How To Describe Romance in a Partnership

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In human culture, romance is everywhere: in our movies, books, legends, and the stories we tell ourselves and others. Yet when asked to define the word “romance”, individuals in the same culture – or even in the same relationship – can offer wildly different definitions.

Some people might associate romance with flowers and chocolates, while others find that romance is better achieved by chatting one-on-one. Depending on your perspective, romance could mean a combination of physical and emotional intimacy, connecting with your partner on an intellectual level, or exploring the world of casual dating.

In short, romance comes in many forms, and there’s no singular way to define this nearly universal concept. Finding your personal definition and expression of romance, however, can take your current relationship or connection to the next level.

Read on to learn more about the meaning of romantic love, four common approaches to romance, and how therapy can enrich your love life with more romantic energy.

Definition of romance
While some people distinguish between romance and love, many psychologists use the phrase “romantic love” interchangeably with romance.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), romantic love is a type of love with prominent features of intimacy and passion. In a romantic relationship – defined by mutual, ongoing and voluntary interactions – two partners share specific expressions of affection and intimacy.

Romantic love vs. companionate love
Research suggests that partners’ sexual arousal is an important part of romantic love, and that romantic love is distinct from companionate love. Companionate love – love for a companion or partner – is defined by strong feelings of intimacy and affection for another person, rather than the intense emotional arousal you might feel from a romantic connection.

This emotional arousal, or excitement, is a common feature of romance. If you’re looking for more romance, what actions can you take to add that extra spark?

Ultimately, the answer depends on you, your partner, and how each person defines romance in your relationship. By exploring different expressions of romantic love, you can develop a better sense of each other’s needs, discover new modes of intimacy, and deepen your connection.

Four approaches to romance: Finding the best combination for your relationship
While every couple will have their own take on romance, consider the following four approaches to romance and how they could apply to your relationship.

With a bit of effort and communication, a combination of these approaches can help you reach a higher level of intimacy.

1. Soft and sweet
You might associate a soft, sweet romance with the early stages of a relationship, or more sensual activities between long-term partners: perhaps slow dancing, candlelit dinners, or picnics in the park.

While this kind of romance might conjure more traditional images of flowers, chocolates, and thoughtful dates between new lovers, soft and sweet romance spans age groups and sexual identities – just like any other form of love.

In the queer community, some people might describe this kind of love as “soft romo”: a low-level romantic connection somewhere between a romantic relationship and queerplatonic bond. These relationships may involve higher levels of intimacy, which don’t always fit the standards of heteronormative society.

In summary: soft and sweet romance is often reminiscent of new love and romantic exploration, but it can play a role in long-term relationships and across the spectrum of sexuality.

If you’re looking for a softer, sweeter connection, try the following activities with your partner:

Spending more intentional one-on-one time and planning date nights
Hold hands
Offer forehead kisses and long hugs
Explore a new place together, like an outdoor theater or a local park
Leave little notes or gifts for your partner to discover after you leave for the day
These small acts and moments add up over time, and can gradually introduce a softer, gentler form of romance to your relationship.

2. Lustful
In measured doses, lustful romance can heat up your relationship with a hint of flirtation and physical affection.

Harvard University defines lust as the human desire for sexual gratification, stemming from our need to reproduce. Based on research by a team of scientists at Rutgers University, lust is a component of romantic love, which can be divided into three categories: attraction, attachment, and lust.

According to these researchers, feelings of lust stem from testosterone and estrogen in the brain. Emotionally, the release of these hormones may feel like an overwhelming desire for physical intimacy with another person. Indeed, both lust and attraction shut off the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which includes rational behavior.

In summary: given the disconnect between lust and reasoning, most long-term relationships cannot thrive on lust alone; instead, a strong attachment is the predominant factor in long-term relationships. That said, there are strategies to combine the power of lust and love and introduce a flirtier, more spontaneous undertone to your relationship, including:

Doing arousal-producing activities together – not just sexual activities, but anything that offers an adrenaline rush, like exercising together or watching a scary movie
Looking for opportunities to add mystery or surprise: for example, a date to a secret location or leaving a flirty voicemail
Trying new things together that inspire feelings of freshness and excitement, which you can channel into your sex life
Depending on your sexuality and other personal needs, you may have a different desire for physical intimacy than your partner. Scheduling times for sex, cuddling, and finding other creative, consensual ways to connect physically can help you resolve differences in sexual desire.

3. Intellectual
Your romance may be defined by an intellectual connection, especially if both partners value in-depth conversations and understanding how each person thinks.

This intellectual attraction can bond partners through the discussion of honest feelings and intellectually rigorous topics. If this kind of romance resonates with you, you might describe your partner’s brain as their most attractive feature.

In summary: if you’re attracted to intelligence, your definition of romance may center around dates that encourage thoughtful discussion and questioning. To learn more about your partner’s mind and deepen your intellectual connection, consider some of the following activities:

Attending a lecture on a common interest
Watching and discussing a movie together
Listening to a podcast together or reading a book together, and engaging in discussion afterward
For many couples, intellectual attraction is an essential part of a long-term romantic connection that goes beyond physical attraction and sexual intimacy.

4. Humorous
Humor can be a powerful part of romance, yet the purpose of humor is also difficult to define. Some researchers propose that humor may have evolved to support successful mating decisions: which, today, we can label more broadly as dating decisions.

Humor can help you define and deepen your feelings of romance with your partner. On the surface, sharing a joke or funny story can feel lighthearted and fun. But from an evolutionary perspective, some scientists believe that expressions of humor reinforce your romantic attraction to someone else. Using humor, partners share knowledge, show romantic interest, and signal warmth, “prosociality”, creativity, and other desirable qualities.

In summary: a humorous approach to romance can feel fun and light, but humor also presents an opportunity for more vulnerability and connection. To light up your romance with more laughter, consider the following activities with your partner:

Attending a comedy performance or watching a comedic movie together
Trying new activities that may send you beyond your comfort zones and induce laughter: perhaps roller skating, an art project, or even playing a sport together
Planning game nights
Texting silly messages or inside jokes to each other throughout the day
Shared laughter can help “grease the wheels” of your romantic relationship, adding joy and lightness to your everyday routine.

Find your definition of romance in online therapy
Exploring different definitions of romance can lead to a richer, more well-rounded relationship. If you want to strengthen your connection, a therapist can help you develop strategies and activities that will expand your definition of romance.

While some people prefer in-person therapy, a growing number of both couples and individuals use online therapy to improve their relationships. Using a digital platform like Regain, you can connect with a board-certified therapist within a few days and begin scheduling online sessions at your convenience. All Regain therapists have at least three years of professional experience, and many help clients enhance their relationships with more romance and healthy communication.

Several studies show that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face options, including a 2020 study of the OurRelationship program: an 8-hour long, web-adapted version of Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT), which was delivered to 151 distressed heterosexual couples. The researchers observed significant gains in couples’ relationship satisfaction and confidence, and improvements in their depressive and anxious symptoms, quality of life, and perceived health. The couples maintained these gains over the 12-month follow-up period, indicating that this IBCT program and other online therapies can create lasting improvements for couples in distress.

There’s no “right” way to define romance. Most relationships integrate different forms of romance to sustain a lasting, meaningful connection. You can explore various kinds of romance with your partner, and potentially with the support and guidance of an online therapist.

Romance is often fun and exciting – but to cultivate this energy, both partners must commit to communicating their needs and desires. A therapist can help you navigate this process and find modes of romantic expression that work for both you and your partner.

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