The 4Cs of a Lasting and Meaningful Romance: Chapter 3, Part 5

Positive Attitude

As with most of life’s endeavors, a positive attitude goes a long way toward success. The same holds true for enjoying a more fulfilling sex life. If you feel sexy, you’ll become sexy. Positive thoughts generate positive emotions. Studies show that a positive attitude contributes to good physical health and mental well-being. This goes hand in hand with learning to accept who we are and embracing all our wonderful qualities. How we feel, and how we communicate our feelings to ourselves and others can also have a positive or negative affect on our sex lives. In her book, Molecules of Emotion, Dr. Candace Pert, a research professor in physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center, describes how our attitudes, beliefs, and emotions influence the biochemical and cellular levels of our brains and bodies. Her research describes a biomolecular basis for our emotions and how certain chemical reactions in the brain prompt the body to respond. Keeping a positive attitude will permeate your body language, which constitutes an outward reflection of your emotional condition and can make a significant difference in how others perceive you. Along these same lines, but from a more esoteric perspective, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, minister and author of the seminal volume The Power of Positive Thinking, wrote, “When you expect the best, you release a magnetic force in your mind which by a law of attraction tends to bring the best to you. But if you expect the worst, you release from your mind the power of repulsion which tends to force the best from you. Expect the best, not the worst, and you will attain your heart’s desire.”

Dr. Peale’s philosophy follows the notion that if you believe you can succeed in something, you will. Or has Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

We all have choices in life. We can focus on the negative, or we can focus on the positive side of things. Easier said than done, at times, but worth the effort. How we feel is based in part on how we look. If we like what we see in the mirror, we should put on a smile and be happy. The positive energy is contagious. If we don’t like what we see in the mirror, then it’s time to do something about it.

Make exercise and healthy eating a part of your life. It’s never too late to start. If you look good, you’ll feel good. This doesn’t mean you have to be a marathon runner or make the Olympic team. It means you put forth some effort to improve your physical appearance through a workout you enjoy—walking, cycling, dancing, Zumba, Pilates, yoga, swimming, tennis, cardio machines, etc. There are more ways than ever to get your heart pumping. It doesn’t require money spent on infomercial toys or expensive gym memberships. A five-dollar jump rope will burn calories and build stamina as well as a thousand-dollar piece of gym equipment. Walking is another underrated exercise, yet it gets the job done and with less impact to your lower legs than jogging. When you exercise, you not only feel better physically, you feel better emotionally as well. Numerous studies cite aerobic exercise as a great stress reliever as well as a great way to increase blood flow to the pelvic area and genitals, which can improve lubrication, arousal, and even the intensity of orgasm. Lower stress aids in better health. And better health aids in better sex. Physical fitness also boosts self confidence. And self confidence will boost your sex life.

A positive attitude extends not only to how we feel about ourselves but how we feel about our relationship as well. No two people are perfect, and no romantic relationship is perfect either. Everyone has their good days and their not so good days. Welcome to the human race. Our romantic relationships follow suit. A positive attitude about our partner makes the good times even better and helps smooth those momentary bumps in the road. This implies accepting our loved one for who they are, not for who we want them to be.

If you want to have sex with a tall man, then date a tall man. If strong faith is important to you, then date a man who accepts God in his life. Don’t begrudge your beloved because they don’t fit your preconceived notions of how you believe they should look, think, or feel. The converse holds true as well. Your lover might physically resemble your former partner. He might even act like your ex-partner at times, but he doesn’t deserve to be punished for the sins of your former sinner.

Learn to accept your personality differences and not rebuke them. Focus on how your differences complement your relationship. Maybe you’re an early bird and he’s a night owl. Or one of you likes to eat in and the other likes to eat out. For me, I enjoy cycling for exercise. Most of the women I’ve dated do not. I like to cook. Most of the women I’ve dated do not. In the end, it doesn’t matter, as long as the right chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment exist in the relationship. If you think about it long enough and are willing to compromise, you can make almost any scenario a win-win. The more you learn to adapt to one another, the more your relationship will thrive. The power of positive thinking is mightier than any negative influence in your life. If you let it, a positive attitude can transform your sex life from ordinary to extraordinary.

The Chuck It List

Most people are familiar with a “bucket list” defined as a list of things we would like to accomplish before our time on earth expires. It’s fun to draft a bucket list and dream about the things we want to do, places to see, people to meet, and what have you. Achieving goals and aspirations constitutes an important part of life. On the other hand, while we’re pontificating about all the wonderful things we’d like to do some day, we often accumulate stress in our lives. To some extent, a certain amount of stress will always shadow us. We can’t completely avoid it, but we can control how we manage it. Eliminating stress entirely from our lives is unrealistic, but reducing it is absolutely achievable and quite prudent. Consider the alternatives, where research indicates between fifty and eighty percent of all illnesses, including cancer, cardiac arrest, and autoimmune diseases, are stress-related. And aside from the impact to our physical health, stress invokes a negative impact on our relationships and our sex lives in general.

Now imagine a bucket with various stress spigots pouring water into it. Sometimes we have a few large spigots that allow more water—or stress in this case—to fill our bucket. Other times we have several smaller, yet consistent, stress spigots that drip non-stop like a leaky faucet, adding constant aggravation to our lives one milliliter at a time. The bucket will always exist, the way a certain amount of stress will always be present. Whether or not our stress bucket overflows is up to us. In other words, we want more stress flowing out of our bucket—and out of our lives—than flowing into it. How do we accomplish this? We start by identifying the frustrating events or experiences that bring stress. And there are many, including parenthood, lack of sleep, divorce, financial hardship, traffic, bad weather, dental visits, obesity, or simply being sick. Taken individually, these experiences can be managed through various means, but collectively, they can be overwhelming and hard to cope.

To keep your stress bucket from overflowing, start by identifying the stress-inducing experiences you can control through reprioritizing your needs and desires. For example, if you’re stressed about finances, take steps to correct the problem instead of letting it fester. Save more or spend less. Learn to live within your means. Seek help from a credit counseling service if necessary. To a large extent, you can effect certain changes to address this stress and lessen its impact on you.

If lack of sleep causes stress, adjust your schedule and make sufficient rest a priority. Easier said than done at times, but if you think about it, we often impose too much on ourselves and lose sight of the fact that we have more control over our routines than we like to admit. If you’re lacking sleep because you’re overcommitted at work or home, then take a few things off your plate and give yourself a break.

More complicated stressors like issues at work, traffic, divorce, or the death of a family member require a more strategic approach; one that might involve professional counseling, lifestyle changes, moral support from close friends and family, and guidance beyond the scope of this book.

Sometimes in our relationships, stress-inducing events stem more from our own attitudes or behaviors. Some of us carry the weight of grudges or the desire to keep up with Joneses. Some of us feel the need to look perfect while others constantly strive to be the best in our profession. Trying to change our partners and mold them into something we want them to be can inflict tremendous stress as well. These stress-inducing behaviors and attitudes will fill your stress bucket like a fire hose. Let go of the past. Focus on the present. No one is perfect. No partner is perfect. Relationships are not without their challenges. It’s okay to set high goals and strive to be the best as long as you manage your stress bucket and not let your need for perfection cause it to overflow.

Remember, you can’t stop all stress from entering your bucket, but you can control the amount of stress flowing into your bucket and how quickly you allow the stress to flow out by making small adjustments in your life. Treat stress like the useless spam pinging your inbox. Move it to your chuck it list and set it to auto delete. This will help you maintain a more positive attitude and reduce your overall anxiety level. The more stressors you can dismiss, especially the petty ones you can learn to ignore, the lighter your emotional load will be—and the more your sex life will improve.


Planning involves discipline, forethought, and the desire to reduce risk by analyzing variables to help ensure we make the right decisions given the facts at hand. But all the planning in the world doesn’t guarantee things will turn out exactly the way we intend, which is not to say planning is bad or ineffective. In the right frame of reference, it pays to be vigilant, cautious, and guarded at times about health, bills, job responsibilities, and other significant concerns. Planning is also important when it comes to anniversaries, birthdays, or other meaningful romantic events.

In terms of sex, important decisions on birth control, safe sex, and family planning come to mind.

From a man’s perspective, planning has always played an important role in the dating ritual. But at some point along the way, after the initial euphoria of a new relationship slowly tapers, many of us cling to our routines and plan everything as we go. Planning brings a measure of safety and comfort in our lives, but over time, if we plan every facet of our romantic relationships, complacency, lethargy, and boredom become the hobgoblins of desire. Fortunately, spontaneity can help balance the scales.

Spontaneity does not equate to reckless, madcap, irresponsible behavior. It equates to stepping outside our comfort zones and crossing the line a bit. No one wants to eat the same meals every day. The same way no one wants to wear the same clothes all the time. Many of us are creatures of habit, which is not a bad thing, but it can make our sex lives seem monotonous if we’re not careful. Being spontaneous doesn’t strictly apply to having sex in a bedroom behind closed doors; it applies to the notion of breaking out of our day-to-day routine and exploring everything life has to offer. Take a walk in a park you’ve never been to. See a movie on a work day. Have dinner last and sex first. Stay in bed late one morning. Stare at the stars instead of the TV. Rendezvous at lunch for a quickie. Make out in the car. Why put off until tomorrow what you can enjoy today? Variety stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Do what feels comfortable and safe, but make an effort to break out of your comfort zone. Or as fellow alumnus, Susannah Hopkins Leisher, wrote, sometimes you have to “jiggle the needle on the record of life.”


Most sex experts agree, the more foreplay, the better, especially from the woman’s point of view. This includes more time spent holding hands, kissing, hugging, touching, and enjoying the close proximity to one another without rushing into the main course of events. To experience passionate sex, we must be sufficiently aroused, both physically and emotionally.

Generally speaking, women take longer than men to reach a certain comfort level in their desire to have sex. For men, a state of erection can be instantaneous, as men are more visual creatures. For women, sexual arousal builds gradually through kind gestures, romantic words—think poetry and romantic comedies, or themes in films and stories involving affection and commitment with a partner. Women require sufficient warm-up or mental preparation to reach a similar level of arousal that men achieve from visual stimulation.

Foreplay doesn’t have to involve physical touch to stimulate arousal. For many women, the initial qualities that first attracted them to their partners remain the same qualities that keep them involved. Qualities like kindness, sensitivity, affection, and attentiveness can stir desire more efficiently than a particular foreplay technique itself.

Both physical and emotional intimacy play a role in foreplay and vary depending on the mood or circumstance. Soft caresses anywhere on the body and especially near specific erogenous zones can awaken sexual energy. The same goes for warm breath on our neck or behind our lover’s ear. And why stop there? Erogenous zones exist in many places on our bodies, including our lips, scalp, arms, and fingertips. A simple hand massage can prove incredibly soothing. In fact, aside from the mouth and genitals, the fingertips are the second most sensitive part of the human body. And don’t forget the lower abdomen, an area most women find very sensitive to stimulation through a feather-light touch or the gentle press of soft lips.

