I know your column is mainly about sex, but for me, it’s all about the romance. I’ve been struggling for decades to balance my love of flowers, dancing, and candlelight with my love of a husband who struggles with intimacy (for good reasons) and who promises me these things after an increasingly strongly worded hint from me that it is the little things that matter. But he never follows it through.
The passion, friendship … everything else is there and over the years I have opened my spirit to a Zen-like acceptance for what he isn’t able to express. But there is no denying the fact that subtle seduction and the charm of being surprised is what lures me between the sheets. I have a very deep love of a man who is partly dense, partly lazy, but moreover I believe too wounded by his past to ever give of himself in a delicate way.
How do I smooth out the edges of my chafing heart? (I have in the past taken him dancing, on picnics, to unexpected places and so on, but I am beginning to pine to be led into the forest of romance.) Perhaps in the age of Trump chivalry is dead and the roses have shriveled away.
— In Love with a Non-Romantic
First, I love that you sent me this letter via mail. I myself feel romanced by your extra efforts in mailing me a real live letter rather than shooting off an email as you hurriedly slash your Monday morning inbox at the office. You’re clearly geared towards going the extra mile rather than taking a shortcut — and I love it.
I don’t know the specifics of your husband’s painful past. However, while it’s important to tread carefully around people’s traumas, I also believe that it’s equally important for all members of a relationship to put in the work it takes to make themselves and the relationship healthy.
Meaning, is your partner holding you at arm’s length in the name of past experiences and then simply shrugging and calling it a day? Or are his past hurts something that he is working on processing and existing alongside of in the relationship?
I’ll give you a personal example: I’ve always been open about the fact that I struggle with anxiety. High anxiety days typically (and understandably) aren’t my most “I feel sexy!” days. However, I also know that sticking to regular yoga, not overloading my work schedule, and attending weekly therapy all help me manage my anxiety.
This doesn’t mean anxiety will magically disappear from my life, but it does mean that I put in the work to manage it so that it doesn’t negatively impact me and/or intimacy in my relationship ALL the time. Sure, it does sometimes, but by employing certain strategies, not only am I helping myself, but my partner also witnesses that I’m committed to keeping our relationship healthy, too.
As your husband’s partner, In Love, you can’t “solve” his problems or “fix” him — nor should you try as this is typically detrimental to relationships. But you can be supportive and keep practicing your “Zen-like acceptance” of his current state of being. Being supportive might look like seeking out a couples therapist or other personal work to help cope with the presence of trauma in your partnership. Or it might be joining the gym together, taking a cooking class, or otherwise collaborating on a project that builds non-sexual, limitedly-romantic connection first.
I’d also suggest a book that I’ve been reading this week and using with many of my couples therapy clients: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by famed couples therapist and researcher John M. Gottman, Ph.D. Cheesy title and wedding-rings-themed cover art aside, it’s got some great and simple exercises for couples to do together to help rekindle romance that’s otherwise gone by the wayside.
Finally, if he’s taking his romance cues from Trump, well, it might be time to move on to bluer pastures.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.