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Relationship Articles : Blue Sun Romance
Collection 2

Blue Sun Romance
Relationship articles are presented in this section fully crediting the authors and source(s). Articles on Romance make up a major aspect of the content of relationship enhancement. By presenting a myriad of subjects tied to the ever-changing climate of Loving endeavors, visitors are afforded an even greater scope of information toward satisfying an intimate, passionate life.

Relationship Articles Home > Collection 1 > Collection 2 > Collection 3

couple of bicyclesOnce again, loving excitement surrounds us whenever we delve into a relationship with someone new.  Whether we choose to marry or simply date this new Love, the relationship itself may transcend over decades of romance and fun, including the challenges and work.

We are proud to continue bringing you a great collection of Relationship Articles, assembled from the findings in MSN’s Lifestyle ‘Relationships’, Yahoo’s Shine and YourTango blogs, and others.

Naturally, there are hundreds of topics on Relationship Enhancement out there to discover, but as Blue Sun Romance grows and finds new, freshly driven articles on love and splendor, so will our efforts to add the best of these to this great aspect of our site.
We think that you will be pleased at the diversity of writing expertise and advice collected within these pages.  BSR hopes you find it wondrous that these Relationship Articles can spark a latent desire in each of us for a Love with adventure and heart.  A Love we can share through the rest of our time with the person we want.

Enjoy your look into BSR’s Interesting Collection of
Relationship Articles!

BSR’s Relationship Articles

What Men Need to Know About Women's Sexual Health
By Sally Wadyka

If you're like most guys, you probably think you already know everything there is to know about sex. But it's what you don't know—or don't bother to ask—that could hurt you. We're not talking about satisfying your partner (although that's important too!), but about issues that impact both her as well as your own sexual health. Read on to learn valuable lessons about birth control, menstrual cycles, and when you're most likely to get your partner pregnant. Anything else you don't know? Well, don't be afraid to ask!

Why she's just not in the mood

You could blame her lack of interest in sex on a variety of factors—from fatigue to stress to emotional issues. But there's another libido-killer you may not be considering. "Many commonly used anti-depressant drugs can have a negative impact both on libido and on ability to achieve orgasm," says Nanette Santoro, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. If you're in a new relationship—and she hasn't yet revealed to you that she's even taking antidepressants—you might be left frustrated and wondering if you've suddenly lost your touch. For some women, being on the Pill can also diminish their interest in sex—probably because the Pill works by suppressing various hormones, including testosterone (the hormone that usually fires the sex drive).

PMS: It's not all in her head

"That time of the month" may be the topic of countless jokes, but if your partner is suffering from premenstrual symptoms, it's no joke to her. "About 80 percent of women suffer from some type of PMS symptoms—from physical complaints like bloating and breast tenderness to emotional ones like mood swings and irritability," says Santoro. Throughout a woman's monthly cycle, hormone levels fluctuate. And right before her period arrives, there's a huge drop in estrogen, and the brain respond to the lack of estrogen by also dropping serotonin production. Serotonin—known as the "feel-good hormone"—is what gives you a sense of well being. Not surprisingly, when it drops, your girl will get cranky, and may also crave the sort of high-carb comfort foods that boost serotonin levels. So be sensitive to her PMS symptoms, and consider yourself lucky that your hormones don't wreak this kind of havoc on you!

Her sexual history is now yours

"You are now sleeping with [whomever] she has slept with in her past, and you are subjecting yourself to any sexually transmitted diseases she may have gotten from previous partners," says Santoro. And while it's not necessarily important to divulge exact numbers and all the intimate details of your previous sexual partners, it is important to know how she has protected herself in the past and when was the last time she was tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

What she can do if the condom breaks

If you've had unprotected sex—because the condom broke, because you thought she was on the Pill, or because neither of you bothered to bring up the subject of birth control in the heat of the moment—there is an option for helping to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. The so-called "morning-after pill" is available without a prescription under the brand name Plan B (you need to request it at the pharmacy counter, but need not get a prescription from your doctor). "There are many theories as to how it works," says Santoro. "It might prevent a pregnancy from implanting in the uterus or it may interfere with the fertilization of the egg." It needs to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and involves two doses, so if an accident happens, talk to you partner about her willingness to take it and urge her to do it quickly.

Sex may make her suffer

Blame it on anatomy, but women are more prone to suffer from yeast infections, vaginal infections, and urinary tract infections as a result of having intercourse. "Semen is much more likely to disrupt a woman's normal vaginal pH and aggravate or precipitate an infection," says Santoro. "It's pretty unlikely for a man to get a yeast or other infection from a woman." So when she pops out of bed to pee immediately after sex (which doctors recommend to prevent bladder infections)—or won't have sex with you because she's got a burning infection down below—have pity on her and be glad your anatomy keeps you safer from such insults.