Take the time to savor your foreplay activity. Like most anything in life, foreplay gets better with practice. Couples who take the time to get to know one another on a physical, intellectual, and emotional level will discover what pleasures them most—an important step toward experiencing more fulfilling sex.

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

Emotional Commitment

Sex without emotion equates to sex in the physical sense but not necessarily more fulfilling sex. If you have sex with the TV on and you find yourself more in tune to the commercials than to your partner’s desire to meld with you, then you’re emotionally vacant. For fully functioning men, an orgasm is pretty much a sure thing. For women, not nearly so. Sex for the sake of sex, without a strong emotional commitment still constitutes sex, but in the end, one or both partners will start to suffer from an unfulfilled longing.

If we don’t engage with our lover on a deeper level and take the time to explore and understand each other’s needs and desires, then we’re missing an essential component in our relationship. Whispering compliments to one another before, after, and even during sex will help build trust and intimacy. For women, feelings of emotional intimacy in their relationship often advance their desire for sexual expression. Men view sex as a way to increase intimacy. Neither approach is wrong. Just different.

In Dr. Phil McGraw’s book, Love Smart, he points out how men and women are hormonally and neurologically different; how each sex has been socialized differently from birth, with men brought up to be less sensitive and emotional. I would extend this concept to say the converse holds true and that women tend to exhibit a stronger emotional freedom. It’s important to understand and appreciate the differences between men and woman as well as their similarities. “Romantic partners can also complement each other’s sexual, intellectual, and spiritual needs,” wrote clinical, social, and organizational psychologist Ayala Pines. “The more complementary the needs,” she contends, “the easier and more satisfying their gratification.”

Clearly, men and women express emotions in different ways. The emphasis should focus less on how we express emotions and more on the importance of continuing to express our emotions toward one another. In Daniel Beaver’s book, More than Just Sex, he describes how unexpressed emotions can inhibit our sexual desire. This includes withholding negative emotions as well as positive ones. Any time we keep emotions bottled up inside, either negative emotions like fear, jealousy, and anger, or positive emotions like love and empathy, we block our flow of emotional expression and deplete our sexual energy. As Beaver points out, you don’t have to agree with your partner’s emotional reality, but you have to accept the importance of their reality “if you want your lover to stay intimately close and turned on to you sexually.”

If you’re not emotionally committed, you’re doing yourself and your partner a disservice. Our emotions tie directly to the chemistry we feel. The stronger the romantic chemistry between two individuals in a romantic relationship, the more likely they will develop and sustain an emotional commitment. In Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch explains how emotional issues have a direct physiological impact on our sexual functioning. In his words, “The more unresolved issues that intrude during sex, the further away you are from your sexual potential. You might be able to reach orgasm, but your satisfaction is usually diminished.”

Daniel Beaver contends a positive emotional atmosphere outside the bedroom makes for a better quality sexual experience in the bedroom. To help achieve and sustain this positive emotional atmosphere, he promotes the following five requirements:

  1. “Constructive communication of emotions between partners, without emotional censorship,” (i.e., You don’t have to agree with your partner’s emotional state of mind, or even understand the logic behind it, but you should learn to accept it).
  • “A high degree of vulnerability in which both partners are able to communicate information that could expose them to being hurt,” (i.e., Partners should not fear vulnerability but recognize the value of vulnerability in their intimate relations).
  • “A strong sense of trust and commitment to the relationship,” (i.e., Accept the cyclical nature of trust and commitment, where a stronger commitment bears more trust and more trust builds a stronger commitment).
  • “The ability of each person to listen effectively and acknowledge the other’s emotions verbally,” (i.e., Employ active listening, which I describe in more detail in Chapter IV).
  • “An ability to resolve conflicts so that there is no unfinished emotional business between them when they go to bed at night,” (i.e., Leave the negative emotions at the door, and never go to bed angry at one another).

Meeting Your Partner’s Needs

As I wrote in Chapter II, the foundation of a meaningful and lasting romance involves an understanding of our own needs and desires as well as those of our partner. The importance of understanding our partner’s needs is an often understated point. In Chapter V, I’ll touch on several common high priority needs men and women seek from their romantic partners. But for now, from a purely sexual perspective, if something feels good, then tell your partner. If something feels wrong, then make it known, gently but firmly. Emotional intimacy is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t make you clairvoyant. If vocalizing your needs makes you feel uncomfortable during sex, then take your partner’s hand and put it where you want it. Or signal with a kiss or gentle nudge. Eventually, we attune to one another and learn to express ourselves in the throes of passion without pausing to engage in a clinical discussion on sex.

Confronting Inhibitions

Some people were born to be wild and crazy, able to cast their inhibitions aside at a moment’s notice without remorse or regret for their behavior. Other people take comfort with a drink in hand, standing at the back of the room quietly watching events unfold while they shy away from making eye contact or striking up a conversation with a stranger. We tend to label people with low inhibitions as loose or easy, or perhaps to some extreme, unconscionable. On the other hand, we’re also prone to label people with strong inhibitions as shy, reserved, timid, self-conscious, or God forbid, boring. Somewhere between unconscionable and boring lies a happy middle ground, where we learn to step out of our comfort zones and overcome our insecurities to the extent we are able to fully enjoy the sexual aspects of a meaningful and lasting romance.

Often, our inhibitions burrow themselves in fear; a fear of embarrassment from taking the dance floor and coming off like a goofball; a fear of public speaking, where we’d rather hide in the bathroom than stand in front of people and give a speech; a fear of rejection by believing we won’t live up to some preconceived standards we feel others will compare us against; or a fear of not knowing what will happen next if we brave the office party and connect with a colleague we’d previously ignored to heed some self-prescribed rule about not dating people from work. To some extent, certain anxieties are unavoidable, and often the act of avoiding anxiety stifles our genuine intimacy and ability to enjoy sex.

In general, as we age, we tend to take a more conservative approach to life. At twenty-one, the thought of skinny dipping in the pool might seem like an adventurous proposition. By middle age, the same intention seems less appropriate. For many of us, our increased inhibitions stem from religious beliefs, dating experiences or lack thereof, parenthood challenges, undeveloped social skills, or any number of other reasons. Some of us enjoy a life completely void of inhibitions, living moment to moment without worry.

Since the dawn of man, or at least it seems that long ago, men and women have indulged in alcohol to appease our inhibitions. But what alcohol giveth in the way of greasing the skids to the bedroom, it also taketh away in the common sense and good judgment departments. To shed our inhibitions is one thing, but to cast our ethics aside and sail off with a broken moral compass prompts more trouble than it’s worth. A little sauce goes a long way. Enjoy a drink in moderation to help relax, but don’t go overboard. If you don’t drink alcohol, no worries. Consider yourself one of the lucky few who can lower their inhibitions without it.

Confronting inhibitions involves learning to feel comfortable in our own skin. How? By learning to love ourselves. I’m not talking about promoting a narcissistic attitude, but rather, learning to define what we like about ourselves and promoting those grand qualities. For women, this might involve accentuating a voluptuous figure, a tone physique, gorgeous hair, brilliant eyes, a sexy walk, a sensual voice, or a movie star smile. Men tend to focus on their physiques, their cars, or various permutations of facial hair from beards and mustaches to short goatees or a fuzzy soul patch to accentuate a chiseled jaw line.

Promoting our positive qualities extends beyond our physical attributes. Engaging a sense of humor can serve as a powerful tool to lower our inhibitions. A strong intellect also works well for those who find comfort in a stimulating conversation. Some of us employ a certain charm or charisma to boost our confidence in the presence of the opposite sex. If you prefer the quiet sofa at Starbuck’s to a loud bar downtown, then seek like-minded people who prefer a laptop and a cup of java to blaring music and hordes of inebriated strangers. For all of us, no matter where we find ourselves along the spectrum from shy to gregarious, it’s important to support our admirable qualities and feel comfortable with ourselves. Women don’t need a perfect body to build confidence in themselves the way men don’t need bulging biceps or a thick head of hair to feel empowered and unconstrained. You start with what you have and what works for you.

We all have our faults, and while no good comes from dwelling on these, we should strive for incremental improvements where we can. If you’re out of shape, then exercise and adjust your eating habits. If you’re shy and yearn to be more outgoing, try some private dance lessons, go out with friends, join a club, join a bowling league, or give online dating a try. The opportunities for social interaction are endless. Take baby steps and make small adjustments day to day. Don’t expect an instant makeover or a total personality transformation. You are who you are, the way God intended you to be. Embrace yourself. Love yourself. And smile as often as you can. Smiling is a universal language that opens hearts and communicates love better than almost anything else. In fact, research shows smiling improves our physical and emotional well being by flooding our systems with positive neurochemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin.

Learning to overcome our inhibitions involves learning to rejoice in who we are as individuals and promoting the constructive aspects of our lives. If you’re already at a state of readiness in terms of confidence in yourself, but you still feel inhibited in your sexual relations, I have a few suggestions. First, try standing in front of the mirror, alone, stark naked. Do this several times over several days or weeks until you feel comfortable staring at your own body. Over time, this will help you feel more comfortable undressing in front of your lover. Later, try leaving the lights on when you’re having sex. For some people, having sex with the lights on can be a scary proposition, but it can also help you overcome your inhibitions. Again, proceed with caution. Start with leaving the bathroom light on or a hallway light with the door ajar just enough to cast your naked shadow. Enjoying sex in a hotel provides another way to help overcome inhibitions. There’s something about taking a break from your day to day life and treating yourself to a night of passion at a random location away from home.

Communicate with your partner. A great way to take control of your inhibitions is to talk about them. Trust plays an essential part in this discussion. Start with sharing something small and build from there. Maybe you feel uncomfortable about sleeping naked. Maybe you wear a mouth guard to keep your teeth from grinding. Or maybe you don’t feel comfortable taking a shower together. Whatever it is that gives you pause about yourself, your partner, or your romantic relationship in general, it does no good to hold it in and not broach the subject. In fact, you might be surprised to discover your partner shares some of the same anxieties.

Maintaining Desire

Years back, an older colleague of mine told me a story about an attractive woman who’d offered him super sex. As I listened with intrigue, I could only imagine what led up to the rousing proposition.

Were they long-time lovers or strangers swept away in the heat of passion? Were they inebriated or stone cold sober? What prompted her to extend the offer? Does she have a sister?

Seriously, the story was short-lived. My friend’s response? “I chose the soup.”

The moral of the story: if your lover offers you super sex and you choose the soup over sex, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship.

