I met Camille Di Maio many years ago in New York at a writer’s conference. Writers have a tendency to form a weird cultish support system, so we’ve met a few times since in Las Vegas or San Antonio, where Camille is raising some rockstar kids. I’m very proud of her, as her first novel, THE MEMORY OF US, is now available on Amazon.
I am only mildly envious since I can’t seem to leave the Real Time comfort of the web and finish the same book I talked to her about three years ago.
In looking over content for LORE, and recognizing that Valentine’s Day is upon us, I knew we should probably post something relationship-related. I reached out to my friend, knowing she and her husband are very much involved in the marital outreach ministry within their Catholic faith. They are also very much in love and I’ve seen it first-hand.
My request looked a little something like this:
“I am the last person who should write about relationships and you seem to have that whole thing locked down. Help.”
I had an article within 48 hours.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Camille Di Maio
It’s 1:33 in the morning, and my dog wants to go outside.
This has become a regular habit. Maybe it’s his bladder or a maybe there’s a squirrel running along the fence that he needs to protect us from.
I don’t know.
My husband is breathing deeply and rhythmically alongside me. He’s not snoring – that’s my domain, apparently – but as much as I’d like to pretend to sleep and have the dog eventually nuzzle up to the other side of the bed, that wouldn’t be the nice thing to do. And so I get up. I know my husband would do the same.
Don’t believe the movies. This is what a beautiful love story looks like.
Rob and I have been married for nearly nineteen years, twice the national average. We have four children, twice the national average. We run a successful real estate team and I write novels on the side. I still find him hot, despite the thinning of his once lush, Italian head of hair. He regularly comes along and pinches my derriere, despite the pounds that have been added there since we first met.
How does our magic still work?
There’s plenty I can say about that as I reflect on two decades with the same person, but I narrowed it down to five themes. So, read on, if you are looking to help make love last. I guarantee some shock value, too.
Be a giver. Pat Benetar says that love is a battlefield, and I say that it is a sacrifice. One plus one equals two. Taker plus taker equals divorce court. Taker plus giver equals suffering, and probably divorce court. Giver plus giver – ah, that’s the thing to find. A relationship is not what you can gain from it, it’s about what you can give to it. It is serving the other person, wanting their happiness, assisting their growth. Being a servant is not a popular idea in our culture, but imagine this – if you seek another giver, then you have one who is also serving you and putting your best interests at heart and promoting your growth. What a lovely feeling! A priest once told me that his parents’ marriage succeeded because “they tried to outdo each other in kindness.” A long-lasting bloom will grow when two people approach a relationship with an attitude of service.
Give the benefit of the doubt. Have you ever been cut off in traffic and you want to shout obscenities at the moron who thinks that muscling in one car ahead will really get him somewhere that much faster? What if you had the power to know that that the driver was a father with a little girl in the backseat who was screaming in agony from an accident with scissors as he rushes her to the emergency room? When someone makes me angry – traffic, work, life – I make up a story to myself about why they just did what they did. That little fiction calms me down, and while the details might be off, it does point to what is probably true – most people are fundamentally good and not intentionally harming you. This works in love, too. It’s so easy to rush to assumptions and jump on character flaws when we’re upset about something, but if you can take a breath and remember what you love about him, and trust that his intentions are good, it will diffuse an argument before it starts. And, there’s a side benefit – when you practice this, and even talk about it – he will give you the benefit of the doubt, too. Because I’m sure you annoy him as well. Believing the best about one another instead of the worst is a recipe for long lasting love.
Differences are complementary. Working together is tough. My husband and I started our business ten years ago, and the first eighteen months were ugly. He didn’t get nearly as much done as I did and I felt burdened. He accused me of shooting down his ideas and he felt ignored. We know three sets of married real estate agents who divorced in the last few years. I’m not surprised.
Over time something finally emerged from our “He/she isn’t doing things my way” rut. We began to recognize that our differences complement one another. When I accepted that Rob is an “ideas guy” more than a “doer,” I saw that without his ambition, drive, and imagination, the creative things that we did to grow our business wouldn’t have happened. We would have relied on my conventional methods, and conventional doesn’t necessarily translate to success. On the other hand, he came to understand that while creating and dreaming and learning were important, if we didn’t actually implement them, we weren’t going to move forward.
We’ve now grown into one of the most successful real estate teams in our large city, and it is because of this very fact. Everything we do, we delegate to the one who has the best talent for it – and our time is spent on our business rather than on our fighting. We have taken this philosophy in to every aspect of our marriage, and it has served us well. Opposites attract, they say. Until they annoy us. Embrace the opposite instead, and see the amazing things that come from it.
