The 4Cs of a Lasting and Meaningful Romance: Chapter 3, Part 3

Understanding Romance

I liken romance to the DNA of romantic chemistry—a sort of fundamental building block required to sustain our romantic relationships. To understand romance is to understand a passionate love experienced from a physical, emotional, and spiritual arousal—an intense desire to be with the one we love, regardless of their shortcomings. Yet romance also derives from comfort, affection, and trusting love anchored in the enjoyment of shared experiences.

In his book, The Psychology of Romantic Love, author Nathaniel Branden defines romantic love as, “A passionate spiritual-emotional-sexual attachment between a man and a woman that reflects a high regard for the value of each other’s person.” I agree with the spiritual-emotional-sexual attachment. I also agree with the importance of how a man and woman value one another. Perhaps inherent in Branden’s eloquent definition of romance, if not explicitly stated, is the impact of love. You can’t have romance without love, but you can have love without romance. Consider a couple who hold hands and walk the beach together, hugging and kissing along the way. The closeness and deep appreciation, admiration, and respect for another demonstrates an expression of love and romance.

Numerous examples of romantic love abound in our everyday lives. In 1001 Ways to be Romantic, Gregory Godek defines romance as, “A language that uses words, gestures, and tokens to communicate the subtle, multifaceted and complicated feelings of love.” Complicated indeed, as love alone won’t sustain a romantic relationship. Deepak Chopra drove this point home in his book, The Path to Love, where he wrote, “Being in a relationship requires patience, devotion, and persistence, and is much more difficult than falling in love. Romance is recess, relationship is school.” Or as Author Nathanial Branden emphasized, “Romantic love is not omnipotent. Like every other value in life, it requires consciousness, courage, knowledge, and wisdom to be sustained.”

Perhaps romance, and the love it entails, originates in the human heart, an organ synonymous with love and life—the most significant muscle in the human body, as the heart is life-sustaining. A strong heart beats with enough force to channel blood through our veins and arteries. A weak heart diminishes our capacity to function. This, in an overly simplistic form, describes our physical health. And many of us, myself included, strive to keep this vital, life-sustaining organ in good shape. We measure our physical heart condition by our standing heart rate. Undue stress on the heart will cause problems. Extreme stress, either instantaneous or for prolonged periods of time, can cause the heart to stop beating. This we know for scientific fact. The heart becomes the first organ to develop in the fetus and the last to shut down when we die. Research shows the heart sends more neurological information to the brain than the brain does to the heart.

In a spiritual sense, the heart signifies more than a vital organ required to sustain life. The heart also denotes the universal symbol for love; a perpetual, soothing rhythm; the center of our spiritual health. When we truly love someone, we love from our heart—physiologically signified by the noticeable uptick in beats per minute in the presence of our beloved—and emotionally signified when we experience the profound joy and happiness that warms us from within.

In the physical plane, lack of regular exercise will weaken the heart over time. To counteract this, many of us diligently walk, run, cycle, swim, and otherwise maintain an active lifestyle in our ongoing effort to maintain a healthy heart, while often neglecting other aspects of our lives—sort of like driving with our foot on the brake, where the absence of love, or the presence of negative emotions like anger, resentment, and grief can erode our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state of health.

Our heart, which exists at the center of our core, shields itself from fatal blows with its proximity behind a thick, bony breastplate. This physical obstruction, flanked by our ribcage, provides a barrier from foreign objects to help ensure our heart’s protection in the event this vital organ comes under attack. Biologically, we are all the same in this regard. But spiritually, we tend to shield our hearts from damage by erecting invisible, and for some, impenetrable barricades designed to protect us from emotional harm. And in doing so, we also prevent ourselves from giving and receiving love. Too often, we keep these invisible shields bolted to our hearts like armor plating, waiting to defend the next assault instead of exposing our vulnerability and trusting in our spiritual resilience, in our ability to overcome emotional setbacks.

All animals have the capacity to love at some level, but we as human beings have been gifted with the extraordinary ability to love deeply and profoundly in a way no other species can grasp. Only with our hearts unshielded and willing to brave our relationship fears, can we completely express ourselves to one another and know what it truly means to be human and experience romantic love. For history has shown how love has the power to launch ships and conquer nations, to achieve the impossible in the face of overwhelming odds, to endure despite insurmountable adversity, and to transform us through poetry, music, dance, and art. Love represents the essence of romantic chemistry. And romantic chemistry becomes the catalyst for more fulfilling sex.

The Path to More Fulfilling Sex

Women equate sex with love, whereas men tend to associate sex with power. In reality, great sex embodies chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. For most of us, this implies intimate communication in a healthy monogamous relationship, where sex becomes less about the physical act itself and more about satisfying our emotional needs. Or as Deepak Chopra teaches, “Good sex is about free emotions; bad sex is about blocked emotions.” And in my opinion, sex does not necessarily imply love, but romantic love implies sex.