Our level of romantic interest begins with our desire to be with someone and connect with them in a sexual capacity. The more intense the attraction, the stronger the desire to be with that person. When the chemistry is on target, the desire takes care of itself, at least in the early stages of a new romantic relationship—the Obsessive Stage, as Gary Chapman defines it in his book, The Five Love Languages for Singles. But as time goes on and the “new and exciting” becomes “routine and familiar,” as the day-to-day realities of life set in with work and kids and bills to pay, our initial spark begins to fade and our desire starts to wane.

In the second stage of romantic love, or Covenant Stage, as Chapman defines it, our differences begin to surface and our illusions of perfection dissolve. Or do they? I venture to say, over time, our desire for one another becomes supersaturated the way salt water can become supersaturated. If we continue to add salt to a pot of boiling salt water, the water will continue to absorb the salt, causing the heated salt solution to reach a point of supersaturation. At this point, the water no longer appears to contain salt crystals, which have gradually been absorbed due to increasing temperature. The solution still contains the salt crystals, you just can’t see them. I find this analogous to desire and how over time our passion for one another can become supersaturated. Like the salt in my analogy, the passion is still there; it’s simply been consumed by other overriding issues in our lives.

Now take the same heated salt water solution and let it cool for a period of time. Add one single, tiny, salt crystal and watch what happens. The salt previously absorbed by the heated water will be released and fall like snow.

So how do we release our passion when we find it supersaturated by overwhelming issues or complacency in our lives?

Ironically, we can start by spending time apart—the cooling off in our experiment—and explore other interests for awhile. I’m not talking about a legal separation from marriage or building walls to become emotionally distant. I’m talking about taking the time to enjoy our independence by engaging in activities outside of our relationship. Do the things we need to do for ourselves. Read novels. Write poetry. Sing in the choir. Play tennis. Learn chess. Ride rollercoasters. Go jogging. Go fishing. Go shopping. Paint a mural. Paint the house. This is about fulfilling needs you can’t necessarily fulfill through your romantic relationship. The old saw about absence makes the heart grow fonder originated in some semblance of fact. By focusing on something other than your beloved for twenty-four hours a day, you will gain a new perspective on yourself and your romantic relationship. This in turn will help you rekindle your desire and heighten your sexual experience.

Don’t assume time apart should be measured in days or weeks. Sometimes a separation of hours can prime the power of anticipation and build desire. As Dr. Laura Berman writes in Loving Sex, one way to employ the power of anticipation is to set the mood for sex early in our day. Who says sexual thoughts have to enter our mind ten minutes before we go to bed? Enjoy a passionate kiss in the morning. Prance through your bedroom naked before you get dressed—anything to leave a lasting impression your partner will remember as the day goes on. The art of seduction can be drawn through technology as well. Send a sexy text message or an intimate voice mail. Better yet, send a provocative photo to your lover’s phone. The idea is to fill the day with sexual innuendo, so by the time you’re reunited, the thrill of anticipation will send you over the edge with sexual desire.

Good communication keeps the fire burning, but sometimes it’s best to listen more and talk less.


Guys, big hint: Don’t try to solve her problems. Listen. Empathize. Acknowledge what she has to say—without the PlayStation controller in your hand or your thoughts focused more on issues at work than giving your girlfriend or wife the attention she deserves. Make open, honest communication a habit, and desire will continue to flow. Sending a dozen roses for no reason can have a wonderful effect as well. Ditto for an elegant dinner out or tickets to see her favorite show.


If you’re too busy with other things in your life and you’re not making time for sex, your desire will devolve. Make sex a priority, not something you try to squeeze in between several chores. Dim the lights. Turn on some soft music. Fire up a scented candle. Take a bath together. Trade massages. Speaking of which, most of us are good at receiving massage and not so much on delivering. If you don’t know how, then pick up a book and learn. In the absence of knowledge, experiment with gentle touch and gradually explore each other’s bodies. Studies show that stroking and massage trigger the production of oxytocin and certain endorphins in the brain. This helps us relax and melt tensions away, allowing our feelings of desire to gradually displace our negative, stress-inducing emotions. Massage doesn’t have to be erotic, even with your clothes off. Human hands can do amazing things. And a little massage oil goes a long way.

When all else fails, use your imagination. Watch an erotic video together, or better yet, take advantage of video-chat technology when you and your lover are apart. Numerous applications, including Skype, Apple’s FaceTime, Google’s video chat, and Tango for Android make it effortless to engage in video-chat sex. According to one 2010 survey conducted by the Pew Institute, daily video-chat usage in the U.S. doubled from 2009 to 2010. That’s not to say exclusive usage for sexual purposes, but it indicates a growing trend in the popularity of this technology as a method for couples to engage in long-distance lust and cross the threshold of their own sexual comfort zones.

But desire doesn’t have to involve new technology. Often, a visit to an adult toy store together will do the trick. Blindfolds are cheap. So is experimenting with your favorite whipped topping, chocolate sauce, raspberry syrup, or whatever your sweet tooth craves. Try role-playing as a couple who have just met at a club. Pretend to hit on one another. Dance with one another. Seduce one another with your eyes. Convince one another to come home and have sex. You could dress up differently, act differently, anything to create the illusion of something brand new. You don’t have to be an actor to pretend to be someone you’re not, someone involved in a scintillating career, or maybe someone recently paroled or returning from a tour of duty at sea. Role-playing is not for everyone. But in the end, it’s not always about what you do or how you do it. It’s about making a conscious decision to keep sex a high priority in your life. Easier said than done with children in the picture. Ditto for demanding jobs, school, personal issues, or the plethora of challenges life throws your way. Life is full of time-gobblers. Don’t allow other aspects of your life to rob you of your time for sex. Remember, it’s not the “soup” in super sex you should crave.

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.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance, Chapter 3, Part 2

Chemistry Reception in a One-Dimensional Environment


We all have “chemistry receptors” that help us process and understand our environment through our sense of smell, sight, touch, taste, and hearing. We use these senses to communicate with one another in our daily lives. These senses can also act as chemistry receptors to attract us toward a particular voice, or the look of a person’s face or how they smell with a given cologne or perfume. Beyond our five senses, we also employ our intuition or gut feeling we derive about someone. Collectively, these chemistry receptors provide us the ability to discern a certain level of romantic chemistry within the context defined by our particular communication environment, which I define as either one, two, or multidimensional.

Onedimensional communication environments include social network sites, email, instant messaging, and text messaging, which only engage our sense of sight. With the proliferation of online datinga topic I’ll explore in great detail in Chapter IVwe’ve set the bar at an all time low in terms of chemistry reception. The input we glean from a web page or a text message conveys very little human content. We can see a person’s smile in a picture, but we can’t feel the warmth of their smile like we can in person. We can’t see how their expression changes when we talk to them. We can’t hear the tone or inflection in their voice from a onedimensional email or text message.

From the perspective of someone we’ve never met before, this type of one-dimensional communication environment causes problems by deceiving us into thinking we have a real emotional connection, when in reality, our connection is tenuous at best. With onedimensional communication, you can send and receive messages all day long with a false sense of intimacy, a sort of pseudo-connection. And therein lies the rub. You think you know someone from their Facebook page or text message dialogue, only to talk on the phone for the first time and realize this person you’ve been emailing or texting doesn’t fit the type of person you imagined at all. This same phenomenon occurs, although to a lesser degree, when you meet someone briefly through a chance encounter and exchange phone numbers only to languish in the world of text messaging without making an effort to actually call one another and engage in a real conversation that combines what you see with what you hear. Merging two senses moves us toward two-dimensional communication, which vastly improves our ability to determine if romantic chemistry exists or not.


Chemistry Reception in a TwoDimensional Environment


In a two-dimensional communication environment, our sense of hearing comes into play, and along with it, our ability to more accurately discern if the right chemistry exists or not. In two-dimensional settings, we hear not only what someone says, but how they say it. We interpret subtle nuances in the way they speak, or in the way they laugh, or whether they seem quiet or gregarious. Some voices grate on our nerves. Some are pleasing to the ear. Some people talk slowly while others persist in a manic state.

A conversation also reveals a lot about a person’s education level. Do they converse in slang? Do they use big words and sound condescending? Do they ask questions? If so, are they general, get-to-know-you kinds of questions, or probing, personal interview types of questions? Do they open up and share about themselves or do they perpetuate the dreaded awkward silence? Are they recently divorced or have they dated enough to know what they’re really looking for?

I recall an instance where I met an attractive, professional, single mother through a popular online dating site. After we exchanged several emails, she shared her phone number and invited me to call her. Unfortunately, the impression I’d gleaned from her through our email correspondence was diametrically opposed to the person on the other end of the line. My association with her through our one-dimensional email communication had led me to believe I’d met a kind, articulate, well educated, and very attractive—she had nice pictures—woman who shared many common interests with me. On the phone, however, she cursed like a sailor and came across as ignorant, crass, mean, apathetic about her students, and eager for me to do whatever it took to plan a dream date for us. That conversation was five minutes of my life I won’t ever get back, and an important lesson learned.

A short phone conversation reveals a lot about a person, much more than you can ever glean from a Facebook page or an email introduction from a friend playing matchmaker. This assumes you’ve seen a picture of this person to gauge what he looks like. If not, your short phone call might leave you with the image of a tall, dark, and handsome Fabio look-alike, when in reality, he might very well be a stout, handsome bald man with a Telly Savalas flair.

Of course, a two-dimensional communication environment has its limitations as well when it comes to establishing the presence of romantic chemistry. I’ll address nonverbal communication at length in Chapter IV, but for now, consider that the majority of our communication is nonverbal. This explains why we often feel an instant attraction to someone we meet in person, and not based solely on their physical appearance, but on how they communicate to us with their eyes and body language in a multidimensional environment.

Chemistry Reception in a Multidimensional Environment


Multidimensional communication environments provide the best way to gauge our level of chemistry since all five senses, with exception of maybe taste, come into play. Multidimensional, or face-to-face communication, expands upon the verbal communication I touched on earlier and engages our emotions, which we not only translate through our voices, but through our facial expressions, gestures, and body movements. With emotions in the mix, communication involves more than what someone says or how they say it. When we bring ourselves face-to-face with someone, we have the advantage of watching their reaction, their movements, and their overall body language when they speak.

Often when we meet someone in person, we feel an instant chemistry, whether we find them standing in line beside us at Target or smiling at us from across the room. Sometimes we can almost feel a certain chemistry through inductance. In general physics, inductance describes the process by which electrical or magnetic properties are transferred, without physical contact, from one circuit or body to another. On some occasions, we experience chemistry so powerful we can almost feel a physical connection without physically connecting with the other person. This notion of “inductance chemistry” can’t be felt through a one or two-dimensional environment. We have to experience it in person. Nonverbal cues explain this type of chemistry through the way someone communicates with their posture, hand gestures, head movement, gait, or proximity to our personal space.