Know what she's doing to prevent pregnancy

"Any man who sleeps with a woman without intending to sign on for life as the father of her baby—and leaves the contraception totally up to her without thinking about it—deserves the paternity suit he is risking!" warns Santoro. Seriously, this is a conversation you simply have to have before you get busy. When in doubt (even if she says she's on the Pill or using a diaphragm), wear a condom. "If you don't know her well enough to know exactly how careful she is about taking the Pill or using other protection, then don't take the risk," says Santoro.

Find out her most fertile days

—and your partner is not using hormonal birth control (like the Pill or Depo-Provera)—it pays to know a little about her cycle. It's a commonly held belief that all women have a 28-day cycle, and ovulate midway through—around day 14. Even if that is the case with your partner, there is still a several-day window surrounding ovulation during which she can get pregnant. Since sperm can live in the fallopian tubes for up to 72 hours, she can get pregnant if you have unprotected sex at any time during the three days before she actually ovulates, as well as the day after. And more importantly, cycles can vary from woman to woman, and even from month to month. "Just because she says that her period comes every 28 days like clockwork, you should still assume there's room for error in that number," says Santoro. And yes, a woman can even get pregnant during her period. "If her menstrual cycle is short (like 25 days or so) and she bleeds for several days, she could potentially still be bleeding but also be ovulating," Santoro explains.

STDs—the one thing you don't want to share

While it is easier for a man to pass most sexually transmitted diseases to a woman (as opposed to vice versa), you both need to be concerned about protecting yourselves and each other. And don't make any assumptions about how safe you are. "It is important to remember that STDs cut through every social stratum, so ask your partner about any known STDs she has and talk about when you were both last tested," says Santoro. And while they don't offer absolutely foolproof protection, condoms are still your best defense against sharing infections. Some of the most common STDs include chlamydia (which afflicts about 28 million people each year) and HPV, the human papilloma virus, which affects about 20 million. HPV is so easily spread that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a sexually active woman has about an 80 percent chance of contracting it in her lifetime. And be very careful of herpes. If she has a cold sore (oral herpes), it can be passed to you via oral sex and manifest as genital herpes—and you could do the same to her. If the relationship seems like it might have legs, it's a good opportunity to go get tested for the full range of STDs. "Going together and getting screened for STDs can be a very romantic gesture," says Santoro.

More About Sexual Health:

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colo.– based freelance writer who writes regularly for Shape, Runner's World, Real Simple and The New York TimesShe has co-written several books and you can find more information at

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BSR’s Relationship Articles

10 Ways to Make Your Relationship More Thrilling
From Redbook (on-line) Love Your Life, Sex & Love category

The start of a relationship is exciting, risky, even a bit scary, and we savor every slightly out-of-control minute of it. "I'm crazy for him," we say. "He makes my heart pound." That early relationship thrill comes from the high of discovery, from learning your partner's passions and fears. It's the mystery of the unknown and the anticipation of the unexpected: What's he thinking? Will he call?

As a relationship matures, though, we tend to trade that intense feeling of free-falling for contentment and security. But why can't we have the best of both worlds: a rock-solid, comfortable, deeply fulfilling partnership and a regular injection of "but I barely know you" mystery? According to relationship experts and some thrill-seeking couples, we can. Here are 10 ways to stay in love and never stop falling.

1. Scare yourselves silly

Medical experts liken the body's fear response to sexual arousal — our pulse quickens and we break out in a sweat, which may explain why people voluntarily bungee-jump or descend full speed down glaciers on skis. We get a rush from being scared in a somewhat controlled environment, and when we do it with a partner, we're brought together by the feeling of having conquered our fears hand in hand. Carol Worthington, 39, of Baltimore, can attest to this: "My husband, Brian, wanted to go skydiving, and even though it wasn't my idea of fun, I decided to go with him so we could share the thrill. It was the scariest thing I've ever done, but also one of the most exciting moments of our married life together."

Granted, jumping out of a plane may be more stimulation than many of us ever care to experience, but there's always the rock-climbing wall at your gym, the scream machine of your choice at the local amusement park, or just watching a scary movie together in the dark.

2. Spill a secret

Intimacy and thrills go hand in hand, which is probably why the initial getting-to-know-you period at the beginning of a relationship is so exciting. Walking along the beach on vacation, after we'd been married for five years, my husband and I dared each other to reveal one secret about ourselves. After first insisting, "But I keep nothing from you!" I got up the guts to tell him about the M&Ms I keep hidden in the drawer with my gym clothes, and he told me he'd lost the stuffed dolphin I'd given him on our first Christmas together.