Blocked emotions stifle love. Sex taps our positive emotional state and leaves our negative emotions in the closet where they belong. From a physiological perspective, sex elevates levels of testosterone, which can promote the production of dopamine, a chemical responsible for fueling our romantic passion.

I ride a motorcycle, not as my primary means of transportation, but for the sheer pleasure of moving through the lower atmosphere unencumbered; free to experience the open road the way it was meant to be with all my senses fully engaged. Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul. Sex mimics this analogy. There’s sex that involves body movement and facilitates the process of achieving climax. Then there’s more fulfilling sex that moves the soul, the recipe for which, includes chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment.

Sex encompasses a significant part of who we are. We often dismiss sex in casual conversation but enjoy sex when we share a physical and emotional connection. Sex heightens our sense of touch and taste and smell. It embodies what it means to be human. Thousands of books and magazines have explored the topic of sex. Photos depict it. Movies promote it. The Internet exploits it.

The notion of two lovers joined as one harks back to the beginning of time. Since then, the basic mechanics haven’t changed. What has been altered is our perceptions about sex; our religious beliefs; our fears. Compared to lifestyles fifty years ago, more people engage in sex outside of marriage. And more people experiment with different fetishes.

Healthy sex, as defined as sex between two consenting adults who engage in safe sex practices, promotes our self-esteem and bonds us closer to one another. Numerous studies cite the psychological and physiological benefits from engaging in intimate relations derived from the modulation of our autonomic nervous system and promotion of increased hormonal activity, which allows the body to grow healthier and stronger. In one study, described by Dr. Michael F. Roizen, in his book, Real Age: Are You as Young as You Can Be? suggests that having sex twice a week can add nearly two years to a person’s life—and furthermore, as Dr. Roizen points out, having sex once a day can add eight. Other studies show that individuals in long-term intimate relationships experience less depression, anger, anxiety, and stress. They also tend to live longer. And living longer provides more time for having sex. A win-win in my book.

For most people, it’s not hard to sell the notion of sex as a good thing. The more important questions are: How do we achieve more fulfilling sex and how do we keep the romantic fire burning as our relationship evolves through various stages? Often, heaping more wood on the fire fails to achieve the results intended. Instead of promoting the flames, it smothers them.

As we age, our levels of testosterone decline. This fact of life, combined with other physical and emotional issues like poor health, unhappiness, work related stress, boredom, or laziness also contributes to our gradually declining lust. By my definition, having more or less sex—in terms of the duration of sex at one time—or having sex more often—in terms of frequency—doesn’t necessarily imply we experience more fulfilling sex. In truth, a romantic relationship has much more to do with how two people view each other than with how often they have sex. Furthermore, despite the impact of aging on our physical ability to experience arousal as quickly as we could in our younger years, experts believe the best sex occurs later in life. In Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch contends, “As women mature, they become more comfortable with their own genitals—they enjoy sex for their own pleasure. Meanwhile, men become more interested in intimacy and emotional connection.” These new aspects of our sexual selves take time to develop in our lives, and as Dr. Schnarch points out, various aspects of our newfound feelings and thoughts on sex can more than offset the loss in “hormonal drive and reflexive responses”—i.e., the ability to experience the same level of instantaneous lust, or immediate erections in men. Schnarch also goes on to describe three additional aspects of our sexual enlightenment in later years, involving eroticism, desire, and emotional connection. My own philosophy captures the essence of these elements in subsequent pages, which highlight several ways to experience more fulfilling sex throughout our sexual response cycle, defined by Masters and Johnson in Human Sexual Response as: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

Sexuality between men and women flows from emotional intimacy built on open and honest communication. An intimate, loving, and respectful sexual relationship forms the basis of more fulfilling sex. Yet, other variables exist as well. The following list highlights several elements to help achieve more fulfilling sex in a healthy romantic relationship:

  • Safe Sex and Birth Control
  • Emotional Commitment
  • Meeting Your Partner’s Needs
  • Confronting Inhibitions
  • Maintaining Desire
  • Positive Attitude
  • The Chuck It List
  • Spontaneity
  • Foreplay
  • Kegel Exercises
  • Herbal Remedies

These elements of more fulfilling sex target physical, emotional, and behavioral aspects of romantic relations. As I expand on each of these throughout the remainder of this chapter, I encourage you to consider your own sexual needs and desires. Perhaps you already enjoy a splendid sex life and simply require some fine tuning here and there. Or maybe your sex life has stalled a bit and requires an emotional jump start. Either way, by reflecting on your own needs and desires, you will gain further insight about your own sexual beliefs and predilections. Teamed with the knowledge I present in this section, you will find yourself on the path to achieving more fulfilling sex.

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