In a live setting, our sense of touch can and often does come into play with a simple handshake, a casual brush across the shoulder, a gentle arm squeeze, or simply holding hands. Think about this: according to Dr. Ashley Montagu, anthropologist and author of Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, the communications we transmit through our sense of touch comprise the most powerful means of establishing a human relationship. Dr. Montagu’s book also points out how a piece of human skin the size of a quarter contains three million cells, more than three hundred sweat glands, fifty nerve endings, and three feet of blood vessels. These sensory receptors bombard the human brain with information about heat, cold, pressure, pain, and of course, pleasure. And don’t forget the lips, as those are densely populated with sensory neurons, more so than almost any other region in the body. This might explain why kissing ignites such a powerful sense of chemistry and a surefire way to determine someone’s genuine level of interest.

If we reach the point where we feel comfortable holding hands, chances are we feel a positive chemistry. If holding hands feels awkward, or a curt hug gives us the willies, then it’s obvious we lack romantic chemistry. Whether we choose to admit it or not, three weeks of email and/or text messaging bliss, followed by several wonderful phone conversations, can dissolve—the second we meet someone in the flesh.

Chemistry can be hard to quantify, as no accurate model exists to describe the context of chemistry and whether we’ll feel a strong connection or not with someone we’ve just met. While our initial sense of sight, hearing, smell, and touch can factor into our personal intuition, our past experiences factor more. Sometimes we just have to go with our gut feeling honed from years of good and bad experiences stored in our long-term memories. There doesn’t have to be a rhyme or reason to why we feel how we feel about someone.

Sometimes our intuition is driven more by physiology than psychology, as Dr. Brian and Dr. Anna Maria Clement describe in 7 Keys to Lifelong Sensual Vitality. In their book, the authors explain how men and women communicate with each other at the level of the subconscious mind through hormone secretions. In theory, this might explain why we occasionally feel a powerful attraction to someone we’ve never met before, barely spoken to, and haven’t touched. We might not even find them exceedingly attractive from a visual perspective, but the chemistry persists regardless. And hormone secretions don’t travel via text or phone.

Everyone operates within their own comfort zone. Some people move through relationships faster or slower than others. I’m not advocating we skip the “get to know you” phase through discretionary use of email, text, or phone calls. But when it comes to chemistry, our emotions propagate most efficiently through personal encounters. Spending time face-to-face builds trust, desire, and reassurance. It also paves the way for a powerful romance.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 3, Part 1

Chapter III

The Magic of Chemistry

My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines chemistry in the context under which we are talking about it as a strong mutual attraction, attachment, or sympathy. But a “strong mutual attraction” could refer to a pair of magnets as well as two people in love. “Attachment” might describe a pair of Legos sandwiched together, and “sympathy” could imply a human element to chemistry in the absence of any romantic connotation.

I’m not berating Webster’s definition of romantic chemistry. I’m simply trying to unravel a complex phenomenon, an enigma of human emotion we all experience at random and often unpredictable moments in our lives. I titled this chapter “The Magic of Chemistry” because in some ways, it really does work like magic. More than just something you feel, chemistry defines something you experience when you hear a favorite song, watch a favorite movie, enjoy a live performance, or make eye contact with an alluring stranger across a crowded room.

From a romance perspective, two types of chemistry exist: romantic chemistry—or sexual chemistry fueled by emotion—and intellectual chemistry—driven by logic and reason. A new relationship can begin to unfold with only one or the other, but it takes both kinds of chemistry to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. The nature of romantic chemistry seems obvious because it defines the type of chemistry we most easily recognize. Typically, when we first meet someone, we either feel a spark of attraction or we don’t. With intellectual chemistry, things get a little more complicated. Whereas romantic chemistry brings two people together, intellectual chemistry sustains a romantic relationship beyond the initial infatuation stage. Furthermore, intellectual chemistry stimulates our capacity for communication, compromise, and commitment. It occurs on a higher level of thinking and usually takes longer to develop or discern than romantic chemistry, which we often, but not always, gauge the first time we meet someone. The importance of intellectual chemistry should not be understated and ripples through the following chapters in this book. But for the purpose of this chapter, I primarily focus on romantic chemistry and its role in a meaningful and lasting romance.

To understand the fundamental workings of romantic chemistry, we start by taking everything we know about the science of chemistry and throw it out the window. The chemistry of love does not abide by the laws of physics or the laws of chemical reactions. It can’t be governed by theories or postulates. It can’t be quantified by the scientific method. It can’t be dissected into physical elements or described by the laws of quantum mechanics. And despite certain anecdotal evidence to the contrary, it cannot be predicted.

So how do we define the indefinable in chemistry? A person’s outward appearance? Their tone of voice? Their smell? Their touch? Their taste? Their air of confidence? Their aura? Their personality? Their feelings? Their behaviors? Their beliefs? A combination of a few factors or all of the above?

Sometimes chemistry appears subtle. Sometimes almost palpable. And sometimes we find chemistry with someone we least expect—someone who doesn’t fit our preconceived type; someone with the wrong height, wrong weight, wrong age, wrong hair, wrong demeanor, and so forth. Yet somehow we can’t fight the urge to get close to this person despite our intellect telling us they don’t fit our mold of how a perfect partner should appear or act. That’s because chemistry knows no boundaries and doesn’t hinge on someone’s physical characteristics or the make of car they drive.

People often choose their partner based on a list of personal preferences or preconceived notions of who they think a perfect match should be while ignoring the absence of chemistry. At times, partners fail to acknowledge the lack of chemistry and wonder why their relationship never felt right in the first place. In the absence of chemistry, romance wilts like a flower without sun or water.

Romantic chemistry isn’t governed by logic or reason. Unlike some aspects of romantic relationships, chemistry can’t be faked. Unfortunately chemistry isn’t something you can work on. It’s either present or it’s not. This partly explains why many promising relationships fail despite their best intentions. The chemistry we feel or don’t feel constitutes human emotion. It’s engrained in our DNA and just as complicated to understand.

Without romantic chemistry, you’re missing a key ingredient required to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. When the right chemistry is present, it’s usually there in a big way. Part of this has to do with what scientists term our biological rhythm. Each and every one of us has a genetically determined biological rhythm inherent in our body movements, speech patterns, and emotional responses. When we experience romantic chemistry with someone, we feel in sync, or in tune with each other’s biological rhythm.

As the first of the 4Cs I examine in this book, chemistry sets the tone in our romantic relationships. Unlike communication, compromise, and commitment, you can’t work on improving the chemistry in your relationship. You can nurture it, certainly, and we’ll touch on this later, but fundamentally, chemistry is either there or it isn’t. Similar to the law of conservation of energy, chemistry cannot be created or destroyed. Energy can change form within an isolated system, but the energy persists. Chemistry can change form within a romantic relationship—through various stages of love, and if the right conditions exist—our needs are met—the chemistry will persist.

We frequently overlook the importance of chemistry, hoping that by the second or third date we’ll start to develop feelings for this person; however, “feelings” themselves, as defined by fondness, affection, or interest, do not entirely equate to chemistry. You can’t impose chemistry because you want it to be there. You can’t fake it. And you can’t wish it upon your budding relationship. You can only acknowledge if a spark exists. For some of us, it takes longer than others to determine if we feel the right chemistry or not. For many of us, our emotions ignite the instant we meet the right person.

According to a survey from the professional dating service, It’s Just Lunch, which polled five thousand single men and women, the importance of chemistry was rated almost twice as high as the importance of compatibility on a first date. The survey also asked the question, “On a first date, how much time do you need before you decide if you want to see your date again?” I interpret this as a question of chemistry. Of the five thousand single men and women surveyed, forty-four percent indicated they knew within twenty minutes whether they wanted to see their date again or not. And thirty-three percent indicated they knew within an hour. Although this survey polls a small sample size from a significantly larger general population of single adults who live across the United States, it supports the notion that we either feel a certain romantic connection on a first date or we don’t. At least one Harvard study corroborates this assertion by suggesting people can intuitively sense the basic impression they will have of the other person in the first thirty seconds of an encounter.

In general, we tend to feel attracted to people who fulfill important needs and desires. Most people are attracted to individuals with similar interests, philosophies, and appealing physical features. Women tend to be attracted to tall men with distinctive cheekbones, a strong jaw, and a symmetrical face. Men tend to be attracted to tall women with a certain hip to waist ratio. Regardless of the physical features both sexes desire, we are also drawn to a sense of humor, social and economic status, common interests, and goals. Psychologists add another dimension when they suggest we are prone to selecting mates who are similar to the parent with whom we have unresolved childhood issues, and unconsciously seek to resolve this natal relationship in adulthood.

At a biological level, we’re driven by a human impulse governed by our natural chemistry. For men, this primarily involves the male sex hormone, testosterone. For women, it primarily involves estrogen. The balance of these two chemicals, combined with others, plays a role in the strength of our libidos. Our brains naturally produce phenylethylamine, an amphetamine believed to be responsible for our feelings of ecstasy, euphoria, excitement, and joy. Dopamine, another important element, increases sex drive in men by stimulating the release of testosterone. In both men and women, elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce exhilaration, hyperactivity, and accelerated breathing. Norepinephrine, a chemical derived from dopamine, also produces a similar effect for both genders.

Sometimes chemistry sneaks up on us. Other times it beats us over the head. And sometimes it tricks us into thinking it’s really there when it’s not. Although we can’t control whether we feel a certain romantic chemistry or not, we can learn to make better use of our “chemistry receptors,” to help us determine the presence of genuine romantic chemistry.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2, Part 3


We could all use a little more bliss in our lives. We sure don’t need any more taxes or longer hours on the job. Happiness, harmony, and enjoyment of life should be our goal. If bliss is not an interpersonal need of yours, make it one. Starting now. If you look closely, you can find bliss in the simple things in life. Some people find it in a hot bath or a cold beer. Others find it in a child’s laugh or tending a flower garden. One of my sons always found it at the end of a torrential rain. I would complain about forgetting the umbrella when I dropped him off at Kindergarten, and he would blissfully announce, “Don’t worry Dad, a rainbow always comes out when the rain stops!”

You can find bliss in your romantic relationship as well, but don’t be dependent on your relationship to provide it. Your need for bliss should start with you. The famous singer, John Denver, had bliss in abundance in his life. He saw it, felt it, and experienced it in the nature surrounding him. We can hear it in his music. Through the ups and downs in his early career, he followed his heart and maintained his passion for writing songs. Whether you’re chasing your dream or the girl next door, make bliss a high priority need in your life.