3. Place a bet

You and your husband have $20 on Hootenanny to win in the sixth race. He rounds the far turn three back from the lead, but he's closing in fast. The horses thunder past you down the stretch, and Hootenanny wins by a nose! You jump into your husband's arms and suddenly realize you're having a blast. The adrenaline rush, the decadence of throwing caution (and a few bucks) to the wind, and the slightly sleazy atmosphere of the track or your average casino all make gambling a great way to inject a little pizzazz into your relationship. Of course, you don't have to wager your hard-earned cash to get the same effect: Try playing strip poker in your living room after the kids go to bed or going to a pool hall and betting on who has to make dinner for the next week.

4. Be a little daring

When I was in high school the "in" thing to do during the wee hours of a warm summer night was to sneak into the local pool and go skinny-dipping. Fear of getting caught in a compromising position is guaranteed to evoke some thrills and chills, and you can bring back that feeling as adults in small ways that won't get you thrown in the slammer. How, you ask? The next time the two of you go to a movie, hide in the last row of the theater and fool around. Valerie Gordon, 35, of Santa Clara, CA, ups the excitement factor by showing (more than) a little skin: "When the mood hits and the weather permits, my husband and I take naughty photos of each other in public places like parking garages."

5. Relive your first date

Your first date was a mystery that had yet to be solved. There were several juicy clues — the look in your date's eyes, the way he kissed you — and plenty of nervous tension. But even though you know how that mystery turned out, returning to the scene of that first crime can bring back some of those old goose bumps. Sharon Alex, 38, of Lake Mary, FL, suggests you plan the evening exactly as you did the first time — same perfume, same innocent looks, everything. You can even dress separately and meet each other there, as Alex did: "I met my husband at a nightclub, and we danced and flirted. His arm around my waist made everything seem just right."

6. Cyber-romance each other

These days it's far too easy for a chasm of cyberspace to grow between a husband and wife. He can spend hour after hour playing a computer game, and she can't seem to get enough of the chat rooms. But with a few quick clicks, you can use this very same technology to hot-wire your marriage. "With the accessibility of e-mail," says Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage and family therapist in Woodstock, IL, and author of Divorce Busting, "we can take the time to do things we wouldn't ordinarily do, like sending love letters." One woman she knows decided that if her husband was going to spend all of his time surfing the Internet, she would express her feelings online. She e-mailed him a very personal romantic poem and got an amazingly romantic response.

7. See each other in a different light

Kristen Kiser, 30, of Astoria, NY, and her husband add a spark to their marriage by hosting Thanksgiving dinner for friends who can't make it home for the holiday. "I get to see what Marc's like in action, when he's taking charge and acting the host," she says. "It makes me fall in love with him all over again." Says Los Angeles psychotherapist Suzanne Lopez, author of Get Smart with Your Heart, "Seeing your partner with different eyes has to do with letting go of preconceived ideas. It can really change the energy in a relationship for the better." Other eye-opening ideas: Consider taking a boxing class together at the gym, where you both might be a bit more wild and aggressive than usual, or dance lessons, where you might surprise each other with your grace.

8. Become a master of seduction

A little bit of forethought can awaken some of the passion in your marriage, even on an ordinary Tuesday night. Rob Czaplewski, 29, of Grand Island, NB, likes to get home from work before his wife and put a love note on the back door. "Then I have her favorite music playing with all the candles lit in the living room and a bed of pillows on the floor," he says, "and finally, the promise of a backrub to help her relax."

Jenna Schlehuber, 42, of Moran, MI, used a bottle of cologne to build temptation. She bought her husband a scent she really liked and had it wrapped. When he went upstairs that evening to take his shower, she left it on his pillow with a card that said, "Would you wear this tonight for me, and only this?" Says Schlehuber, "After a few minutes, I went upstairs to find him just the way I asked, waiting patiently for me to come to bed. What a romantic evening we had — better than ever. And he loved the cologne, too."

9. Profit from the passion

Sex is something relationship experts universally agree will bolster just about every area of a marriage — including its thrill quotient. "Increased sexual contact," says Lopez, "is a way to recapture the erotic force that brought you together in the first place." Weiner-Davis tells of one woman who, soon after resolving to have more sex with her husband, not only characterized her marriage as more thrilling but said that he suddenly began mowing the lawn regularly and making her coffee in the morning — unasked.

10. Take a trip to nowhere

At the beginning of your relationship, every date was an adventure; you never knew quite what was going to happen or how it was going to end up. So one weekend, take a trip — overnight or just for the day — without knowing where you're going. No packing, no planning. Says Patty Moosbrugger, 35, of New York City, who's been married for six years, "Every now and then we just grab sweaters and sandwiches and get on a train. We get out when we feel like it and spend the day exploring wherever we land." By letting go of some of the control you have over your lives, you'll recapture that exciting sense of the unknown you felt when you first met.
Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.

