Keeping Romance Alive
Ron L. Deal & Laura Petherbridge
This deleted chapter from the book The Smart Stepmom offers practical advice for keeping romance alive in your marriage. Read Part 1 here.
The kids go to their other homes every other weekend. This means we have several built-in dates during that time. We go on picnics by the river, dance at outdoor concerts that would bore the kids, explore nearby towns in little day trips, hike together, and dine at great ethnic restaurants the kids wouldn't appreciate. This is a great way to reconnect and build the intimacy.
Adding fun and romance to your marriage is essentially about injecting the relationship with energy. This can be accomplished in a multitude of ways. Just think of things that make either of you smile.
For example, every marriage needs sexual passion, but playful affection without a sexual agenda is one way to add vigor to your relationship. Holding hands while watching TV, sitting close to your husband while riding in the car, and spooning in bed are all ways to add energy to your relationship. For years I (Ron) have been encouraging couples to engage in a 30-second kiss challenge. The challenge is simple: spend the next two weeks offering your spouse a 30-second kiss every day. Why 30-seconds? Because most couples slip into a complacent pattern of engaging in either “hello/goodbye” kisses (lasting a millisecond) or kisses which lead to sexual intimacy. They no longer kiss as a way to connect and stir passion (which sometimes includes sexual arousal but not always). A 30-second kiss takes a little effort, but it can energize the connection and warmth for one another. If your husband is the kind of man that has a difficult time with kissing just for the sake of kissing, initiate sex a few times before introducing the 30-second kiss idea to him. It’s amazing how receptive men are to romance when they know the wife is willing to have sex.
A weekly or bimonthly “date night” can be a relaxing way to spend time together, but it’s vitally important to refrain from discussing issues which cause tension, such as money or the children. These topics kill the romance, changing the date into a business meeting. A periodic extended date such as a day-trip to a neighboring town, or a Saturday afternoon of leisure activity can revitalize your marriage. Twice a year get away from home and stay over-night in a hotel. This requires planning and a little money but it provides a healthy atmosphere unlike anything you can create at home. And don’t forget your wedding anniversary. Try to do something memorable every year to properly celebrate the special day.
Romancing the Stepmom
Did you see the film Romancing the Stone? The 1984 action-romance movie revealed author Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) jetting off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister. Ms. Wilder has a map that ruthless villains want in exchange for her sister. She finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure, where a low-life soldier of fortune Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) is the only person who can save her. Or is he trying to steal the treasure map to recover an expensive jewel? During a critical moment in the movie, Ms. Wilder must decide if she can trust Jack Colton. Predictably, the crisis to rescue her sister, plus the ensuing adventure with Jack Colton, has forged a romance. Joan is falling in love with a man that she isn’t certain has her best interest at heart. She struggles with freely displaying her affection until she is confident of Jack’s true intentions. Which does he prize—her or the stone?
Perhaps you have similar feelings regarding your husband. The challenges of being a stepmom coupled with the unknown territory of a stepfamily can create an adventure that initially brings two people together. But exactly where do you stand in your husband’s priorities? What jewel does your husband desire—you or the needs of his children? Is it you or reduced conflict with his ex-wife? Are you his treasure? Or do you feel like this woman? “Recently something died inside of my heart. I can sense walls forming out of a need to protect myself. My husband’s touch is no longer inviting or comforting. I don’t feel safe anymore. I don’t understand how he can expect me to be a tender lovemaking partner, when he treats me so badly.”
Family therapist Leslie Vernick explained to me (Laura) why a woman in this position struggles when she feels disrespected, neglected or abused, “Marriage is the most sacred and intimate relationship we have, apart from our relationship with God. When one person (or both people) continually disrespect, mistreat or lie to the other, intimacy is broken. It can be rebuilt but not without genuine repentance and hard work.”
