Way #6


Growing in Tenderness:
Choosing Closeness

To love is good too, for love is difficult. For one person to care for another, that is perhaps the most difficult thing required of us, the utmost and final test, the work for which all other work is but a preparation. With our whole being, with all the strength we have gathered, we must learn to love. This learning is ever a committed and enduring process.
— Rilke


We agree with Rilke that loving can be difficult, but there are ways of making it easier.  For us it has gotten easier as we have learned tender ways of loving.  Also, the learning has become more and more enjoyable, and richly rewarding.  You have seen the Steps that have gone into our learning, and you can hopefully see there is always more to learn.

Our goal is to consistently love each other sensitively and delicately, fully and deeply.  It doesn’t just happen naturally.  It is a lifelong process.


In this chapter, we will share with you some excellent resources that can foster your growth as a couple.  We also want to point out that there is a romantic component to growing together, because it usually results in our growing closer.

Intentional closeness is deeply romantic.  Intentionally taking steps to get closer to each other is an affirmation of how important we are to each other.  It’s a celebration of who we are together.

Feel the warmth and even tingle on hearing from your beloved that they desire more closeness with you.  They find closeness with you especially pleasurable.  Their inner self wants to be close to your inner self, and says, “At your core, you are desirable.”

Intentional closeness means reaching out across the gap that predictably appears due to the distractions of daily life.  It’s like giving the other a Valentine.  Be Mine.  I’m Yours.  Let’s get closer.

Any day can be Valentine’s Day when we reach out for each other.


A bounty of opportunities for tenderness growth exists.  The ones we describe here are only a portion of the choices out there.  These happen to be the favorite ones that have crossed our path and helped open our hearts to each other.  They’ve helped us love each other more tenderly.


Dearest to our hearts for the many ways it has contributed to the growth of our relationship is Better Marriages (bettermarriages.org).  The St. Louis chapter is where we were introduced to marriage enrichment in 1991.  Better Marriages was then known as ACME, the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment.

We learned to dialogue about the growing edges of our relationship in front of four other couples in our marriage enrichment group (MEG).  Initially, this was easier for Cheryl than it was for Bob, but we both came to value the experience very highly.  Each couple would take a turn.  The other couples would only listen and not comment on another couple’s dialogue.

In recent years, Better Marriages has offered Virtual MEGs online for couples who are not connected with a local group.  (You can find a list of local chapters at bettermarriages.com).  They also offer articles and courses through a Blog and through Close Companions Online Relationship Academy, with multiple choices in dozens of categories, including Adventure, Conflict, Sex and Intimacy, and Stress.  There are also sections on Tips, Book Reviews, Publications, Professionals and Leadership opportunities.

Better Marriages website also has a section on Exercises, where you can find a variety of helpful exercises to bring you closer to your sweetheart.  Among the choices is a four-step Couple Growth Plan Exercise, which is a simple but powerful way to identify and commit to some growth goals together.  The website allows you to complete a Relationship Assessment for Couples, and promises results and suggestions.  You can also subscribe to a newsletter.

We trained to become an ACME Leader Couple in 1992, and began giving presentations at local, regional and national marriage enrichment conferences on various aspects of living tenderly together.  We have mentioned many of our workshop titles in our previous chapters.

The fact that we were able to go from inexperienced dialoguers in a MEG to presenters at national conferences is a tribute to the people of Better Marriages, starting with our wonderful MEG Leader Couple, Anne and Rod Johnson, and the teachings of the founding couple of the St. Louis Chapter, Bob and Bess Mosby.  The people we have interacted with through the years have been tremendously supportive, encouraging and helpful.  Looking back at how much our relationship has grown because of Better Marriages, we are extremely grateful.

We strongly encourage you to join Better Marriages!


The other major resource we recommend for opportunities to grow in tenderness together is The Gottman Institute (gottman.com).  Their website describes the Institute as “the culmination of Drs John and Julie Gottman’s life work as researchers and clinical psychologists.”  We consider their wisdom about relationship health to be profound and comprehensive in scope.  They attribute their approach to “over 50 years of research with more than 3,000 couples.”