Women tend to think men are only interested in sex. While that may be true…

Seriously, some men are only interested in sex. Others, not so much. But a desire for sexual relations is not a bad thing. Great sex in a committed, monogamous relationship can strengthen the relationship. According to Dr. John Gray, a certified family therapist and author of Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, women have a tendency to underestimate the importance of sex for men. As Dr. Gray explains it, sex allows a man to feel his need for love, whereas women are receptive to love as a way to help drive their desire for sex. The interpersonal need for sex exists, to some extent, in all of us. It’s part of our DNA. Some men and women require more frequent sexual activity than others, depending on where their need for sex fits into their hierarchy of needs and desires.

Unfortunately, there are many times when life’s distractions, either real or imagined, preclude us from enjoying a normal healthy sex life, as work, health issues, personal commitments, and so forth diminish our appetite for sex. To counteract this, we must learn to connect with one another at our most intimate level. In the following chapter, I expand on the path to more fulfilling sex and discuss the significance of trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and how romance feeds our sexual desires.


How far can we get in life without faith? For most of us, not very far. Faith implies a spiritual connotation—a connection with God, if you will. In Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, he writes, “It’s vital that you accept yourself and learn to be happy with who God made you to be. If you want to truly enjoy your life, you must be at peace with yourself.” His book goes on to describe how positive attitudes help determine how we’re going to live our lives. I would take this a step further and surmise these same positive attitudes will help us to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance. But we don’t have to subscribe to the evangelical Christian philosophy to accept the importance of faith in our lives. Whether we believe in God or not, faith represents an interpersonal need defined not only by our belief in a higher power, but by belief in ourselves. With all the craziness we endure in our day to day lives, with all the mass media garbage we’re exposed to, with all the senseless politics at work and in our own government, with all the random acts of violence and devastating acts of mother nature, it can be easy at times to surrender our hope in humanity. Faith can overpower these negative influences in our lives and help us achieve stronger intimacy, better health, less stress, and more bliss. Without faith, we lose hope. Without hope, we lose everything.

The Peril of Unmet Needs

If our desires go unmet, our romantic relationships may stall a bit; however, if our needs go unmet, the relationship will suffer. As individuals, we recognize when our own needs and desires are not met, but how do we know if our partner’s needs and desires are being met? If you receive the death stare from your beloved every time you enter the room, chances are, some need, desire, or both is not being met. Communication is king. Talk about your feelings. Share your opinions. Vent your frustrations. But most importantly, use what works in your relationship to communicate effectively to understand each other’s needs. Sometimes relationship issues are symptoms of larger problems, where the root cause links to unfulfilled needs. If our needs go unmet, our core values suffer. And if our core values suffer, our romantic relationship will falter.

If our need for intimacy goes unfulfilled, we start to question our partner’s commitment to the relationship. If our need for independence goes unfulfilled, we resent the loss of freedom, autonomy, or solitude. If our need for empathy goes unmet, we resent our partner’s lack of compassion or misinterpret what we perceive to be their lack of compassion. This hampers the level of trust in our romantic relationship.

The bottom line: the more needs left unmet, the more problems our romantic relationships must endure. But sometimes our needs are not completely unmet so much as not quite fulfilled. If too many needs go unmet for a significant period of time, then chances are the person we’re with may not be capable of fulfilling our needs. For to do so may require him or her to change who they are fundamentally. In this case, we should take a hard look at our relationship and accept that this person might not be the right one for us. If, on the other hand, our needs are partially met but not completely fulfilled, then there’s room to work. Communication plays a large role. So does compromise and commitment. It takes work and patience, but if both individuals maintain a need to be involved in a meaningful and lasting romance, and if the right chemistry exists, they stand a chance of finding common ground and working through their relationship issues.

Summary of Needs and Desires

In my single, adult years, I’ve had the privilege of dating many wonderful women, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I chose to end my relationships in short order. At times, I blamed my misfortune on a fear of commitment, or convinced myself I simply met the wrong person. But more often than not, I attributed the problem to my needs not being met. Not necessarily my primary relationship needs, but broader needs instilled in my life but not acknowledged or completely understood until I took a step back and thought about them. For me, spending time with my children, devoting time to my career to provide for my family, and maintaining a strict exercise regiment were all high priority needs. Over time, I discovered how these needs directly influenced my secondary needs, which included time to enjoy my favorite recreational activities.

Upon further reflection, I realized I did—and still do—have a strong desire to be involved in a romantic relationship with the right person, but my primary needs—and most of my secondary ones as well—have to come first. In the past, my higher priority needs often overshadowed my desire for romantic involvement. And only when my needs were met, could I give myself fully to a romantic relationship. To put this another way, I came to understand how a romantic relationship for me had to evolve beyond a desire and become a fundamental need. A balancing act at times, especially for a very independent person.

I’ve shared my personal story as a way to conclude this chapter on needs and desires. Now I encourage you to conduct your own self analysis and think hard about your highest priority needs and desires. Some will be obvious, and some will not. If you’re twenty-two years old, never been married, and don’t have children, your primary needs will be much different than those of a single parent in their forties. If you’re currently involved in a romantic relationship, one you’re happy with or not, ask yourself if both you and your partner’s needs are being met.

The concept of defining and fully understanding our needs and desires resonates throughout this book. Even something as random and difficult to quantify as chemistry, correlates to our personal needs and desires. Discovering our deeper needs requires time and patience for personal reflection. Even in the most intimate and loving of relationships, we must remain aware of and respect our own needs and desires to identify the most significant ones and to challenge our own assertions. Sometimes certain needs turn out to be less important than we thought. And sometimes we turn away from things we don’t understand. But with an open mind and an open heart, the pieces eventually fall into place.

Now that you’re equipped with a better understanding of core values and the significance of defining your relationship needs and desires, the first of 4Cs to a meaningful and lasting romance awaits.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2, Part 2

Exploring Our Needs and Desires

Now let’s move beyond my personal examples for a moment and focus on your own needs and desires. Don’t over-think it. You know yourself better than anyone. Remember, your needs are steadfast. They are non-negotiable, and for the most part, they do not change. They also tend to be more objective and less subjective than desires. Specific needs are tailored to individuals who share certain beliefs about the type of qualities they seek in a romantic partner. But in general, there are basic relationship needs the vast majority of us would require from our romantic partner. Some of these might include:

  • Well groomed
  • Compassionate
  • Drug free
  • Clean record
  • Single and not secretly married
  • Even tempered

In these above examples of needs, your partner either uses drugs or not. He or she has either been convicted or not. Pretty basic stuff. On the flip side, if you indulge in a fine cigar now and then, you might prefer a partner who does the same. I’m not judging people’s personal preferences or lifestyle choices. I’m merely trying to convey the importance of discerning between the qualities you need someone to have and those you merely desire.

Now here are some examples of more subjective needs that border more closely toward desires and include qualities and characteristics someone might prefer. Again, the key word is subjective. This list might comprise high priority needs for some of us and not even register for others.

  • Nice hair
  • Sharp dresser
  • Patient
  • Sensual
  • Creative
  • Reliable

These last few examples describe subjective needs some of us might qualify as desires. Your personal preferences will vary. And in a similar fashion to defining needs, you should define your own desires, which might include some, all, or none of the following from your romantic partner:

  • Attractive
  • Intelligent
  • Sense of humor
  • Good listener
  • Enjoys an active lifestyle
  • Drives a nice car
  • Makes lots of money
  • Likes to cook

In these examples of desires—which could easily be defined as needs if you feel strongly enough about their importance in your romantic relationship—I’ve cited attributes you might wish your partner to possess. They are negotiable to a certain extent, and they comprise characteristics, values, or material goods you deem important, but not essential, to your romantic relationship. Unlike your list of needs, your list of desires can be highly subjective. You might desire to be with someone who is both attractive and intelligent but settle for someone with more of one quality than the other. A sense of humor might describe someone who likes to laugh but tells bad jokes or someone who brings the house down with their razor sharp wit and perpetual one-liners. You might decide an active lifestyle includes an average partner who enjoys tennis or golf. Or you might decide you need someone who trains seven days a week. The point is, you should allow your desires to be flexible. Some desires will be stronger than others. Good kisser might be high on the top of your priority list while the desire for someone who knows how to cook might not.

Of course there’s always the case where you don’t know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it. That’s why it’s important to date different people before making an exclusive commitment. I’m not condoning promiscuity or promoting poor judgment by acting in a manner of false intentions. I’m simply saying you can learn a lot about your own needs and desires by understanding what works for you and what doesn’t. Eventually, you will come to terms not only with identifying your highest priority needs, but with learning to decide which needs hold greater value for you than others. Think about it. Does your need for companionship outweigh your need to spend more time at work? Does your need for sexual gratification outweigh your need for stimulating conversation? Is your need for personal space greater than your need to spend significant time together? Does your need for someone of strong faith outweigh your need for someone who bestows you with copious amounts of kindness and affection?

Years ago, I met a lovely woman through an online dating site. Her profile indicated she worked as an engineer and shared a variety of common interests with me. After several email exchanges and a few phone calls to one another, we met for coffee. I found her as equally attractive in person as I did on paper. She seemed to meet my basic needs and several of my higher priority desires—as I’d defined both my needs and desires at that time. After talking with her for an hour or so, I found her intellect to be her most attractive feature. Of course I found her physically attractive as well, but more than her pretty smile and soft brown eyes, I found myself drawn to her intelligence. As one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met, she defined a need I never realized I had—the need to be with someone with a strong intellectual capacity. I don’t mean smart versus dumb. I mean someone who can think at a deep level on a variety of topics. Until that date, I’d never realized the significance of intellectual stimulation. Unknowingly at first, I’d uncovered a high priority need.

Remember, your needs and desires can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. But rather than turn your pursuit of romantic bliss into a dissertation on every physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual need and desire you can think of, start with first defining your highest priority needs and desires and then step away and ponder them for awhile. Maybe dip your toe into the dating pool and make some new friends. Experience what you believe you need and desire as well as what you didn’t realize you need and desire. You might be surprised at what you learn.

A Look at Interpersonal Needs

Some of our highest priority needs have nothing to do with the qualities or characteristics we seek from a potential romantic partner. Instead, these high priority needs come from within. I call these our interpersonal needs. Your list might be slightly different, but I think you’d agree the following interpersonal needs are ones which most of us cannot live well without:

  • Intimacy
  • Health
  • Time
  • Independence
  • Hope
  • Bliss
  • Sex
  • Faith


In the words of Mathew Kelly, author of The Seven Levels of Intimacy, “You can survive without intimacy, but you cannot thrive without it.” Kelly’s book goes on to explain the various levels of intimacy and how happiness and intimacy are intertwined. For the most part, I agree with his philosophy. I also agree that intimacy has a much broader definition than sex. In the words of Hara Estroff, Editor at Large for Psychology Today, “Sex is easy, intimacy is difficult. It requires honesty, openness, self-disclosure, confiding concerns, fears, sadness as well as hopes and dreams.”

