-married couples to keep secrets from one another?

PS: Great question. Depends on the secret. I'm not a big fan of telling things to a partner that will (a) not help the relationship, (b) be painful to your partner and (c) have nothing to do with the rest of your lives together. For example, if you'd rather not talk about your sex life in high school, I don't think you need to talk about it. On the other hand, if this is something that informs how you act or feel about something important, you're denying your partner a way to understand you and perhaps support you by withholding what's going on inside your head.

Question from Guest: My husband and I have been married for 25 years, and we've gotten along very well. But we've lived in a big house and sometimes like each other best when we're on separate floors. We're now empty nesters  moving into a smaller space. Any advice on how we can NOT get in each other's hair?

PS: Spend some time out of the house and give each other some "psychic space" when you’re inside the house. By that, I mean if your partner is reading, DON'T interrupt that. If your partner is on the phone in one room, stay out of it. Give each other a little more space, both physically and mentally, than you might have had to [do] in the bigger house. Relationships can feel too close. So make sure you have a schedule that gives your partner some alone time. And if [he doesn’t] understand you need that, too, then tell [him], and be specific about what you need — but make sure your partner doesn't take it personally. A lot of people need time to meditate, for example, and it’s not about anyone else but their own need for this kind of psychological exercise.

Question from Guest: What would you consider flirting?

PS: Ah, I love flirting .... There are certain kinds of looks you exchange with your partners. That playful look in your eyes, a sultry stare, a suggestive phrase. Ones such [as], "I have plans for you ..." That gets your partner thinking about you in an intimate way and also makes them feel appreciated.

Question from G: When are you writing another book? Your last one was wonderful. I gave to several friends [who are] over 50.

PS: Thanks for the shout out, G! I'm thinking about a couple topics now, in fact: One book on romantic travel and one on women’s lack of self-confidence in love. Just [bouncing] around some topics now. Stay tuned. We'll certainly let you know!

Question from Annie: Now that our kids are grown and have moved away, it seems like my husband and I have nothing in common. A lot of my friends complain about the same thing. Is this typical — and if so, how can we make sure our relationship survives?

PS: Hi Annie. It is typical but it IS repairable. Here's how you got there: You took care of the kids and did your life; he did his work, some parenting — not as much as you — and he did his life. It was very efficient and good for the kids, but you lived parallel lives. Now the thing that brought you together — the children — is gone. So here's my question to you: What brought you together in the first place? Was it travel? Was it going out dancing? Outdoor activities? Meeting up with friends? Figure out the things you used to do that you still like, and that you no longer do, and do them now. And think of something to begin together. Maybe take a college course on contemporary politics. Or, for that matter, medieval church history. You might not like my suggestions, but you do need to have something to talk about together. So bottom line, share things that create fun, conversation and similar interests — date again!

Question from Guest: When does boring monotony become a red flag for the relationship?

PS: I think [that because] you brought it up, it’s already a red flag to you. There's a difference between something you do daily and something you do daily that you don't like. There's no reason why you can't change something that's boring. I'm not saying it’s easy, but, for example, if having dinner every night is getting boring, then go out or invite friends over, join a gourmet club, do something with it that's different. Take a cooking class together. George Washington Carver said: Do a common thing in an uncommon way. I think this is wise.

Question from Guest: My husband and I are separated quite a bit due to business commitments and travel. It is very hard on me and I have been very hard on him as a result. What can I do to overcome my "neediness," which is simply awful? Yes, I have a lack of confidence in love!

PS: I think it’s great that you're looking at yourself and your part in this. That's a good beginning. But my guess is that he has some contribution in this, as well. Maybe what you need is a way of exchanging affection that helps you feel more secure. For example, how about saying something affectionate by e-mail or phone every night you're gone and have a little ritual of saying that you miss each other? Maybe send each other pictures or in some other way that you’re keeping touch, even if your job takes you away. If you're feeling insecure about him, something deeper might be going on, and that's worth a good discussion, too. Trace your feelings when they happen. What is it that makes you feel most needy? See if the two of you can figure out a way not to press those buttons.

Question from Bob: What about turning off cell phones, TVs, computers, etc? Too many distractions ...

PS: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. The bedroom should be a technology-free zone, or at least have tech-free hours. I think we have forgotten how rude it can be to get hung up on phones, BlackBerrys, etc., in front of one's spouse. It's worth talking to each other about, setting some rules.

Question from Gina: What do you think of separate vacations?

PS: Makes me sad to think about separate vacations ... unless you have a lot of little together vacations, too. For example, I think it’s great fun to have a girl’s getaway, but not if that's 50 percent of the time you might have together. I think vacation brings people closer together. I would be hesitant of depriving a couple of having at least several vacations a year — short or long — that give them time for fun, deeper conversation and more romance.

Question from Anon2010: If you find your spouse unattractive after several years, should you say something?

PS: Somewhere out there, a grown man is crying ... I think if there has been a loss of attraction that is primarily due to something that could be fixed (better hygiene, weight loss, etc.), then figuring out a nice way to suggest some changes would be a good idea. For example, let's take a bath together before we make love? Or why don't you and I join a gym and get healthier? I do think it's important to address the issue and do something about [it], instead of acting in a distant of rejecting manner.

Question from D: I just sent a comment without my name — basically, my husband and I are separated often due to business commitments, and I find myself being very needy. Granted, in this economy, we are under a lot of stress. So I am one of those women [who] lack self-confidence in love. What can I do to overcome this problem? I find myself crying because I miss him, etc. Plus, we are recently married (seven months) after a romance 30 years ago. I just don't seem to have a handle on my feelings.

PS: D, If you find yourself crying all the time, please get some help. Go see a counselor. This forum can't address your issue adequately, and you need to be able to fully explain the situation to a professional counselor. This would be very useful for you to do.

Question from Guest: I'm 72. Am I too old for the "little black dress"?

PS: Of course you're not too old for the little black dress. Sexiness is not just a state of mind; it also helps to wear something that makes you feel womanly, attractive. And if you like that little black dress, of course you should wear it. My guess is that you look good in it. I think it’s wonderful to dress up and feel like you’re especially elegant.

Question from Gail: My husband of 40 years has absolutely no interest in intimacy or sex. This is NOT new to me but I long for even some small affection. He developed prostate cancer and tells me no more sex (or any hugs, either). Any hope for change here? We live, travel and work full time in a motor home. Not a bad life, but frustrating at times.

PS: Gail, He sounds depressed and angry. Otherwise, he'd at least be giving you hugs. You both need to seek couples counseling, but if he won't go, you still need to go and get some help. It's very hard to be rejected by a partner no matter what the reason is. I hope with some counseling he can realize that he needs this affection as much as you do, and in many ways, despite post-prostate problems, you still can be a sensual, sexual and loving couple.

Well, that's it. Thank you for joining me today. Looking forward to our next chat. In the meantime, you can ask me questions at AARP.org/nakedtruth. Have a great day!

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