You know you had it once—the flirtations, the sensual touches, the special bond that set you and your partner ablaze. But now a steady breeze of indifference threatens to blow out the flame. Don't despair. You can bring intimacy back into your life—if you're willing to step out of the comfort zone and add sparkle, inventiveness, verbal support and an intimate connection to your relationship.
First, recognize what happened to make you lose that focus on your partner. Blame it on the time crunch, says Mary LoVerde, a professional speaker on life balance and author of Stop Screaming at the Microwave: How to Connect Your Disconnected Life (Fireside). "We have the idea that we can get it all done," she says. "We've been taught through the '80s and '90s that if only you manage and organize and delegate and prioritize, you can do it all. So we think, 'As soon as I get it all done, I'll have time to be romantic.' "
But you'll never get it all done, says LoVerde, so it's important to develop the attitude that you must put a little focus on your relationship every day. Bring back the rituals in life that really make it work. Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, agrees. "Time is the biggest reason intimacy is missing in people's lives," says Schwartz, co-author of 10 books, including The Great Sex Weekend (Putnam) and What I've Learned About Sex (Perigee). "Our time is so scripted, so full, it's hard for us to have the time to enjoy an easy conversation or a meandering discussion. That's the way things begin to unweave."
When boredom and predictability smother a relationship and partners begin to take each other for granted, it's important to regenerate the excitement that ignites couples when a relationship is new. Richard and Diana Daffner of Florida suggest you "turn your relationship into a love affair." This mid-50s couple teaches intimacy workshops using tantra tai chi, a body-centered path of deep intimacy, sexual fulfillment and true personal joy. In the tantric tradition of ancient India, sexual energy is viewed as the source of life and one of our most powerful forces. At weekend or week-long retreats in Mexico, Jamaica and Siesta Key, Fla., couples of all ages are taught to identify with the intimate energy in their bodies.
"Once they get connected with their own presence," says Richard Daffner, "they can share that in the presence of their beloved. Most people know what they say is only half of the message. It's the energy behind the words that's significant. We show couples an appreciation of that energy through basic tai chi movements, so they can get focused, centered and peaceful in their bodies." Partners are taught to individually feel a solo stillness, then encouraged to connect with their partner.
Diana Daffner says that many couples have intercourse, yet they're missing out on some extraordinary experiences of intimacy and personal fulfillment. "Tantra tai chi shows people how to be more present, centered, open and accessible with your partner, both emotionally and spiritually."
Get in Touch
Seductive touch is another important element in any relationship. Lee*, a Colorado resident, says her favorite way to electrify an evening is to lightly "feather-tickle" the back of her partner. "I can do that for hours as a soothing, intimate gesture," she says.
Massage can also encourage intimacy. "It's a good way to please one another and enjoy each other's company," says Schwartz. "You can do it immediately, and you don't need an enormous amount of talent. Take a class together to learn specific techniques," she says.
You also could brush or wash one another's hair, share a hot shower or foamy bubble bath. Jane* found out quite by accident that her husband was turned on by helping to shave her legs. He first did so out of necessity. Jane had broken a bone and couldn't comfortably bend her legs to shave them. Now, when her husband wants to be intimate, he pulls out the razor.
Spontaneity can be difficult, especially with children in the home. But there's nothing wrong with a little planning, says LoVerde. She recalls her own need to reconnect with her husband, Joe, when their relationship was challenged by her midlife crisis. "One day, I took the kids to a babysitter, left him a note and told him to get ready for a wonderful weekend. I told him to head for the health club at 5 o'clock." When he got there, the counter girl gave him a second note that said, 'I love it when you get up in the morning and work out so you can be with us in the evening. Now go to my friend Janice's house.' So Joe drove there and was given another note that said, 'Janice was at our wedding, and I as a bride was never more sure about marrying you. Now go to Washington Park.'"
There Joe was handed a note saying, "This is where we'd come to kiss and make up after our fights, and we walked our babies around the park. Now drive to 837 S. Williams." At this site, Joe found a note under the planter that said, "This was our first house. We brought our children home here from the hospital and built our dreams." From there Joe was sent to a local restaurant, where the LoVerdes had had their first date. Mary was waiting for him.
He had tears in his eyes when he saw her and said, "You just showed me our roots go really deep, and one little midlife crisis can't ruin it." LoVerde's point is that a big part of intimacy is knowing what truly delights the other person and connects them to you. It's romantic to know that someone really understands who you are.
One way to enhance communication is through positive feedback. LoVerde suggests sending an e-mail to your partner that says something like, "You were good last night!" She also knows a woman who daily sends secret numeric codes to her husband's beeper. For example, 1111 means "I love you."
Cooking Up Romance
Foods, particularly those thought to be aphrodisiacs, are a popular path to partner-pleasing (see "10 Foods to Recharge your Libido"). Ellen and Michael Albertson are authors of the cookbook and romance guide Food As Foreplay: Recipes for Romance, Love and Lust (Alexandria Press). The Albertsons believe cooking together is a great way to spend quality time and keep your romantic life intact.
If you can't picture yourself as chef material, Michael says you can participate in other ways. "While the other person cooks, put some nice silk scarves over the lights (but don't let them ignite), set out some candles or incense and choose the right piece of music." Schwartz adds: "Bringing in a little visual romance can be perfectly appropriate. That's why we pay set designers so much. They put together visions, and those things make a difference in how you connect."
Essential oils also can enhance the mood. "The sense of smell really ignites our deepened passions and emotions," says Ellen Albertson. Essential oils, which are distilled from plants, have been used since the time of the Egyptians to stimulate the mind and body. The oils can be released into the air using an electric aromatherapy diffuser or by adding 8 to 10 drops of an aromatic oil into a simmer pot. Among the aphrodisiac oils thought to enhance seduction and arousal are sandalwood, jasmine, narcissus and ylang-ylang.
Finally, when working to restore intimacy, it's important to remember that what you say is as important as what you do. Redford Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University and co-author of Lifeskills (Times Books), believes that adding five positive interactions to your daily conversation can greatly enhance your relationship. It's equally important to really listen when your partner speaks.
Edward Sauders, Jr. of Nashville, Tenn., finds that talking to his partner about her dreams and aspirations is critical to intimacy. "I personally feel that if you take the time to understand your lover, you will connect that much more strongly during lovemaking." Ultimately, it's about making someone feel valued. "It's about turning on a switch," says Ellen Albertson. "To really appreciate someone, you have to see the beauty of the person you fell in love with. That can be the greatest pleasure."
* These names have been changed by request.
Verna Noel Jones is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune and The Denver Post.
Photography by: Bob Gage/EPG