From my personal viewpoint, intimacy is essential. Like the air we breathe, intimacy helps nurture our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. Intimacy implies closeness, belonging, and trust. It represents a fundamental need we all share, and one our romantic relationships demand.


Without good physical and mental health, we have nothing. Compromise elsewhere in your relationship but don’t sacrifice your health. Make exercise a priority in your life. Quit smoking. Get off the fast food wagon. If you value your life, you should value your health. Don’t sacrifice sufficient rest to please your partner’s desire to stay up all night. Decide for yourself which schedule works best for you to ensure a good night’s sleep. A healthy body helps promote a healthy mind.

Our health can be easy to undervalue and hard to reclaim when it’s diminished. Genetic dispositions aside, we are the masters of our own domain, free to weigh the pros and cons of a healthy lifestyle. The only absolute certainty in life is death. And the longer we can postpone our final days, the longer we have to enjoy the time in between.

Don’t make the mistake of equating physical fitness with arduous workouts, as not everyone enjoys the same activities. If you hate running, then don’t run. Not a swimmer? Then skip the expensive gym with the indoor pool. Walk the neighborhood. Ride a bike. Rollerblade. Play tennis. Shoot hoops. Try Jazzercise, Zumba, Pilates, or any aerobics class set to music. Buy a workout video or try boxing on the Wii. Dance the Tango, the Salsa, or whatever peeks your interest. In other words, make fitness fun. If you don’t, you won’t commit to it.

Need extra motivation? Spend ninety-nine dollars on a Fitbit, an electronic wristband-type device used to help you monitor your daily fitness activities by tracking your movements, literally, in terms of distance walked, stairs climbed, and calories burned—think fancy digital pedometer that actually works, not one of those clunky, inconsistent, belt-worn devices of yesteryear. With the Fitbit, you track your progress by syncing your exercise data to your computer or smartphone. Simple graphics make it easy to view your fitness statistics and show how you’re progressing toward your goals. The Fitbit aside, I use an old-school approach by manually recording time and distance data from my bicycle rides to a logbook that tracks my progress on a weekly, monthly, and yearly scale.

The action of monitoring our progress and recording the results to provide ourselves with instant feedback has been used successfully by amateur and professional athletes for decades. Scientists define this concept as a “feedback loop” comprised of four parts: evidence—defined as progress recorded, relevance—comparing our actual fitness activities to our fitness goals, consequence—from failing to meet our stated fitness goals, and action—facing the cold hard facts about our recorded progress and making the required adjustments to our fitness routine to help us meet our stated goals. It’s more than just a passing fad. Researchers from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford, and Children’s National Medical Center are melding feedback loops with modern technology to help effect positive change in human behavior.

Who knows? With enough research and cooperation between academia and industry, smartphones might evolve to smart scales, where we step on the plate to check out our weight and find the digital readout replaced with a synthesized voice declaring, “Put the ice cream back!” Either way, make a healthy lifestyle a high priority need in your life.


Time represents the world’s most valuable commodity. You can’t go back, and you can’t fast forward. You can’t beg, barter, or buy more time. Time wasted is time lost, forever. Make time management a high priority need. Learning to manage your time wisely will help you achieve a healthy work-life balance. We all have to budget time to accommodate our jobs, our families, our friends, and of course our romantic relationships. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accommodate everything and everyone in our lives. It’s okay to ask your romantic partner, “Do you have time for me?” The answer will depend, in part, on the expectations you both set forth. Some people require lots of time together to be happy in a relationship while others not so much. Some people require lots of time to themselves for personal reflection and their independent pursuit of happiness through interests or activities they prefer to enjoy alone. Best-selling author and world-renowned time management expert, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, claims, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” In other words, decide what’s most important to you in your life and make sure you focus on those priorities first. If you think about it, the time is yours to allocate as you wish. Don’t waste it on meaningless, unfulfilling tasks. Make time for yourself and the necessary chores in life, but make sure you pencil in some time for your romantic relationship as well.


We touched on independence earlier in Chapter I, where I described the concept of core values. In a sense, our core values mirror our interpersonal needs. In this case, the amount of independence required varies from one person to another. Our need for independence is important because it helps us to define who we are as individuals. It keeps us grounded. It empowers us. It also helps us satisfy our biological, physiological, and safety needs as described by Maslow. The capacity to think and act for ourselves provides a powerful tool, and one often overlooked in our romantic relationships, where it’s easy to be swept off our feet by the euphoria of love. I’m not disputing the value of love or the sense of togetherness a romantic relationship can provide. I’m saying it’s important to acknowledge your need for independence, whether minimal or substantial, and make time for yourself to ensure your interpersonal needs are met.


We all need hope in our lives. Hope for sustained good health. Hope for a better future for our children and ourselves. Hope for a cleaner planet. Hope for a healthier economy. And of course, hope for a meaningful and lasting romance. Hope in itself won’t sustain you, but hope combined with a positive attitude and a strong belief in your core values will keep you on the path to success in your personal life and in your romantic relationship.

A few years back I hurt my right shoulder to the point where I could barely lift my arm above my head without significant pain. I found this extremely disconcerting for two reasons: first, I pride myself on health and fitness through regular exercise involving a variety of cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength training routines which help prevent things like silly shoulder injuries; second, I had no idea how I hurt my shoulder in the first place. I literally had no recollection of anything bad happening to cause the injury. All I knew was that I couldn’t wash the roof of my car, swing a tennis racket, or throw a football more than a few feet without enduring a stabbing pain in the vicinity of my rotator cuff. After months of nursing the mysterious injury by avoiding any movement that provoked it, and after several sports massages, special vitamin supplements, inconclusive x-rays, and bouts of physical therapy, I started losing hope. But instead of accepting defeat and the loss of normal use of my right arm, I started incorporating meditation and large doses of positive thinking. Instead of losing hope, I gained hope through my own devices. Then, gradually, and I mean painstakingly slowly, my shoulder finally returned to normal. In reality, my recovery from the mysterious shoulder injury most likely had more to do with a strict regiment of physical therapy routines at home and avoiding unnecessary movements to exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, I believe the power of positive thinking and hope factored into the equation as well.

I also believe this philosophy can work to our detriment if we dwell on the negative side of things. A specific example comes to mind, where a few years back I’d experienced a succession of flat tires on my road bike in the span of less than two weeks. At that time, I’d been frustrated by a number of negative influences in my life, my bum shoulder being one of many. Uncharacteristically, I’d brought my negative emotions along for the ride during my normal bike routine, where I’d pedal twenty miles or so over the same path to avoid unnecessary traffic and minimize the probability of collision with inattentive drivers who cruise through stop signs or fail to share the road. I found myself riding with a lot of anger and frustration, and one day, after almost precisely ten miles into my ride, the rear tire went flat. This happened not twice, but three times within a two-week period, each time with a new inner tube and no indication of any tire damage when I left my house. Had my negative energy and toxic attitude on these rides rung the karma bell and generated my own fallout three times in succession? Perhaps.

As it turned out, the bike shop finally fessed up to the batch of defective inner tubes their supplier had shipped them. The shop described how the faulty valve stems were prone to leaking—a more likely diagnoses of my uncanny flat tire problem than a flood of negative emotions. Nonetheless, a change of attitude was in order, and sure enough, once I abandoned my gloomy attitude for one of positive energy and hope for better days to come, the flat tire problem ceased. Believe what you will. I believe we have a way of shaping our destiny, for better or worse, and only ourselves to blame when we pursue a course of bad intent.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2, Part 1

Our core values are an integral part of our needs and desires. Core values represent things we live by. They describe our credo, doctrine, or fundamental belief or practice. To a large extent, our core values drive our needs and desires, which comprise vital and necessary things we strive to attain for ourselves and for our relationships.

Beyond our core values, we all have basic needs we must fulfill and basic desires we would like to fulfill. In our romantic relationships, we define needs as our “must haves,” or “deal breakers,” or “things we can’t live without.” Some examples might include the need to share our lives with someone honest and trustworthy; someone who doesn’t drink excessively, doesn’t use drugs or excessive profanity, and shares our core values. In general, our basic relationship needs are static and do not fluctuate very much over time. They define specific criteria a potential romantic partner must satisfy in order for our romantic relationship to flourish. Our needs can be defined as physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Our highest priority needs are nonnegotiable, regardless of how blue his eyes appear in person or how voluptuous she looks in the plunging neckline of her silky black dress.

In contrast to defining our relationship needs, our desires constitute preferences or “nice to haves.” Unlike our needs, our desires can change and often do as we learn more about ourselves, acquire more life experience, and gain a better understanding of what we want in our romantic relationships. Our desires point to attributes we seek from our romantic partner but don’t necessarily have to have for the relationship to work. For example, a gentleman who is tall, dark and handsome or a lady with long hair and a button nose. We might desire these physical qualities, but if the person we meet doesn’t fit them, we make a judgment call and decide if their other virtues outweigh their perceived shortcomings. The same logic applies to emotional, intellectual, and spiritual qualities as well.

What one person defines as a need, another person might define as a desire and vice versa. In general, however, we all have basic needs we must fulfill in order to function in life. The late psychologist, Abraham Maslow, introduced a Hierarchy of Needs model. In Maslow’s book, Motivation and Personality, he describes his Hierarchy of Needs model in detail. To paraphrase the essence of Maslow’s work, we are each motivated by basic human needs. Maslow describes how we are motivated by these needs and how we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the most fundamental—see bottom of Figure 1, which deals with the biological and physiological aspects of our lives. Our subsequent needs build upon our foundation of biological and physiological needs for air, food, water, etc. When these basic human needs are met, we can then look to meeting our higher level needs for safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and lastly, what Maslow labels, self-actualization.

Figure 1: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs not only describes the categories of needs and the general content of these needs but also the order of importance in which our needs should be addressed. To paraphrase Maslow’s work, we must first satisfy our lower order needs—biological and physiological—before we can effectively concern ourselves with our higher order needs of personal development. In layman’s terms, if you’re starving, you’re focused on the need for sustenance and not your need for safety, belongingness and love. Taking this a step further, if you’re not able to satisfy your need for belongingness, and love, you can’t satisfy your higher level need for self-actualization, defined as a person’s constant effort to grow and develop his or her inherent talents and capabilities.

Borrowing from Maslow’s concept, I believe we follow a similar hierarchy with our needs and desires for our romantic relationships in such a way that if our “nice to have” desires are fulfilled but our fundamental needs are not, the pyramid will collapse, metaphorically speaking. And with it, so shall our meaningful and lasting romance. I expand on this concept by way of example.

First consider Figure 2, drawn to represent a hierarchy of relationship needs and desires I had defined for myself several years ago to describe the type of romantic relationship partner I wanted in my life.

