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Mormon romance author Anita Stansfield says that true romance is comprised of three important things.

I am known to be a romantic. I love Jane Austen movies and books with happy endings. In fact, I somehow ended up in the business of romance. In the Mormon book world, I’m called the queen of romance, and I’ve been touted as the number one best-selling LDS romance author for about 15 years now.

The truth is that I am definitely a romantic. I won’t deny it. However, I’m not especially fond of romance novels. I set out to contradict a lot of the stereotypes of romance novels — at least the kind that most people think of when they hear the term. I prefer to call it “relationship fiction,” but there’s no such section in any bookstore.

After researching and writing more than 50 books with relationships at the heart of them, I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. I write about people who fall in love, usually under the duress of horrible conflict. But more than that, I write about people staying in love as the struggles of life persist. More than half of my books are about people who are already married and facing new challenges together.

You could say that I’m passionate about romance, but I learned a long time ago that real romance doesn’t have much to do with the stereotypical ideas that are swirling in the media. Falling in love is just the beginning. A true happily ever after comes when two people stick it out together and continue to keep love alive through whatever life may throw at them.

It’s always been my hope that through my stories readers can actually learn something about improving their communication skills, overcoming typical differences between men and women and finding out what true love really means.

I believe in love at first sight, but I don’t believe in acting on it until the important factors of a relationship are put to the test. I believe in heart-stopping gazes and intense attraction, but they need to be coupled with common sense and wisdom. And I believe in happy endings. In fact, I guarantee happy endings. Some cynical readers have criticized me for this, stating that we don’t always get happy endings in this world. Well, my answer to that is simply that if you’re standing there talking to me, it isn’t over yet.

Life can be hard, yes. But the truth is that most of the population of the world believes in life after death and that this is not the end. So how can our own happy endings really be determined at this point? I believe that we all have romance in store for us if we live for those blessings.

Of course many people end up in relationships where you have to accept that you can’t alter the free agency of the other person, and they might not be who you believed them to be. A good relationship takes mutual effort, and no one should be beating themselves up for having done the best they could do.

If you’re one of those who celebrates Valentine’s Day with friends instead of a significant other, find a way to make it a true celebration of what’s good in your life, not a pity party for what might be missing.

For those of you who do have a significant other, keep reading ….

Many years ago, I spoke at a conference that was promoting a number of new books. The speaker before me made a joke about romance novels that didn’t offend me, but I did feel the need to make an appropriate clarification. Once I got my turn at the podium, I respectfully stated that I believed true romance was comprised of three important things. I found it funny that I’d never defined it quite that way before, but since that day, I’ve kept those things firmly in mind as I continue to write stories that revolve around relationships.

Mutual respect

I have never had an in-depth conversation with any woman who preferred feeling loved over being respected. And I’m sure it applies to men as well. The point being that a person can’t really feel loved if they don’t feel respected too. To feel safe and confident in a loving relationship, a human being needs to feel like the person they’re sharing their life with respects their views and opinions, their struggles and hardships and their hopes and dreams. True respect comes from truly knowing the other person.

Tip 1: Seek to understand and truly get to know the person you love. Listen with interest, and then show respect for who that person is and what they believe in, even if you disagree.

Commitment

We often think of commitment as being the fact that two people have actually exchanged vows, but divorce is so common that we might not mentally see it that way as much as we think we do. Commitment means that you’re emotionally invested in the other person no matter what happens. Commitment means you’re there for the hard things as well as the good times. Commitment means you show up and keep showing up.

Tip 2: When you make a promise, keep it! No matter how small the commitment, it all feeds into a pattern of illustrating that you can be trusted and relied on. It shows that you’re committed!

Trust

Through the course of much research for a variety of topics on typical issues that come between couples, I discovered that broken trust is the most difficult thing to mend. Trust and love are not the same thing, and it’s very common for people to love someone they don’t trust. It’s important to keep the two separate in your thinking and to recognize that when trust is broken — even in little ways — love can diminish as a result.

Tip 3: Prove yourself trustworthy in the little things you do day in and day out. This ties in to tip 2: if you make a promise, keep it. No person wants to share a lifetime commitment — or an eternal one — with a person they can’t trust.

And I must add to the list, of course, love! And that means true, genuine caring. Love really does make the world go round, especially when we reach beyond our own egos and insecurities to do the things that let someone know we really care!

The bottom line

If you really want to impress the person you love, I would definitely get them something lovely (within your budget) for Valentine’s Day, but make it a gift that shows you really know them and you put some thought into it. Rushing into the flower section at the grocery store on your way home from work can feel more like duty than actual caring — for the recipient of the gift and the giver.

But on top of giving a valentine — even if that’s nothing more than a thoughtful card — try putting just a little more effort into the elements of true romance. If you stick with it, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Anita Stansfield has held the position of No. 1 best-selling author of women's fiction in the LDS market for more than 15 years. Most important of all, she is a mother of five. She blogs at www.anitastansfield.blogspot.com