All marriages experience times of stress and difficulties which can become a significant barrier to marital intimacy. The key word in Leslie’s quote is continually. This means that one or both spouses refuse to keep the marriage vow to love, honor and cherish the other. True repentance is the catalyst that launches reconciliation, followed by the hard work necessary to rebuild the trust and companionship.
Sometimes, you may not feel like a cherished jewel. Loving a husband who doesn’t love you is difficult. There are a multitude of reasons why a husband might not be as loving or attentive as he should. If this is your situation we advise reading one of the countless books written to help a wife understand what builds a healthy marriage. Our encouragement to stepmoms is to remain steadfast in the effort to love as Christ. And try not to keep score as Mary did, “I’m not doing another thing for him or his ungrateful kids until he decides to think of me first.” In Mary’s situation her retreat brought more distance, rather than intimacy. It’s important that Mary remember that her identity and emotional security is in Christ, not in her husband’s ability to love. In many cases a humble, loving heart that is willing to go the extra mile can influence a husband to reciprocate love. This does not mean ignoring or tolerating abusive, destructive behavior, but rather seeking the reasons why the relationship is headed into a downward turn.
If your husband is viewing pornography understand that this decision brings toxins and a third party into the marriage bed. In the same way a small drop of bleach contaminates an entire cup of coffee, pornography annihilates trust, intimacy, and purity in a relationship. In my (Laura) 20 years in divorce recovery ministry I have observed hundreds of marriages obliterated by pornography. Becoming America’s number one addiction, the 2006 revenues of the sex and porn industry in the US ($13.3 billion) were larger than the revenues of the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined. Every second in the US, $3,075 is spent on pornography. It is not an issue that should not be ignored, minimized, or excused. For a list of resources that address this issue check out www.LauraPetherbridge.com.
When Being “Stepmom” Interferes with Being “Wife”
Even if you feel secure in your marriage, your role as stepmom may interfere with the relationship. It’s important to recognize when the discomfort of being a stepmother leads you to withdraw from your husband. Learn ways to stay attentive to the romantic, sexual, and leisurely aspects of your marriage. Listen to the testimony of one stepmom:
“I realized I have to focus on things that are within my control and not waste energy on things I cannot change, such as my step children. I moved my marriage to the top of the priority list. My husband noticed the change right away. As the relationship flourished, so did our sexual intimacy. I can’t make my stepkids like me, or force them to respect to their father, but I can enhance the relationship with my husband. I stopped carrying the burden of my husband’s kids and gave that responsibility back to my spouse. I now feel lighter, and free to have positive thoughts and actions toward our family. My stepchildren try to force my husband to choose between us but, I released him from choosing. I just loved him to pieces. The increased intimacy in our marriage was a direct result of the changes I made."
The relationship with these stepchildren still leaves much to be desired. They could have become a wedge in her marriage. However, this smart stepmom decided to keep the connection to her husband alive and let him cope with the issues surrounding his children.
Showing respect to your spouse is additional way to keep the marriage alive. In his book Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerichs suggests that the reason why God doesn’t command women to love their husbands in Ephesians 5:33 is because love isn’t his greatest emotional need. He states that respect is a husband’s greatest desire. Therefore, if you want your husband to know you really care for him, first and foremost show him respect.
For a woman this may sound strange—unromantic. That’s because, as the Bible also reveals, being loved is a woman’s greatest need, not respected. God continues to command men to make certain that their wives feel loved and cherished. When both husband and wife are looking out for the other’s greatest need, each is served and fulfilled in the marriage.
Offer admiration and appreciation to your spouse for his willingness to financially provide for the family. It’s a great way to show him respect. Another way is to control the tongue. Typically a man will shut down immediately when his wife speaks to him with disrespect and contempt. Scripture says it this way, “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Proverbs 21:9 NIV). Instead, when you need to approach him with something that bothers you try a respectful tone as it helps him to hear you and respond positively.
If you are going to love as Christ does, respect your spouse even he doesn’t deserve it. A man who receives respect from his wife tends to seek ways to sacrifice and serve her. It often inspires him to love her more deeply which inspires her to respect him more often resulting in a positive cycle of mutual care.
