"What do you read?" I asked.
She slapped the book down on the table as if it was so far beneath her she couldn't bear to touch it any longer. "Something with at least a hint of realism."
"I'm sorry for you," I said. And I meant it. Because a good romance novel isn't a fairy tale—it's a snapshot of love at its finest. I should know, I've written 28 of them and read hundreds of others. The complaint shouldn't be that they're not realistic; the complaint should be that so many of us don't know how to make this kind of love last. But that doesn't mean we can't learn. It's basically a matter of behaving as we behaved when we were courting, and taking it a few steps further to establish the deeper ties that make true love an everyday reality.
1. Avoid negative thought patterns. Allowing yourself to mentally or verbally tear down your significant other is like gnawing at the bond that holds you together.
2. Remember that this person means more to you than anyone else--including your parents and your kids. People who lives their entire lives for their children are often disappointed to find that they have no relationship left once the kids head out on their own.
3. Be more flexible and forgiving with your spouse than mere friends and neighbors. We expect our spouses to "understand" our stress or limitations (in other words, put up with our crap). Instead, reserve your patience and kindness for the person who means the most to you.
4. Understand that relationships work on a spiral: the more thoughtful you are to your loved one, the more fulfilled and happy he/she will be, and the more he/she will be interested in giving back to you.
5. Don't get too practical. Some couples forego the flowers, the cards, the dinner dates and the chocolates in favor of saving money. But what's worth more to you? A few bucks (or even a house or a car) or a relationship that will likely affect your whole life and the lives of your children?
6. Try to do something nice for your spouse every day, even if it's just a chore he or she typically does. These thoughtful touches will act like a hedge against the tough times.
7. Be physical, touch a lot, even when there's no chance that it will escalate into a sexual encounter. These little reminders that a spouse cares are nurturing to the soul and send wonderful signals to your children. They feel secure and happy because you're secure and happy, and they are more loving because of the example you've set.
8. Remain loyal. Have the grit it takes to stick together through thick and thin.
9. Be unselfish. It might seem otherwise, but life isn't all about you, how you're feeling and what you want. Worry more about whether you're being a good spouse than whether your spouse is being a good mate to you, and you'll be glad you did.
10. Take care of yourself. You don't have to be model-thin or in the first blush of youth, but be the best you can be—mentally and physically. In other words, be someone you'd like to be with.
11. Laugh. Don't take life too seriously. It's no fun to be around someone when everything means too much and weighs too heavily.
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