Their offerings for couples are many, and include free newsletters with tips to help couples navigate the many facets of a loving relationship.  One choice among their products is the Gottman Relationship Advisor, providing a detailed, 100+ question assessment resulting in a personalized digital plan.  The Gottman Relationship Coach focuses on a relationship topic you choose to explore, such as Dealing with Conflict, which has videos of the Gottmans role playing destructive conflict behaviors and suggesting ways to produce positive outcomes.

The Art and Science of Love is a glowingly reviewed two-day couples workshop that is available in several formats.  One offering is taught in person by John and Julie Gottman in Seattle.  Others are taught by Gottman-trained therapists in various locations around the country.  There is also a virtual version and an online version.  Dates and costs are listed on the website.

A special opportunity listed on their website (as of Fall, 2023) is a Private Couples Retreat with John and Julie Gottman in their home on beautiful Orcas Island in Washington State.  The two-day retreat is limited to seven couples, and is described this way: “In the comfort of the Gottmans’ seaside home, they will guide you through the foundations of healthy relationships, they will role-play real-life examples, and make themselves available to support you as needed while you put the tools to practice in your relationship during the private exercises.”  Dates and costs are not listed but there is a link for more information.  A Private Couples Retreat with the Gottmans is likely an extraordinary opportunity.  

We completed an eight-week online course with John and Julie Gottman based on their book, Eight Dates: A Plan for Making Love Last Forever.  They supplemented their weekly emails to us with a live question and answer session on video.  We learned new things about each other, which created helpful new insights and understanding.  We even adopted a new romantic practice in the process.  We also had a lot of fun.

In addition to their other offerings, if your relationship needs ongoing hands-on help to get you over some serious hurdles, you can use the Gottman Referral Network to find a Gottman-trained therapist near you.


Her website describes her as “Writer, Speaker, Dharma Teacher, Psychologist, Sex Therapist.”  We have read her book, Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Loving Intimacy, and highly recommend it in the next section as one of our top four books for couples to read for a valuable growth experience.  Even though in the earlier portions of her book she encourages couples to turn up the sexual thermostat, she later suggests we avoid striving, focus on sensation and connection, and be in the moment.  No pressure, just presence.  Trust your comfort level.  We agree.

It’s a learning process to be able to slow our minds and sharpen our focus.  Mindfulness takes practice.  That’s why she has taken us to Buddha’s Bedroom.  Ian Kerner, the best-selling author of She Comes First, says Dr. Cheryl Fraser “is your guide to transcendent sex.”

Dr. Cheryl has other offerings, ranging from an online eight-week interactive course — Become Passion — to a free weekly e-newsletter called LoveBytes.  Her website is drcherylfraser.com.


As you could tell from the many books we have cited so far, we have learned a lot from the writings of relationship experts.  Our bibliography contains a long list of every book that we mention in these chapters.  However, there is a smaller number that deserve special attention as opportunities for growth together as a couple.  If you have not read these books, we highly recommend them:

Fraser, Cheryl M.  Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy

Gottman, John M., and Silver, Nan.  The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert

Johnson, Susan M.  Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships

Nagoski, Emily.  Come as You Are: Revised and Updated: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life


We enjoy creating playlists of favorite love songs.  They help create a romantic mood that reminds us how grateful we are to have found each other.  Sweet and tender love songs are especially wonderful for our hug-and-sway daily dance that we have described for you earlier.  

You may already have your own playlists, but even if you do, you can create others that bring back special memories.  For example, you can do a search for love songs from the decade you met and got together — your courting years.  It’s easy to find a list of love songs for every decade, and also to find lists of favorite wedding songs.  We even saw a list of over 300 romantic songs “for her.”  You could also look in our Appendix for our Sweet and Tender Playlist, containing 50 of our favorites.

As you spend time listening to different love songs, see which lyrics speak most personally to both of you.  Create your own playlist of favorites.  Make them your choices for your daily dance.

