Almost everyone knows that I am a romance author and scholar. I write, eat and drink romance because I think it is one the most powerful ways to using to tap into a range of essential human emotions – love, desire and faith.
You read it right. I include faith as an important element of the romantic and intimate connections between partners. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” Ar-Rum [30:21]
Many in Muslim cultures embrace Islamic teachings that encourage the formation of emotional bonds through marriage and maintaining them, which can be challenging. Feelings that may exist when a couple first marries can (and probably will) change in nature or may diminish at some level over the years.
We rarely feel the same way for our partner as we did during courtship or the beginning of married life, but that is not always a bad thing. Those intense emotions people experience when first digging each other can be volatile and plain exhausting. Couples in long-term relationships rarely keep their feelings at that magnitude and may find that their passion sizzle has fizzled as their love becomes more comfy than potent. Some may settle down into it like a well-worn robe. Other people will seek ways to breathe new life to the mystery and excitement that romance gives their bond.
Whether the domestic union between partners is new or long-term, couples can benefit from developing and honoring romance and intimacy, forming habits with the potential of enhancing their relationship. Comfort, understanding and respect is wonderful and important. But so is romance and intimacy. Here are seven suggestions to keep the romance sparking.
1. Love Yourself
I am not encouraging anyone to become a narcissist, but it is important to love and embrace one’s good qualities and offer ourselves some of the love, compassion and mercy we freely give to others. Constantly giving a partner time, energy and emotional support can leave a person drained and hollow, wondering about who they are and about their own value. Take a little time to appreciate who you are and the terrific things about you as well as where you could use a little work.
Listen to yourself – the good, bad, ugly and plain silly. Internal dialogue can tell us a lot about our needs and desires that we can then share with our partners. Don’t leave your significant other in the dark. We are rarely as intuitive about our partners as they like to think. Give the person you love a heads up after figuring things out yourself. Have some solid asks for them, and give them a chance to show their affection by fulfilling them.
2. Ground What Romance Means To You
Romance is a big business. In literature alone, the romance genre is a billion-dollar industry
that conveys a lot of messages about how people fall and stay in love. Societies and cultures maintain traditions and generate new ideas about romance, including me.
As a romance writer, I want to highlight culturally-specific romance, presenting a divergence from notions impressed upon us by the dominant culture. However, I realized that I create and reinforce some ideas that may not be everyone’s romantic reality, which is okay. Many romance readers lean heavily on the ideals generated in the genre. I encourage my readers to enjoy the fantastical but not to let it override what they want and consider romantic.
Consider what excites you, which may not be what excites others. Not everyone is the candy, jewelry and flowers type. Do not use societal measures of romance to define the romance in your relationship.
3. Flesh out Intimacy
Image source: Pinterest
Many of us have shallow notions about intimacy, reducing it to sexual acts and not exploring or appreciating it further. Intimacy comprises interwoven levels of sexual, intellectual, emotional and spiritual connections. Sexual intimacy (and attraction) is only one component
. Couples who want to make stronger intimate connections may benefit from learning about the others. Consider these types of intimacy:
- Intellectual Intimacy: Know each other inside. Partners should know more about each other than anyone else does.
By breaking away from prevailing ideas about intimacy and expanding mindsets, people increase the potential to create substantive intimacy that feeds the relationship inside and outside of the bedroom.
4. Know Your Partner’s Limitations
Just as important as your romantic asks is recognizing that your partner has limitations. You must decide how patient you can be with them. Maybe you like to get love letters but your partner is not capable of drafting them or at least not to your satisfaction. Not writing like Shakespeare isn’t necessarily a romantic deal breaker in an otherwise fulfilling relationship. Pick your romantic battles.
5. Don’t Ditch Date Night
Time alone should be sacrosanct. Life will jump between you every day. Work, school, children, relatives, friends, the community … whew! It can all get in the way of partners keeping their bond strong. Get away from all of them for a few hours or days, if you can.
Deflating from life’s stress and holding onto each other for dear life is essential to avoid becoming strangers. One of the biggest mistakes Papa Bear and I made was to go years without a date. They all went by in blur. When a friend insisted that we leave the kids with her and go on a date, we ended up wandering around a mall, not talking or even making eye contact.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. My attachment to my husband should not be dependent on our children or responsibilities but how I relate to and appreciate him as a person. That can only happen if I get to be with the man – not the dad, son or imam.
Don’t wait until you and your partner end up strangers in an empty house while everyone goes off to live their lives. Reinforce the one you are building with each other.
Layla, Papa Bear and some of her children.
6. Love What Your Partner Does
I mean, everyone has their limits, but if you can dig something your partner is into, it can strengthen bonds and help them feel that you value them. We all have our individual interests, and couples do not share everything. But, creating common ground by gravitating to their stuff can be a way of spending time together and seeing them as an individual, hopefully one you want to continue to know.
7. Put Islam Back in Romance
I don’t know when Muslims became so detached from passionate love that they decided that sensual bankruptcy was considered a sign of piety. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) was a consummate romantic
. The sunnah
is rich with examples of how he connected with his wives to strengthen his relationships with them.
How swoon-worthy is making sure to drink from the same spot on a glass as the person you love? He shared miswak, fed and played with his wives and laid on their laps while he recited Quran. In addition to physical intimacy, The Prophet Muhammad (saw) shared his wives’ interests and loved their friends. How about we appreciate the ties between faith and romance to further enhance both?
We can all start to improve our romantic lives with our partners and ensure that our bonds stay strong. Remember:
- Save some love for yourself;
- Accept your partner's romantic limitations without resentment;
- Love some of the things your partner loves;
- Tell your partner you love them the best way you can;
- A little horseplay doesn’t hurt your Islamic morality;
- Think about a pet name that makes them feel good;
- Help each other in the house, and
- Tie Islam, love and desire together.
Now go ahead and nurture your marriage!