Figure 2: My Initial Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

Obviously, Figure 2 looks similar to Maslow’s, as it should, because I assert that our desires should be built upon our relationship needs in a similar manner to Maslow’s model of building higher order needs on top of lower order needs. After much thought over several failed relationships, I came to realize how little free time I have, and how a lack of face time with someone, especially in the early stages of a new relationship, plays a critical role in getting to know someone on a deeper level. Therefore, I deemed the geographic distance between myself and my potential partner to be a higher priority desire than dating someone who fits my ideal physical image.

In my model of needs and desires, we cannot satisfy our desires without first addressing our mandatory needs. Remember, I’m talking about personal and relationship needs and desires, unlike Maslow who focused on basic human needs. I start with the assumption that your basic biological, physiological, and safety needs, as Maslow defines them, are already fulfilled. If they are not, then you should be focused less on striving for a meaningful and lasting romance and more on your basic human needs for food, shelter, security, etc.

Your personal model might only contain two primary steps, one for high priority needs and one for high priority desires. Or your model might have several steps like mine. If you have too many levels of needs, then you might be describing desires more than needs because the higher up you go in my model of needs and desires described in Figure 2, the lower the priority of your needs. Think highest priority need at the bottom with lower priority needs and desires near the top. Conversely, you might have several layers of desires ranging from things you would like to have to things you absolutely must have. In which case, a high priority desire might actually be a need in disguise.

Remember, our needs describe qualities we must fulfill in our romantic relationships—someone kind, funny, intelligent, handsome, etc.—whereas our desires describe our preferences for qualities we would like to fulfill—brown hair, good dancer, sharp dresser, etc. Recognize these are broad brush examples. Your personal needs and desires can encompass physical, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, and spiritual traits. To put it another way, you might desire a ruggedly handsome man, but need someone who listens well or someone with a caring disposition. Or you might decide you need or desire both from your romantic partner.

To some extent, everyone defines their own needs and desires differently. What one person considers a need, another person might label a desire. Furthermore, our needs and desires models are dynamic and subject to change over time as we learn more about ourselves and our relationship partners. While our strongest needs will stay static for the most part, our desires may change. Our priority of desires may change as well. Keep in mind, the picture itself is not important. There doesn’t need to be perfect symmetry between the number of needs and the number of desires on our list. Some of us have simple needs; others, more complex.

Figure 3 is another personal example of a revised needs and desires model.

Figure 3: My Revised Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

If you compare my initial hierarchy of needs and desires from Figure 2 with my revised hierarchy of need and desires from Figure 3, you will notice my highest priority relationship needs did not change over time. Namely, my need for someone who doesn’t smoke, drink excessively, or use drugs. On the other hand, as I dated more and thought about my needs and desires, I decided to add a high priority need for someone who does not want to start a new family. These needs are deemed most important to me. Of course I’ve omitted other equally, or even more important needs, for the sake of brevity and privacy. My point is, our highest priority needs should form the foundation at the base of our own needs model. For many of us, our highest priority needs are obvious and derive from our own values, beliefs, morals, and personal preferences.

As we move up the ladder, so to speak, our next level of needs might not be as obvious. This is due, in part, to the thin line between our lowest priority needs and our highest priority desires. For example, in Figure 3, I state my partner must not want to have more children. For a period of time, it was my high priority desire to not father more children. I very much love the children I have, and in the right circumstance, I could see myself adoring a stepchild as one of my own; however, at this stage in my life, I don’t feel the need to father a newborn child. Therefore, I have a relationship need for my partner to mirror the same sentiment toward not wanting more children. Over time, my desire for not wanting more children shifted from something I might be willing to reconsider—as desires afford us this latitude—to something I would not be willing to reconsider. I no longer had a preference to not father more children—I had a need to not do so.

Putting theory into practice, I can tell you my low priority desire for common interests in music, movies, etc.—from Figure 3—would be meaningless without satisfying my highest priority relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke or use drugs. In other words, a romantic relationship with a woman who satisfies every single one of my stated desires would fail miserably if she enjoyed smoking crack. Granted, that’s an extreme example. In reality, I would never date a crack addict, and by definition, I would not be able to satisfy my relationship desires without having first satisfied the relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke and doesn’t use drugs. Unwritten in my model of needs and desires is the notion of needing someone who shares the same core values, as I will never again involve myself with someone I deem untrustworthy or mean spirited.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance, Chapter 1, Part 4


People often fall in love and bask in the glory of happily ever after. But at times, even with the best intentions at heart, we fall victim to complacency and begin to lose sight of what we have, and in the process, neglect the critical core value of appreciation. It’s always easy to admire someone we just met and with whom we feel a strong chemistry. For some of us, this initial intensity of a new romance persists for an extended period of time. But for others, we start to take our partner for granted. We don’t talk as often. We don’t listen like we used to. We don’t compliment as often. We sacrifice quality time together to pursue less important activities. This doesn’t mean we necessarily lose respect or admiration for our partners. We simply refrain from making the conscious effort to appreciate what we have and to frequently convey our appreciation. Not surprisingly, authors Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks cite lack of appreciation as one of five issues tied to the erosion of long-term romantic relationships. In their book, Lasting Love, the authors stress the importance of maintaining the flow of appreciation between partners as their relationship evolves. They also cite commitment among their five issues of concern—a topic I address at length in Chapter VI.

It’s not enough to assume love will conquer all simply because we feel love in our heart for someone. We have to show we appreciate one another through our words and our actions. This can be a tough lesson to learn and partially explains why good partners slip away despite everything we feel we’ve done right in our relationship. The concept is simple, yet so easy to get wrong.

We all have a need to feel appreciated and wanted. Over several years I’ve dated women who lack the core value of appreciation. Despite all their positive qualities, they reciprocated my kindness and generosity with all the honesty and respect of a rock—a paradox worthy of further consideration but beyond the scope of this book. More importantly, those negative experiences reinforced for me, the tremendous value of appreciation. When we lose appreciation for the kindhearted, genuine, attractive individuals in our lives, we fail ourselves and our romantic relationships by not acknowledging the value of the person in our lives. As the French philosopher, Voltaire, proclaimed, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

We owe it to our partners to not only appreciate their presence in our lives, but to demonstrate our appreciation at recurring intervals. Sometimes it’s not enough to say, “I love you.” Show your partner how much you love him or her through good deeds and selfless acts. Become an active listener. Learn to empathize. Identify the priorities in your life and make sure your romantic relationship stays near the top of the list where it belongs.

Some key points to remember about the core value of appreciation:

  1. Appreciation is a cornerstone of romance.
  • If you can’t appreciate what you have in your romantic relationship, it might be time to reevaluate your needs and desires.
  • Appreciation doesn’t come with a price tag, so give generously.
  • Doubt and insecurity lurk in the absence of appreciation. When you fail to appreciate your partner, you erode the foundation of trust, respect, and honesty you’ve built over time.
  • It doesn’t take a genius intellect or a wild imagination to show appreciation; sometimes the smallest gestures echo loudest in the valley of true love.


Forgiveness, the last core value I will mention in this book, defines a value many people struggle to incorporate in their day-to-day lives. Tolstoy said, “Let us forgive each other—only then will we live in peace.” Mark Twain quipped, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” And in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”

Forgiveness can’t be something we choose from time to time. Selective forgiveness, in my opinion, doesn’t work. Furthermore, in forgiveness lies hope. For without forgiveness, we are doomed to languish in our own despair.

Let’s face it, most of us at one time or another have endured bad relationships, whether they involved a short term fling we later regretted, a planned engagement that fell through, or like many couples, a marriage that ended badly. Forgiveness helps us leave the past behind and get on with our lives. A lot of personal factors determine our willingness to forgive, including our faith, our personality, lessons learned from our previous relationships, and our upbringing.

When a romantic relationship fails, the choice to forgive a wrongdoing inflicted by one partner on another may or may not save the relationship once the music stops for good. But small acts of forgiveness while a relationship remains healthy, or even when it’s in need of repair, can be tremendously beneficial.

Does your boyfriend or husband leave the toilet seat up? If yes, then tell him not to. If he persists, then explain your concerns with a more compelling approach. Assuming you get through to him and the toilet seat stays down, then give him some slack if he forgets on occasion. In other words, forgive the behavior. Resist the temptation to hold a grudge about it or to incite a hurtful argument. The same attitude applies to men. If your girlfriend or wife does something to irritate you—hypothetically speaking, of course, since women never do things to drive men crazy—calmly explain your position and help her understand why the behavior has a negative affect on you. When an occasional lapse in judgment ensues, forgive the behavior and move on. Often, the little stuff evolves into bigger problems if ignored. But don’t confuse forgiveness with complacency or appeasement. If something bothers you, speak up! And if you find yourself in the position of having to forgive someone’s constant indiscretions, then perhaps your partner’s core values don’t align with yours. In addition, there’s a good chance certain high priority relationship needs are not being met.

If your girlfriend forgot to set the DVR to Sports Channel, forgive her. If your boyfriend forgot to call you at work, forgive him. If your wife forgot to grab your favorite beer at the store, forgive her. If your husband forgot your anniversary, again—well…it was nice knowing him.

Some key points to remember about the core value of forgiveness:

  1. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily imply reconciliation.
  • Forgive the little things to help your romantic relationship grow.
  • Better to forgive and carry on with a conscience in good faith than carry the crushing weight of a grudge.

Core Values in Summary

The core values of trust, respect, honesty, reassurance, humor, independence, accountability, self discipline, appreciation, and forgiveness provide the foundation upon which we build a meaningful and lasting romance. These core values as I’ve defined them are not meant to be all-encompassing, but rather, a comprehensive list of essential principles from which to better ourselves and our romantic relationships. These universal standards are important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Think about the values you champion and those you could improve upon. No one is perfect. People excel more in some areas than in others. Strive for balance as you grow and learn—not perfection.

With a better understanding of our core values and the role they play in helping us foster a meaningful and lasting romance, we can shift our focus to understanding the distinction between our needs and our desires. Why are these important, and how do they ultimately relate to the 4Cs? The answer is simple, and in many ways, applies to every one of us.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance, Chapter 1, Part 3



Healthy romantic relationships involve commitment from both partners who presumably enjoy each other’s company. Obviously, spending time with one another, learning, growing, and experiencing life as a couple, supports a fulfilling relationship. Yet despite the common interests we share and the desire to spend time together, we must also acknowledge our need for independence. Independence creates a sense of security. It helps us balance our desire to be in a relationship versus our need to be in one, concepts I discuss at length in Chapter II.

What does independence mean to each of us in our romantic relationships? For some, it means time alone to read, listen to music, or reflect upon our thoughts in solitude. For others, it involves a shopping spree with girlfriends or enjoying a guys’ fishing weekend. Independence does not necessarily imply solitude, so much as time away from our relationship, which begs the question: how can we maintain our independence and still be in a serious relationship when these choices appear contradictory? We can have one without the other, but we can’t remain independent and attached to a meaningful romance at the same time. Or can we?