More from Redbook

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BSR’s Relationship Articles

Bored with Monogamy? Fall in love Again!
Breathe life back into a dying love affair with these simple tips

By Dr. Laura Berman contributor

 Dr. Laura Berman    First comes love, then comes marriage — and then comes the inevitable decline into boredom, stale sex routines and constant bickering. Or so says every popular television show featuring American family life. From TV shows like “The King of Queens” to “Everybody Loves Raymond” to as far back as “The Honeymooners,” Hollywood wants us to believe that long-term, committed relationships are the opposite of sexy.

And, as the divorce rate in our country testifies, Hollywood has us convinced. Most Americans consider long-term monogamy to be the equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment. However, as a relationship therapist, I have also found the opposite to be true — people want their marriages to work. They desperately want to live happily ever after. They just don’t know how. As more time goes by and the relationship becomes more off-track, they begin to lose hope, until they eventually just give up on the marriage.

Thankfully, it is possible to breathe life back into a dying love affair. Here's how to fall in love with your spouse again:

Be the model for change

You know the old saying “Be the change you want to see in the world”? Well, as trite as that might sound, it’s true … especially in relationships. You can’t expect to see change in your relationship if you don’t put change into effect. For instance, if you want more romance in your relationship, then create that romance. If you are seeking more love and patience from your partner, then give your partner more love and patience. The world can only give to you what you give to it, so if you give your partner dissatisfaction, irritability and bitterness, you will get that in return. But if you give your partner love, understanding and appreciation, you will get that back as well!

Own your 100 percent

It’s tempting to look at your relationship only from your point of view, from which stance it is easy to see all the things your partner is doing wrong. Instead, try to see things through your partner’s eyes. For instance, you complain that he isn’t attentive enough to your needs, but when was the last time you went out of your way to be there for him?

Own your 100 percent of the problems in your relationship. When it comes to lack of communication and marital woes, it really does take two to tango. Step back and recognize how you are contributing to the problems in your relationship, and then make the necessary steps to improve your own behavior.

Initiate sexual contact

This sounds like a given, but it is amazing how many people sit around and complain about their sex lives, yet do nothing to improve them! If you want a more exciting and passionate sex life, then make the first move. Initiate sexual contact. Yes, it can be a little intimidating at first, especially if you never initiated sexual contact in the past. However, if you realize that this could mean the difference between staying with your partner or continuing to drift apart, that will give you the extra push you need. Sex isn’t some minor component in a relationship. It is a building block of trust, intimacy and emotional connection, and without it, your relationship will flounder.

Talk about what you want (in a positive manner)

In other words, don’t tell your partner what is lacking in your relationship (such as “You never pay attention to me when I talk”). Instead, tell your partner what you want (such as “I want to feel like you listen to me”). By taking a complaint and turning it into a request, your communication will not get derailed by the blame game. Instead of immediately going on the defensive, your partner will be able to hear your needs with an open mind.

If you want to rediscover your romance and fall in love with your partner again, make it a priority high on your to-do list. Commit to “dating” your partner, and send the kids off to Grandma’s for some much-needed alone time. Your relationship is the cornerstone of your home, so don’t feel guilty about putting your spouse before your kids.

It is possible to rekindle a dying romance — all you need to do is bring the spark!

Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the Berman Center in Chicago, a specialized health care facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.

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BSR’s Relationship Articles

‘Just Do It’: Couple have sex for 101 days Straight!
One couple gave their marriage a jolt ... by having lots and lots of sex.

After 14 years together, Douglas and Annie Brown were a typical couple approaching middle age while raising kids and leading careers. But where was the time for sex? In an outlandish experiment, the Browns decided to give their marriage a jolt — by having lots and lots of sex. Here, an excerpt from "Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!)."

Like you, I’ve enjoyed my share of days I like to think of as “most excellent.” My daughters’ births, for example, are hard to beat. I recall a long spell at the Jersey shore in the early 1980s when the waves kept rolling in, glassy and lovely, and I surfed until it grew dark. There was a dawn-to-midnight rendezvous with my brother, when we hiked in alpine splendor and topped it off with green chile cheeseburgers, beer and hammocks. And then there was the otherwise forgettable day the year I turned 40 that my wife Annie said seven words that changed our life together in a most excellent way.

This smashing day began in Florida, where I had just finished a week-long conference dedicated to sex, popular culture and the media. I am a reporter, and at the time sex ― pornography, strippers, sex addiction, you name it ― was one of my principal areas of coverage.

