When the initial thrill has faded, when the bills are piling up, when the children are clamoring for attention, and it' s frozen fish sticks again for dinner, how do you maintain your intimacy and connection?

How do you rekindle the excitement as your husband struggles to keep his dot.com from going under and pay the mortgage on your beautiful new home? How do you spark romance when you're:

  1. pregnant and nauseous
  2. exhausted after the bedtime tango with a two and four-year-old
  3. stressed out from the pressures of work and family
  4. all of the above?


When do we make time for our relationship?

When do we make time for our relationship? Our lives are so busy. When school is over, we drag our children to music lessons and sports leagues. When work is over, we drag ourselves to business dinners and cultural events. Who has the time?

My husband and I recently struggled with these issues when we got together with 10 couples the other evening to play the "not-so-newlywed" game.

Using the format of the famous TV show we separated the men and women and asked them questions meant to highlight how well they knew and appreciated their spouses. (Here the resemblance with the television model ended -- we worked very hard to keep it clean and friendly!)

REMINDING EACH OTHER

Question Number One was "What is your spouse's greatest strength?"

The goal: Remind yourself why you chose this person.

When you get married you only see your partner' s good. Unfortunately sometimes when the bloom is off, you only see your mate' s negative qualities.

We asked everyone in the room about their spouse' s greatest strength. What were those wonderful traits that attracted you?


What were those wonderful traits that attracted you?

Since you are likely to forget, keep a list. Sounds unromantic? It works. Pull it out when you' re feeling frustrated. Refocus.

It was a touching moment for all the people in the room to recognize that their mate really did see their good. They just had to get them away from their TV show, golf game, laundry... to hear it.

Question Number Two was "What one thing could your spouse do that would make the greatest improvement in your marriage?"

Most of the women wanted more romance in their lives (I suspect some of the men did too).

We think romance can only be achieved through dramatic gestures. (When a friend of ours proposed to his wife, he wrapped his house in a big red ribbon and hired strolling minstrels to serenade her. Can he ever beat that?) We think that if we can' t go away to that special place with the beautiful scenery, and the private cabins, and the fire crackling, what's the point?

But romance can be experienced in small acts everyday. Call your wife and tell her you love her. Make (or order!) your husband' s favorite dinner. Turn off the TV. Play a board game with each other. Learn something together. Fold the laundry for her. Take out the trash for him.

WHY ROMANCE IS IMPORTANT

When we say we want romance, part of us definitely wants Hollywood. But the deeper desire is to love and be loved. A wise teacher once wrote, "You love whom you give to, not who gives to you" (Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, "ON Giving," ch. 5). Find those small ways to show your partner your feelings. It will ignite the spark.

We make the mistake of living for weekends, vacations and retirement. That' s when we' ll rediscover our closeness. Closeness has to be constantly worked on. Don' t wait for the big moment. If you' ve neglected your wife all year, that chartered plane to San Francisco won' t cut it. It' s not about money, creativity, or time. Everyone can afford small gestures of kindness. Everyone has the time and energy to say "I care."

Everyone has the time and energy to say "I care."

I know you' re tired. I know it' s been a long day. I know you didn' t make it through half of you "to do" list. How can you stop now? Or, conversely, how can you stay awake now? Put "working on my marriage" on your list above "washing the car." No matter how tired/busy/preoccupied you are, you need to carve out time for each other at the end of the day.

It could be five minutes. It could be an hour. You could go out for a drink or a walk around the block. Share the joys and frustrations of your day. Listen to your partner share his/her experiences. Put on music. Have a snack. Let the world around you fade. It' s not easy. It requires effort. But there' s tremendous pleasure as a reward.

One of the lighter questions posed (but a sign of intimacy nonetheless) was "What are your partner' s favorite comfort foods?"

(We discovered that Edward' s is tuna fish and applesauce. And Richard' s is chocolate and meat. We decided not to explore in what combination they enjoyed these delicacies!)

And we discovered what everyone' s ideal job is. Do you know who your husband would truly like to be, what he would really like to accomplish? Do you know what your wife' s struggles and visions are? Are you cheering her on?

It was an evening of fun and insight. Play it at home. With each other or invite friends. Think of your own questions.

You know that if you ignore your business, you can' t expect it to succeed. The same is true of marriage.

But it just takes small acts and tiny moments to reawaken the pleasure and intimacy, to achieve the Jewish ideal of "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me."