Even if you don’t decide to create a hug-and-sway dance list, you have an opportunity to combine fun and romance by listening to and collecting love songs that create closeness, both during the process and also later at any time you choose to access those special playlists.  Use your playlists often to bring you closer and create a mood of romance — a reminder that your love is worth celebrating.


Credit for this idea goes to David and Vera Mace, who created The Marriage Potential Inventory, a series of statements about various desirable aspects of a marriage.  Couples are encouraged to periodically rate themselves on how well they fulfill those aspects in their own marriage, as a way to measure their progress over time.  You can find a copy of the Marriage Potential Inventory on the Better Marriages website at bettermarriages.org.

We have adapted the Maces’ idea to the goals involved in Loving Tenderly, and we call it the Tenderness Potential Inventory (TPI).  The fourteen statements represent desirable behaviors or results of such behaviors involved in the Six Steps of Loving Tenderly.  We include them here as a reminder of the learnings in the previous chapters, and also as a series of goals that demonstrate the potential progress we can continue to make together in Sweetening and Deepening Our Closeness.

Rate yourselves as a couple on a scale of one to ten, with one being “rarely” and ten being “always.”  Complete the ratings separately and then discuss them together.  It will highlight results that will hopefully please you and will also highlight areas of special growth potential.  (At the end of this chapter there is a printable version of this Inventory.)

  1. Because we share them, we usually know the feelings each other has been feeling lately.
  2. With each other, we usually turn criticism into requests.
  3. When we feel angry with each other, we feel free to talk about it with each other, but we gentle it by sharing the underlying, more vulnerable feelings in order to create empathy rather than defensiveness.
  4. We agree that blame is particularly toxic to our closeness and we do our best to avoid it.
  5. We quickly trade mutual apologies when we slip into non-tender behavior with each other.
  6. When we are seeking to resolve a conflict between us, we share responsibility for the conflict.
  7. Our primary focus is on our own and each other’s feelings when we seek to resolve a conflict between us.
  8. In resolving a conflict together, we acknowledge that each other’s point of view is as valid as our own.
  9. In seeking a solution to a conflict between us, our goal is that it must satisfy both of us.
  10. We often take opportunities to celebrate our romance and nurture our closeness.
  11. (Optional but highly recommended.) We reconnect often with a slow dance to a sweet and tender love song.
  12. We affectionately reach out often when we are together, and find many “excuses” to share a kiss.
  13. We regularly take time together to share extraordinary closeness through each other’s exquisitely tender touch.
  14. We regularly take opportunities to grow our closeness together through readings, marriage enrichment activities and other resources.

Now you might think that we would be close to “all 10s” because, after all, we wrote the book about this subject.  However, that would not be correct.  The first time we took the TPI, there was only one 10 among the 28 scores between us.  There was one six, two sevens, more eights than nines, and only two questions where our scores were identical.  Most of our scores were only one different than each other’s, but Bob’s were higher than Cheryl’s on five questions and Cheryl’s were higher than Bob’s on seven questions.  

The results were not predictable.  Yours are not likely to be predictable either, and the differences offer a rich opportunity for an excellent discussion.  Ours lasted over two hours, including why we differed and what we wanted to do more of in the future.  We made some notes and ended up with a valuable growth plan.  We still have more potential.

Daily distractions and life stresses inevitably conspire to pull us off course.  The beauty of these goals is that there is always room to learn more about them, and about ourselves as well.  As Rilke wrote, “we must learn to love,” and “this learning is ever a committed and enduring process.”  Our experience is that learning to love tenderly is deeply fulfilling, and promises exquisite results.


If you are reading this paragraph, it usually means you have read all of these chapters.  If true, we thank you for persisting, and hope that you feel rewarded for your effort.  We’re hoping that by this point, you have grown in loving tenderly.  We would love to know if you found something particularly helpful to your couple relationship.  We’d also love to learn if something really didn’t work for you.  You can email us at cheryl.bob@tenderly.com with any comments you have.

From our hearts to yours, we wish you continued growth in loving tenderly!