A flight, which is never something I celebrate, devoured most of the afternoon, but things lifted when Annie arrived to pick me up at the Denver airport. Her signature style, which she calls “messy sexy,” was in full flower — thick auburn hair pinned loosely to the back of her head, with big strands falling to her shoulders; groovy patterned blouse exposing a hint of cleavage; tight jeans and her favorite Israeli sandals and red lipstick. Her grin and sparkling eyes said: “Welcome home, lovey!” And then I peered in the back of the minivan and there was Joni, nearly 7, and Ginger, approaching 3, their very beings quaking with: “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

That night, after we’d put the girls to bed, Annie and I, as usual, slipped into something comfortable: for Annie, threadbare pajamas emblazoned with faded roses, for me, blue sweatpants with five pockets that I’d been wearing for at least 15 years (I champion pockets whenever I get a chance; I have announced to Annie no less than 486 times since we began dating, “I love pockets!”). Two front pockets held cotton handkerchiefs because I didn’t go anywhere without cotton handkerchiefs (thus, perhaps, my obsession with pockets). I believe I loosed a long “aaaaaah,” a sound familiar to people who frequent hot tubs, as I slid my sweatpanted legs beneath the covers, pressed my back into the pillow with squat arms behind me, and prepared for an hour or two of reading before drifting into slumber. Soon, Annie squeezed her cute little body between the sheets too and, like me, propped herself up against a poofy, armed pillow (these pillows are known as “husbands,” for reasons that defy rigorous analysis, unless one concludes that husbands are things into which wives lean, a conviction that, I assure you, will be challenged by many who will say, “If that’s the reasoning, then they should be called “wives.”).

And so we sat, side by side, cocooned in snug and quietly reading in our little house in our new subdivision on the prairie in Denver. At some point, I started talking about things I remembered about the conference, most of which survived like alien dreams in a relentlessly tropical setting. One solemn detail, however, remained crystalline.

“Get this,” I said. “One guy from Denmark talked about how men who are involved in relationships but haven’t had sex in 100 or more days actually bond over their sad predicaments. They form ‘100 days clubs,’ or something like that. At least that’s what I thought he said. I had some trouble with his accent.”

“The sexless marriage, it’s a big Oprah thing,” said Annie. “Two careers, kids, middle age, a bunch of years together. It can complicate the sex life.”

Yes, I thought. It can.

We’d been together for about 14 years, married for nearly 11 of them, with kids for almost 7. We both worked. Excellent sex had decorated the first half of our relationship, but its quality and quantity had declined as we approached our mid-30s. Careers and age shifted our end-of-the-day enthusiasms from carnal athletics to pulling sheets to shoulders and whispering “goodnight.” Two pregnancies and infancies had provided us acceptable rationales for begging off sex for longer and longer periods of time. We’d never abstained for 100 days, but in those sex-challenged zones between the third trimester and infanthood, we’d probably gone six weeks without doing it. Now, more than three years after our second daughter was born, we’d never fully recovered. We did it about once a week, if we were lucky.

Our union was not suffering. We rarely fought, and were attracted to similar things: cooking, hiking, playing games. We could talk together for hours without growing bored. Our children, the stars of our lives, drew us close. But I cannot paint over the fissures and rough patches, what the real-estate people call “wear and tear,” that had crept into the house of Doug and Annie. Sex, for example, had turned into a mere adequacy, an activity relying more on recitation and rote than free-form play. The panting excitement that electrified the early days of our relationship had developed into something else; not a snore, or a sigh, but maybe a hum, a sound suggesting contentment and harmony. And you know, there’s a lot to be said for contentment and harmony, but I think you will agree with me here: zest, sparkle and free-wheeling passion have their moments, too.

Just do it bookMoney, or its lack thereof, long ago had introduced tensions in our marriage, most notably after Annie stopped working during her third trimester with Joni. Between that exit from the working world and the genesis of Annie’s 100 days idea, we had moved five times and Annie had given birth to two daughters, four years apart. One modest salary, as a result, grew awfully stretched between bills, saving for house down payments, and doubling the size of our family. This left a pittance for things like dinner dates and vacations, and it led to most of the sharpest exchanges between Annie and me during those years together.

The latest move, from Baltimore to Denver, also contributed to the “wear and tear.” I’m close to my extended family, most of which lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. When we lived in Baltimore, we routinely spent time with my parents and my brother, with a sister-in-law and nephews and cousins and uncles and aunts. Annie and I had moved so many times that I thought another one would come easy, but it was not to be. Homesickness plagued me in Denver, and never had I been so curdled with guilt.

The move had physically estranged Joni and Ginger from routine contact with my family’s warmth and love, an event that flooded me with heartache: I’d hurt my kids and I’d harmed my parents by accepting the gig in Denver. The move upended Annie, too, removing her from a happy nest of friends and our lovely house that we had bought for a pittance. At the same time, though, it delivered her back to the West, a region she adored, and shortly after moving to the Mile High City Annie scored her first real job in seven years. While I talked incessantly about returning to the East, Annie resisted. Here was another crack in our foundation.