To answer this question for yourself, reflect on your own need for independence. Some of us are fiercely independent; others not so much. I cook, clean, and do my own laundry. I pay my bills on time. I care for my children when they’re in my custody. So by all accounts, I consider myself independent. That said, I enjoy a woman’s company. I also appreciate, respect, and enjoy the value of a meaningful and lasting romance. Like most things in life, I strive for a balance between my need for independence—which involves a lot of time to write, exercise, and enjoy a variety of hobbies—and my desire for a healthy relationship, which involves chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. For me, the need for independence and togetherness fit less of a mutually exclusive model and more of a Yin/Yang paradigm where the two halves intertwine. I prefer regular, consistent time alone in modest doses rather than long bouts of solitude away from my partner. I also try to communicate this up front. My need to spend time alone doesn’t mean I don’t value my romantic relationship. On the contrary, my time alone helps me recharge my senses, clear my head, and maintain a positive perspective on life—all of which helps make me a better person, a better friend, and a better partner overall.

I encourage you to look inward and ask yourself how you define your independence. What are some things you need time to do for yourself? And when? And how often? There are no right or wrong answers here, only truth. Strive for a balance in your romantic relationship. Whether you’re inclined to need more or less independence, make sure you communicate this need to your partner.

For those of us who require lots of independence, be careful about spending too little time with your partner. People who make themselves unavailable physically and/or emotionally, risk serious, and sometimes irreparable harm to their relationship. A meaningful and lasting romance implies physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual togetherness—not two people leading completely separate lives. Then again, some people in healthy romantic relationships prefer lots of time apart because for them it simply works.

The polar opposites of those who require lots of independence, are those who require almost none. Those without a sense of independence crave constant reassurance. In my experience, individuals who lack a sense of independence have not learned how to enjoy spending time alone. They also tend to expend energy doing things to please other people instead of trying to please themselves.

According to a February 2011 USA Today article, which cited a national survey of more than five thousand single men and women across age groups from twenty-one to over sixty-five, women want more independence than men in their relationships. According to the national survey, touted as the largest and most comprehensive study of single adults to date, seventy-seven percent of women stated having their personal space was “very important” compared to fifty-eight percent for men. I don’t pretend to understand all the reasons behind these figures, but it’s interesting to note how the women in this survey appear to crave their independence more than men. Perhaps women tend to socialize more than men with visits to their favorite spa, shopping destinations, nail salons, or just hanging out on the beach with friends. Apparently, modern men require less independence. Or perhaps guys simply need to find more things to do.

Independence doesn’t exclusively apply to a physical separation of partners. In other words, you can still spend time together and maintain some independence at the same time. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and express your thoughts or concerns. You are who you are, a unique individual capable of making your own decisions and enjoying your own interests, whether or not they coincide with your partner’s. If you don’t like red meat, don’t let your partner convince you to eat it. If you don’t like horror movies, speak up and suggest an alternative. Perhaps your definition of independence includes pumping your own gas, carrying your own groceries to the car, making your own decisions about when and where to eat out. Regardless of how you define your need for independence, make it clear, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes there’s a fine line between independent and stubborn—or independent and confrontational. Having everything your way all the time won’t work well either.

Some key points to remember about the core value of independence include:


1.     Look inward and define your own need for independence. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not, you may jeopardize the success of your existing or future romantic relationships.


2.     Strive for a balance between together time and time alone. Recognize that your need for independence might vary.


3.     There will always be activities you enjoy sharing with your partner and those you prefer to enjoy alone. Embrace your differences; don’t reject them.


4.     In a budding romantic relationship, communicate your expectations early on. If your expectations are grossly out of line with your partner’s—e.g., one of you requires significantly more alone time than the other—then you might have an issue to address.


5.     Don’t give up your independence. Be yourself. Hold onto the things you believe in and the ideals you value in your life.




With everything we do in life, we are accountable to someone; to the bank that holds our car note; to our boss at work; to our children who look to us for guidance and support; to our friends, our family, and our significant others; to ourselves; and for some of us, to God. But what does accountability really mean? For starters, it begins with honesty. Accountability is closely coupled with the trust people place in us. Accountability also means learning to say we’re sorry and taking responsibility for our actions; learning to accept the blame when our deeds cause harm to others.

The law holds us accountable if we defy the formal statutes governing acceptable behavior in our society. Employers hold us accountable for our productivity and our behavior in the work place. Our romantic partners hold us accountable for our words and actions in our relationships. But what about ourselves? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable for our own actions? Absolutely!

Then why is it so easy to be accountable in various facets of our lives and then jettison this notion the instant we’re in a romantic relationship that doesn’t work? I’m talking about guys who say they’ll call and then never do. I’m also talking about women who argue they are tired of the dating games while they continue to perpetuate the same dating games themselves.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” In other words, it’s always easy to blame others for mistakes—and hard to look inward, to self-reflect on our own bad habits and occasionally inappropriate behaviors. I’m not proposing everyone should overanalyze every relationship they’ve ever been in, but I feel it’s important to understand where we’ve been before we forge ahead and try to figure out where we’re going. Only after we’ve spent time reflecting on our virtues and our flaws, can we begin to apply these lessons learned to our romantic relationships.

Accountability makes us vulnerable by exposing our flaws and forcing us to see things for what they really are. In the words of the late Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “He who gains a victory over other men is strong; but he who gains a victory over himself is allpowerful.” We gain victory over ourselves by being accountable for our actions.

If you’re serious about wanting to engage in a meaningful and lasting romance, or if you’re already involved in one, be open and honest. Don’t step out on your responsibilities. Step up and do the right thing. Look inward and identify the things that bother you or cause discomfort in your relationship. If you’re lucky enough to be perfectly happy twenty-four-seven and content with every aspect of your life, I applaud you. For those of us who live in the real world, it’s never a bad idea to examine ourselves and make small course corrections, especially if we’re not content with certain aspects of our lives. Or as Joyce Meyer lectures, “You can suffer the pain of change or suffer remaining the way you are.” Change isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Ditto for accountability, which can, at times, force us to modify our behavior patterns and come to terms with our shortcomings.

Some key points to remember about the core value of accountability:


1.     Be cognizant of the way you treat people.


2.     If you don’t like what you see inside yourself, work to make a change for the better.


3.     Accountability should be something we strive for, not something we hide from.


4.     It’s better to become accountable than pass the blame.


5.     Accountability allows for positive change in ourselves and in our romantic relationships.


Self Discipline


Self discipline serves a great purpose in our lives and especially in our romantic relationships. Self discipline acts like a forcing function to keep our other core values in check. Think of self discipline as the skeleton in our bodies. Without it, we would be nothing more than a blob of tissue and muscle mass. From a psychological perspective, self discipline drives us to set higher standards for ourselves, to achieve our goals, to overcome addictions or other negative influences, to persevere in times of need, and to thrive in times of comfort. Without self discipline, we shed our inner strength, our confidence, and esteem; we see problems and not solutions. Instead of rising toward success, we fall upon failure.

Self discipline represents one of the most powerful tools we have in our cache of core values and plays an integral role in maintaining a meaningful and lasting romance. Self discipline helps us get out of bed; eat healthy—or as close to healthy as we can; stay fit; do our chores; maintain a budget; control our temper; avoid temptations; become better parents; provide for our spiritual growth and self-improvement; and in general, overcome the momentary failures and inevitable setbacks life throws our way. Self discipline helped me pay my way through college, earn a master’s degree, pursue a thriving career, author numerous books, maintain a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle, and become a better father.

Self discipline equates to persistence and perseverance. The persistence to finish a task we startno matter how trivial or significant—and the perseverance to endure the trials and tribulations along the way. It takes self discipline to train for a race or to write a book, and it takes self discipline to remain attentive to our partners’ needs and desires. Self discipline also helps foster better communication and stronger commitment, topics covered in detail in Chapters IV and VI respectively.

Growing up, I recall my father telling me, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” This was usually meant in jest when he proudly displayed his uncanny ability to find a front row parking space at a popular restaurant or some other impossible-to-get-to destination that required the Hubble telescope to find an open spot. I also remember him rebuilding various components from several cars we’d owned over the years, performing never-been-done before repairs with perfection.

On many occasions, I’d find him on a plywood creeper with his hands above his head, blindly fidgeting in the chassis as he calmly explained the nature of his task while his fingers worked their magic like a surgeon. Sometimes bolts wouldn’t turn, parts wouldn’t fit, a component was too long, his reach was too short, or nothing seemed to go together as expected. But in the end, and I mean always in the end, through some act of genius or the will of God, he’d find a way to make it work. Every time. Without fail. No matter how bleak the initial prognosis, I’d hear him say with a smile, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Looking back on those days, his success at fixing cars, home appliances, computers, vacuum cleaners, guns, or anything else manmade, had less to do with luck and more to do with his tremendous self discipline. My father’s willingness to exercise patience, sound judgment, keen intellect, and a positive attitude derived largely from his aptitude for self discipline—the same self discipline that has helped my parents enjoy a meaningful and lasting romance for more than thirty years, raising five beautiful children and me along the way.

Self discipline doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time. It takes practice. Some people are seemingly born with it; others work hard to obtain it. If you’ve got it, hold onto it. If you lack self discipline, take baby steps to learn it. Get up on time. Make proper diet and exercise a priority in your life. Compliment your partner. Write a love note to him or her and hide it somewhere you know they’ll find it. Save what money you can for a rainy day. Even if it’s nothing more than spare change, the act of making a conscious decision to save money, no matter how minimal at first, will have a positive affect on you. The same holds for saving time. A little self discipline in the time management department goes a long way toward reducing stress in your life and in your romantic relationship.

To turn my dad’s phrase around, I’d rather be good than lucky. Unless we’re talking about the lottery, where being good has nothing to do with winning, it’s important to practice self discipline. If we strive to achieve self discipline for ourselves, we’ll achieve it in our romantic relationships. The late Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” Let self discipline help guide you to your next achievement. You don’t have to be the smartest or the fastest or the most well-off. You simply have to be the most determined.

Some key points to remember about the core value of self discipline:


1.     Self discipline can’t be learned in a classroom. Much like learning to speak a new language, you have to exercise your mental muscles until your newfound skill becomes second nature.


2.     Strive to be virtuous and stoic in your core values, as these represent the glue in your romantic relationship. Think of self discipline as the clamp that allows this glue to cure and tightly bond your relationship together.


3.     A strong romantic relationship can survive a momentary lapse in trust, respect, honesty, or accountability—but only if you have the self discipline to overcome it.


4.     Self discipline is what makes the impossible, possible.