Take continuing education. In nearly every profession, continuing education is mandatory so that you can keep you your skills and adjust to changing times. But, what about your relationship? We say “I do,” and then you’re on your own, supposedly until “death do us part.” You can spend those decades – if you make it that far – floundering and fighting and trying to figure it out. Or, you can nurture that relationship far before you get to crisis mode.
Male/female. Introvert/extrovert. Morning person/night owl.
By reading books and articles about these different natures, we learned how to communicate with one another more effectively. A football team doesn’t just practice plays and get out there on the field. They study past games of their upcoming opponents and learn how to operate among the other team’s particular characteristics. Now, that analogy shows how to conquer the other side, but the concept of understanding the other person can be used for the good. A recent discovery for us is the newly popular quizzes about love languages. We explored this in a marriage retreat we went on last year. My husband now recognizes that my main love language is service, and that cleaning the kitchen is more powerful than any trinket or flower he could buy for me. I know that cuddling with him in the morning gets his day started right because his love languages are attention and affection. Even when you’re a giver, you need to understand how the other person receives.
Abstain from sex. Woah! I got your attention, right? You’re either going to stop reading right now or curiosity will get the better of you and you’ll wonder how on earth I can convince you that consensual abstinence is romantic. Oh, but it is! Read on.
I like cheeseburgers. I don’t crave them, though, and if I never had one again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And yet, there are several days a year when ALL I want is a juicy cheeseburger and I have to avoid driving past a Whataburger. Those days fall on Fridays during Lent, when Catholics traditionally abstain from meat. Telling me I can’t have it makes me want it so much more. The same is true for sex.
Now, in our case, we don’t use contraception for religious reasons. We use Natural Family Planning (which is NOT your grandmother’s rhythm method). It’s become popular not only in religious circles but in health and environmental circles as people are always seeking natural alternatives to a variety of things. Now, this part of the article is not about contraception – what you do with that is your own business. But, it is about what periodic abstinence has done for our love (and sex) life, and how embracing it could be a really hot addition for your own.
The divorce rate in America hovers around 50%, but for those who practice NFP, it plummets to 5%. All religious stuff aside, this statistic held my interest. Periodic abstinence between a couple fosters several things: communication, sacrifice, commitment, and creativity. If you’ve managed to be together for two decades, chances are that the heat has cooled off. And, we misguidedly mistake heat for love. So, we think we’re “not in love” anymore. Maybe we seek the heat somewhere else. Occasionally taking sex (or the boring routine of it) out of the picture creates a space for romance – dinners, walks, thoughtful gifts, etc. And, like that cheeseburger during Lent, when you’ve told yourself you can’t have it – you want it all the more! So, when that time of abstinence is over (and it doesn’t have to be long), you’ll find yourselves feeling like honeymooners again. On a regular basis. And, because you’ve given focus to romance during the abstinence, you enjoy the sex all the more because you feel so appreciated as a person. Not an object. Don’t take my word for it – try it! I’d be surprised if things in the bedroom weren’t hotter than ever.
There’s an additional concept for keeping love alive that applies to those who try to maintain their relationship among distractions – primarily children, but it could be anything. Maybe you can’t find a night off to go to dinner or a babysitter or the money. So, in our marriage, Rob and I started the idea of the mini-date. You see, it’s not the time you have or the location or the money, it’s the attitude. One mini-date: walking the garbage to the curb together. This takes all of three minutes, but if you call it a mini-date and you hold hands back up the driveway and maybe sneak in a smooch before heading back in to the house, you’ve just sparked romance! Another mini-date – standing outside and watching the sunset together. Or even folding the laundry together after the kids go to bed. The key word here is together. When you check off tasks and assign who does what, you’re just roommates. When you do the same thing, but do it together and call it a date, you’re lovers. Mini-dates are so easy to squeeze in, and you’ll be astonished how that switch in attitude about simple to-dos can ignite the romance meter in your house.
So, as Valentine’s Day approaches, and sales for card stores and florists and candy shops flourish, I hope you’ll reflect on some of these ideas to keep your love strong, not only on a Hallmark Holiday, but year-round, and for many years to come.
Camille Di Maio lives in San Antonio with her husband and four children. She’s traveled to four continents and most of the states, and is always planning her next trip. By day, she is an award-winning real estate agent, and by night, she is an author. She does pretty well with little sleep.
Camille loves belting out Broadway tunes at a moment’s notice, shopping at farmer’s markets, and will try anything that doesn’t involve heights or roller skates. Her debut novel, The Memory of Us, is available on Amazon.
Find Camille on Twitter @camilledimaio, Facebook and Instagram or at her website, www.CamilleDiMaio.com.