Finally, the previous seven years or so had hinged on our turn from carefree-couple without kids to something altogether different: parents. Our children, for good reason, commandeered the center of our life together. This was not something to lament, but it was something we should have examined with greater care. Things had changed, some not for the better. A little recognition and attention might have helped.

In short, while the house of Doug and Annie remained sturdy, it could have used a little updating, some renovation, a ration of what a certain kind of real-estate professional might call “pizzazz.”

“It’s a big problem for a lot of people, I think,” said Annie, knitting a purple hat with a green top, a cap meant to look like an eggplant. “A challenge. How do you squeeze in sex?” I returned to my magazine for a few moments, and then Annie turned toward me, grinning. “I’ve got an idea,” she said. “Why don’t we start our own club, only we’ll reverse it? Instead of not having sex for 100 days” ― here come those delicious seven words ― “let’s have sex for 100 consecutive days.”

I waited a few beats, studying Annie. I could tell she was serious.

What a most excellent day! I thought.

And then: That’s insane.

Excerpted with permission from "Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!)" (Crown) by Douglas Brown.

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BSR’s Relationship Articles

The Happiness Experiment
By Valerie Frankel

After seven years together, this couple was comfortable, but the sparks were getting fewer and farther between. Could a decorator turned love guru save their marriage?

In the day-to-day, my marriage was rock solid. Steve and I shared chores; we equally divided kid care. Sexually? We didn't scrimp (if "scrimp" were a newfangled sex technique, we would try it). And yet, in the moment-to-moment, when I looked across the dinner table at my husband, I was more likely to dwell on whether it was his turn to take out the recyclables, rather than how deep was my love.

When Steve and I first started dating, we had crazy love. We wrote long, funny, sexy e-mails to each other; every trip to the hardware store was a romantic interlude. The shift from passionate to placid was gradual (seven years) — and inevitable as we became domesticated. Was it unrealistic to hope for a few sparks now and then, to crave not just comfort and warmth but joy and heat?

My twinge of nostalgia for those premarital days was triggered by the arrival in my mailbox of a book called Happiness for Two: 75 Secrets for Finding More Joy Together. The sender was an editor friend who thought I'd make good use of it. The author was Alexandra Stoddard, an interior designer and author of dozens of books on "the art of living well." A self-proclaimed pioneer of the happiness movement, Stoddard spreads the word — literally — at "Happiness Weekends," where she lectures on how to find joy, bliss, and, for a little change of pace, color coordination.

A quick glance at the book's table of contents revealed three of her main themes:

  1. Improve yourself. (Hence "secrets" like "Read some quality literature.")

  2. Be considerate. (E.g., "Mess up, clean up" and "Sincerely say you're sorry.")

  3. Do things à deux. ("Explore together your invisible wealth," "Read together" … and, just to drive home the point, "When you are together, be together.")

I'd read only three pages, and I was altogether ready to scorn Stoddard's neo-Victorian idea of a harmonious marriage. Any adult in need of reminders like "Don't correct each other in public" would be better off with a marriage counselor.

That said, some of the suggestions weren't as easy to scoff at. So I read on, and after cutting out the trite, irrelevant, and useless, I whittled down her list of 75 to 10:

  1. Write each other's New Year's resolutions. This intrigued me. It was a bit early for resolutions, but we could certainly make a wish list of what we would each like the other to accomplish. If written, prods weren't nags.

  2. Begin each encounter with a smile. So quaint, but there was hard research that smiling does improve outlook.

  3. It feels good to look good. An opportunity to get Steve to wear nice clothes for a change, and not his ragged favorites.

  4. Write love notes. As mentioned, we used to send beautiful, hilarious e-mails to each other. I wanted to revive our epistolary connection.

  5. Give the gift of eye contact. We both had the bad habit of staring at the TV or computer screen when we talked.

  6. Grumpiness is contagious. Being more mindful of mood could ward off secondhand blues.

  7. Try not to interrupt. Stoddard meant bothering a partner during his alone time, but interruptions in conversation were also a problem for us (me).

  8. Generous compliments lighten the heart. He was fairly reticent with the flattery. I wouldn't mind more of it.

  9. Control your tone. Sometimes, I could be as obnoxious as a 16-year-old prom princess. For his part, Steve could be a tad condescending.

  10. Celebrate more. We lavished gifts and parties on our daughters, but Steve and I downplayed our own birthdays and accomplishments. Making a big deal of little things could add excitement to our lives.

I presented the list to Steve. It took some convincing, but he agreed to Stoddardize our marriage for a one-week trial period, after which we'd see where we stood — ideally, a little closer.

Day One

Steve refused to read Stoddard's book aloud (our first act "together") because of its flowery language: "Love is our life force. We cannot live fully without loving and being loved," etc.