“My husband and I have private ‘meetings’ sometimes just to have some alone time or sexual intimacy. Actually the other day my husband was crabby and my 5 year-old son said, ‘Mom, you need to have a meeting with Dad!’ I guarantee the children have no idea what actually happens in those meetings, but they do know it lowers the stress level in the house!”
A healthy sexual relationship is an important aspect of marriage. For some couples stepfamily living presents them with convenient opportunities to engage in sex; for others it presents constant barriers.
Opportunities: “Occasionally having no kids in the house makes me much less inhibited. I don't have to be ‘quiet’. I can sleep naked without fear of waking to a small person who had a bad dream.”
“Because my husband and I didn’t have kids together we've never gone through a sexual dry spell like we might have during late pregnancy, after delivery, and in early infancy. Also, I think we see each other as primarily spouse and lover, not father and mother. I think spouse and lover is much sexier!”
Barriers: “His son is with us every other week, and my husband and his son have a long bedtime ritual that often ends with my husband falling asleep. When his child is here I barely see my husband and we don't have time to catch up, talk, and cuddle. Since I feel less connected to my spouse, I'm less interested in sex. 80% of our arguments revolve around my husband saying that I’m a failure as a stepmother and then one of us spends the night on the couch. This results in a lack of trust and intimacy. I feel very vulnerable.”
“Right now we have either my kids or his every day of the week. However, we are working out a schedule where the children all visit the other biological parent at the same time. Hopefully we will have at least one day a week for just us.”
If alone time comes naturally for your stepfamily, take advantage of it, and send up a thank you to God. If it doesn’t occur naturally become proactive in carving out time for intimacy. Sex is not everything in a marriage, but it is vitally important to maintain closeness.
Strive to enhance your sexual connection. Learn all you can about healthy sexuality and recognize the differences between sex in a first-marriage and remarriage (see The Remarriage Checkup by Ron L. Deal and David H. Olson for more on this topic). Sex within marriage is a gift from God, which he created for pleasure and closeness.
Sisters, now for a little “girl talk”. If you are like me (Laura), my past played a significant role in my ability to intimately love my husband. I’m crying as I type this because I’m reminded of the extent to which God has gone to set me free from the shame and burdens I carried for so long.
My tumultuous childhood formed a tremendous fear, loneliness, and self-loathing in me which I carried into adulthood. Thoughts of suicide plagued my life for many years. Numbing my pain with alcohol I tried to find love and significance within romantic relationships which distorted my view of intimacy. That destructive decision affected my ability to feel secure and have true intimacy in marriage. It took time, but eventually I allowed the lavish love of Christ to woo me into his compassionate arms. This holy abandonment taught me how to willingly fall into the arms of my sweet husband.
I share this because I know many women who have not discovered that sexual sin before marriage (even those with your husband) can have devastating affects on a marriage. In addition, many women look to a man to find their value and significance. Although I have a wonderful husband, he is not the reason I get up in the morning—Christ is. Jesus is the only one who knows me; he is my passion and purpose. To Jesus, I am and always will be His Beloved. I have value because God says so—period. Circumstances change; my husband could die or leave me. However my identity will not change because it’s found in Christ, not a man.
If you have never taken a step toward allowing Jesus to love you, and cleanse you, I encourage you to do so. He is the lover of your soul.
 Leslie Vernick (personal communication with Laura Petherbridge, August, 2008).
 Porn Nation, Conquering America’s #1 Addiction, Michael Leahy, Northfield Publishing, Chicago Il, p. 200.
 If pornography is an issue in your marriage, we recommend: Celebrated Recovery and Bethesda Workshops
 Emerson Eggerichs (2004). Love and Respect. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, pg. 259.
Ron L. Deal is Founder & President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, and therapist specializing in marriage enrichment and blended family education. Learn more here.