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Once you identify which scripts your relationship follows, you can begin to recognize the role you play. Let’s say you mostly follow the garden story, but you pick up the business script—organizing, budgeting and planning every last detail—every time you go on vacation. Your partner may feel overwhelmed by the urgency of your approach in this area.

One fascinating tenet of Sternberg’s theory is that some people may never find a mate who shares a given script. The best they can hope for is to meet someone with a more compatible script.

Not all shared scripts are matches made in heaven. Consider these “asymmetrical” relationships.

The Teacher-Student Story
Like Rita in the movie, the student is likely to assert herself after a time and ruffle the feathers of her teacher. If the student doesn’t progress, there can be other problems; the teacher grows tired of handholding. Either way, eventually resentments arise.

The Sacrifice Story
Some people are just happiest giving and serving and slaving on another’s behalf. Resentments may develop on the part of the giver, just as contempt may grow on the part of the receiver.

The Police Story
The themes are suspicion, surveillance and punishment. It is a mistake to assume that the man always plays the bad cop, says Sternberg. The biggest problem with this love story is that it frequently degenerates into a far worse script, like the horror story.

The Horror Story
A short distance stands between surveillance and stalking, scolding and battery.

O.J. Simpson may not have been found guilty, but the prosecution presented a case detailing his alleged progression from bad cop to terrorizer.

Unfortunately, many people don’t learn from the sad movies they’ve starred in, says Sternberg. They go right on to another relationship with the same typecasting, pairing up again with someone who works in their unhappy script.

The theory of Love Stories helps us understand our emotions and our values. By better understanding who we are and why we act in predictable ways, we have a fighting chance to combat the notion that history must repeat itself.

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In “The Drought” episode from the first season of Sex and the City, the very promiscuous Samantha decides to take a break from sex after an enlightening cup of coffee with her handsome yoga instructor who practices tantric celibacy.

The exercise in abstinence doesn’t last long. Rabid with desire by her next yoga class, a frustrated Sam propositions the men stretching and breathing within earshot until she gets a taker for an afternoon romp.

It makes for good cable, but can celibacy really put the va-voom back in your bedroom?

Oh, yeah, say relationship experts who believe that taking a breather from all sex, or from just intercourse, can rev up desire, promote greater intimacy (if you spend the time doing other things), and lead to new avenues of mutual pleasure.

“For long-term partners, sex becomes convenient — like going to the refrigerator and grabbing something to eat,” says Carol Kaplan, a marriage and family counselor in Monterey, Calif. “Sometimes by going straight for the dessert, we forget about the meal.”

If sex is the dessert, the meal is everything else that deepens your relationship and strengthens your bond.

Sex and marriage counselors have long used the sex moratorium as a way to see what’s going on in a relationship. Is he pressuring himself to perform? Is she getting the hugs and kisses she wants? Are they having sex because they think it’s something they should do?

Kevin Gogin, a marriage and family counselor practicing in San Francisco, says the bedroom is a “microcosm” of the relationship as a whole. Change the dynamic there, and you learn a lot about patterns of relating and communicating.

Even a couple that feels they have a fun and fulfilling sex life unburdened by large problems can benefit from a break.

A moratorium, writes Jack Morin, Ph.D., inThe Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, allows you to gain “fresh perspective” and detach yourself from “well-worn habits” that prevent experimentation.

You are voluntarily creating an environment of uncertainty that is usually the framework for discovery, he writes.

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Men should be less manly in the bedroom.

So advises Bernie Zilbergeld, author of The New SexualityThe Truth About Men, Sexand Pleasure, which combines common sense on how to improve your sex life with uncommon knowledge — such as the fact that a soft penis can provide nearly as much pleasure as an erect one.

He won’t argue that men and women are fundamentally the same, but he says many differences are learned. As boys and girls, we were more alike than different, he says. As we grew up, we developed social roles that discouraged men from displaying softer virtues. By matching yin for yang, men will give themselves a much-needed break. And women won’t mind the change.

He suggests adopting the softer skills of listening, opening up and communicating. The big payoff is relaxation and comfort.

“It’s too bad we think of the qualities of sensitivity and concern for your partner as feminine,” he says. “All qualities can be cultivated by both sexes.”

Cast aside the macho ethic of performance-on-demand, of always being in the mood, of pretending you know what to do even when you haven’t a clue.

Zilbergeld suggests you:

  • Relate more non-sexually as a path to closeness and trust.
  • Find numerous expressions of affection, including holding hands, cuddling, hugging and kissing.
  • Change your mind if you believe all physical contact must lead to sex.
  • Practice being attentive.
  • Legitimize crying.
  • Take your partner’s feelings, ideas and opinions seriously.

All said, Zilbergeld believes men need to balance sensitivity with assertiveness.

Since the 1970s, some men — perhaps internalizing the Alan Alda male ideal over the Burt Reynolds image — have become too timid, too careful, he says. Balance is key.

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