Her overdosing on the "L" word was a bit hard to take. So we put down the book and did some writing of our own. Never mind that New Year's Day was months away (in Stoddard Land, no time like the present!). My resolutions for Steve were pretty predictable: Exercise three times a week, clean out his side of the closet, be nicer to my friends, drink less beer, go to the doctor for a checkup. The stuff of daily nag.

Steve read my list, rolled his eyes, and handed me his: Think before you bitch, watch less reality TV, expect more from the girls, and don't eat while on the phone. "I eat when I'm on the phone?" I asked, shocked.

"All the time," he said. "It's weird. The phone rings. You pick it up, go into the kitchen, and open the fridge. Especially when your mother calls."

I had had no idea, and was horrified to hear it. That was a habit I was determined to break. Otherwise, regarding his list, I just couldn't give up The Biggest Loser and Project Runway. But I would try to stop snap bitching and babying the kids. Steve agreed to clean out the closet and see his doctor. Less beer? He said, "How about, I'll be more discreet."

"Wait," I said, before he walked off. "We have to smile at each other and make eye contact." Stoddard promised that doing so would engage our souls, putting us on "the same wavelength, emotionally in perfect union." I forced up the corners of my mouth and gazed at him. Steve reciprocated by crossing his eyes and grinning maniacally.

We laughed (together), making eye contact in a genuine way. I felt the zing of connection. We got there via ridicule. But we did get there.

Day Two

If I expressed mushy thoughts every hour to Steve, he'd drown in an ocean of sap — and then the recyclables would never go out. But for the sake of happy week, both of us would have to start upping the verbal puffery, since Stoddard believes that "honest compliments are the language of love. When we praise our significant other we lift each other up into greater heights of happiness." To that end, over breakfast, I smiled (broadly) at Steve, and said, "I admire the way you started cleaning out the closet yesterday. And how you didn't drink beer last night."

He smiled (insanely) at me, and said, "And I admire how you can turn a nag into a compliment."

"It's a gift," I said.

"Like eye contact," he replied, giving me some.

After the morning meal, we usually went to our separate spaces in the apartment. I work from home. Steve is a musician and opera singer who performs at night. During the day, while I write, Steve studies scores and scripts, prowls eBay, vacuums. We rarely communicate via e-mail. (No need, since we're in shouting distance.) But that afternoon, I set out to write a love note. "Keep the words simple," suggested Stoddard. "The truth is the prize that will shine brightly." Simple truth. OK, I thought, here goes.


I'm grateful that you have limited social needs, a high threshold of pain, get mad at dirt like Joan Crawford, tolerate this romantic experiment, and make sweet, sweet love to me. I really do adore you and am humble (groveling) in my affection.


Your Wife

I thought I walked the fine line between mocking the exercise and making an earnest effort. After I hit "send," the real emotions of gratitude for having Steve in my life washed over me as I sat at my desk. My thoughts were interrupted by the ding of the computer, alerting me to new mail. It was from Steve; subject line: "My love for you."

My dearest darling:

Thank you a million times for the gift of blueberries this morning. How I love you for buying fruit. Truly, my love, my soul is yours to maim as you see fit.

Your slave forever,

The Husband

Just as I finished reading it, Steve came into my office. "Did you get my note?" he asked.

"Funny," I said. He'd hit the mocking tone, but missed earnestness by a mile. I was surprised by my disappointment.

He said, "I do mean it, you know."

I looked at him (gift of eye contact), and saw in his face that he did. His soul was mine. He just couldn't deliver the message without the mitigating humor. Not his style.

Our marriage often felt less like a meeting of minds and beating of hearts than a partnership in duty, a comfortable arrangement of sharing responsibilities and swapping fluids. Sometimes, rarely, there were romantic glimmers that shone through the curtain of amicable domesticity. Stoddard's idea to write love notes obviously had the intention of provoking such moments.

And, you know what? It worked.

I got up from my desk to kiss him. And that put an end to work for the rest of the day.

It occurred to me later that none of Stoddard's tips were about sex — a glaring omission, it seemed to me, in a book about marital bliss. Or, possibly, she knew all along that just a small bit of kindness and affection could easily turn into passion.

Day Three

"One way to keep our love alive is to clean up our act when we're at home," Stoddard suggested. "Rather than always dressing down, there should be times when the spirit moves us to dress up." She also confessed, "Whenever possible, I wear colored bras and panties, just to add zest."

As a lingerie junkie, I had "zest" well covered. That said, I did let some things slide. I usually pulled my hair into a pony instead of styling it. I rarely wore makeup. In cold months, I'd go a week between leg shavings. Steve had the opposite problem. He was extremely well-groomed — toenails to nose hairs. But his clothes were faded, frayed, and ugly. I'd bought him upgrades, but he preferred his old familiars.

Now that we were Stoddardizing, I started blowing out my hair and using mascara. Steve reluctantly put away his tattered zip-up cardigan and ratty tees, and dressed in the shirts and sweaters I'd picked up for him instead. With this new attention to detail, he doled out the compliments readily. My shiny hair and longer lashes had an internal effect on me, too. I got a lift, knowing I had something extra going on. Steve didn't report a boost in his confidence (honestly, he could wear a garbage bag or a tux and be the same person), but the blue shirts made his eyes brighter than ever. Since I'd been gazing into them so often lately, I really enjoyed the change.

Day Four

Steve got into a disagreement with the director of his opera company, and he sank into a funk for the whole day. My peppering him with annoying questions ("What exactly did he say to you?" and "Is this really such a big deal?") did not help matters.

Regarding grumpiness, Stoddard warned, "Negative energy tends to spread...In order to save the situation, there must be a confrontation where you lovingly explain that this behavior is unacceptable."

I liked the advice to confront, but I'd have to do it the right way. "Soft, sweet tones coming from one loved one to another are powerful … Sweet voices seduce, opening us to be more intimate, romantic, and loving," she maintained.

I put that theory to the test, with my daughters' help. During dinner, we all spoke to Steve with gentle, mellifluous voices, like we were talking to an ornery puppy. He didn't seem to notice. And then, to my amazement, I watched him visibly relax. A lilting "please pass the salt" affected him like an airborne narcotic. By dessert, Steve's blues were gone. Props to Stoddard. This trick actually worked.

Day Five

My Sweet:

You looked incredibly sexy this morning when you promised to go to the gym next week.

Imagine how turned on I'll be when you actually go!


Your Wife

Dear Wife:

I knew what you and the girls were doing last night, speaking to me like a mental patient at dinner. I went along with your ploy out of love, which I have for you, in truckloads.

On to you,

The Husband

Day Six

The problem with two people who are home all day isn't in finding time to be together, but in leaving your partner alone. Everyone needs privacy. Today, I vowed to give Steve his space. It wasn't easy. I had to stop myself from plopping down next to him on the couch and asking, "'Sup?" during my breaks. At the end of the workday, Steve gently knocked on my office door. He said, "'Sup?" A refreshing role reversal.

I asked, "Did you miss me today?"

"Not really," he said. "But it was nice to get the chance to. Maybe I'll miss you tomorrow."

"I look forward to it." I eye contacted and grinned meaningfully.

Later on, after the kids went to bed, Steve asked, "Remember how we used to lie on the bed and listen to music?" I did. Steve plays the French horn, and in our early days had subjected me to classical concertos and rondos (his attempt to raise my cultural literacy). Nowadays? Not so much. "How about we do it tonight?" he asked, eye contacting (sweetly).

I loved his overture, but, but...Project Runway was coming on soon, a show he refused to watch. I decided it'd be selfish and rude to turn him down (and I knew I could catch a repeat of the episode tomorrow). He put on Strauss. While we listened, we kissed and spooned. Waltzes had never sounded so good — more satisfying than Project Runway, which was saying a lot.

Day Seven

"Celebrations are not just to provide pleasure," Stoddard writes. "They help us to honor each other, to recognize that, in truth, we should celebrate life together every day." Any old reason to celebrate would do, she claimed, so Steve and I hired a babysitter and went out to dinner to celebrate the end of our week of Stoddardizing. I asked, "What worked for you?"

"How you didn't bug me during the day and talked on the phone without chewing," he said. "And the mascara. You should wear more lipstick, too."

"What about smiling and eye contact? And the love notes?"

Steve scoffed. "It was forced."

True. Grins, gazing, and gushing were much more meaningful when spontaneous. For me, the week's biggest bonuses were seeing Steve in nicer clothes, and getting more compliments from him, which I urged him to continue. "If we hadn't written resolutions, I'd still be eating on the phone," I said.

"And the closet would be a mess," he said.
We decided, too, that grumpiness happened to everyone, and instead of manipulating each other with lulling tones, we should just back off and let the mood pass naturally.

Our drinks arrived, and we toasted our happiness. "The question is," I said, "are we happier now than we were a week ago?"

"Of course!" Steve blurted. "We're happier because we were together that much longer. And we'll be happier next week than we are today for the same reason."

That did it. Major sparks were flying. Stoddard was right, that love and happiness could deepen after years together. As for the how, I'd give the credit to our shared humor, bemused tolerance of each other's flaws, and an enduring sexual chemistry. Stoddard's tips and tricks didn't make our marriage stronger, but they did, I admit, remind us of what we have.

More from MSN Lifestyle

Valerie Frankel's memoir, Thin Is the New Happy, has just been published.
Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.

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