keep the pass ion alive
How to bring the romance – and the spark – back into a long-term relationship
Keeping the passion alive in a relationship is often a delicate balancing act, and it’s normal for long-term couples to go through times when the spark seems to have diminished (or even died altogether). It can be a slow process fuelled by issues like underlying anger and resentment, stresses at work or on the home front, or even one or both partners not putting the effort in to help make each other feel special. ‘Avoidance – that’s when you avoid talking about your problems, be it anything from fixing the sink to the lack of intimacy between you – can result in you avoiding the vulnerable or heightened states in a relationship, and that can diminish passion,’ explains relationship expert Samantha Krajina. ‘Another big passion idler is if one half of a couple doesn’t know what brings them fulfilment and goes on a search to find out.’
Similarly, if one partner doesn’t allow the other to follow what fulfils them, the passion within the relationship can quickly fizzle. Another passion killer comes from, strangely enough, spending too much time together. Researchers at Columbia University tracked hundreds of couples over several years and found that being too close could, in fact, be just as damaging to a relationship as not being close enough.
Psychologist Lily Taylor agrees.
‘ Staying “enmeshed” as a couple might mean also having some kind of implicit agreement that you’re not going to change or grow. That could mean only socialising with one circle of friends, and excluding certain people out of fear or threat to the relationship, or making every decision together,’ she explains. ‘ But in doing this
we deny our partner’s continued personal growth, which is what helps to keep the relationship fresh.’ Samantha explains that happy, passionate relationships are created when we can strike a balance between creating an identity as a couple and maintaining who we are as individuals. ‘ I see couples who tend to stay away from trying anything new or from individual experiences – everything has to be with their partner or family,’ she says. ‘ But this has a ripple effect – when you see your partner as an extension of yourself, the danger is that you end up not knowing what your partner wants. You assume they want what you want and I’ve seen that lead to resentment down the line.’
How to bring the passion back to your partnership
Romance and passion should be the responsibility of both parties, says Samantha. ‘All relationships rely on intimacy and romance to stay alive and to stop you falling into the routine of just living day to day. This isn’t hard early on in a relationship but as time goes on, the energy to do this and the creative ideas tend to wear thin,’ she says. ‘Many people also think if they communicate romantic desires to their partner it will eliminate the element of surprise, when it can actually do the opposite.’ If your relationship needs a passion boost, try one of these ideas:
1. Scare yourselves
A study published in the US Journalof PersonalityandSocialPsychology found that when couples did scary activities they wouldn’t normally do – like riding on roller-coasters or watching horror movies – it boosted brain chemicals associated with desire. The more exciting the activity, the bigger the boost. Samantha says it’s about actively reclaiming that sense of fun and excitement you shared when you were dating. Sign up for The Entertainer App ( R495 for Joburg & Pretoria) and check out all the adventures you can do together; it’ll give you heaps of ideas and you’ll save money too.
2. Do new things
Just like fun, thrilling activities, new experiences that you share together can also reignite passion – whether it’s something like eating at a new restaurant or doing a pasta-making workshop, says Samantha. ‘ Routine is one of the biggest relationship killers and it’s really hard to be unpredictable – especially if you share a joint bank account, know each other’s daily routines back to front and spend all your spare time together. You can break that by doing something new that brings you together. You see it in couples who decide to train for triathlons or other sporting events together – suddenly they can’t shut up about their new passion, which infuses the relationship.’
3. Take ‘me’ time
Creating distance can actually make you more attractive to one another, according to a study published in PsychologicalScience that looked at what’s called the ‘scarcity principle’. Making yourself scarce sometimes, say the experts, gives your partner the chance to miss you, so don’t do everything together. Choose a hobby or weekend workshop – and go and have some solo time. ’Distance gives a relationship its freshness, and a bit of intrigue,’ says Lily, ‘and the knock-on effect is more desire.’ When you go off and have an exciting adventure apart, you can come back and share experiences afterwards, which will invigorate the relationship.
4. Make sex fun again
Any long-term couple will tell you it takes work to keep passion alive in the bedroom – especially when kids come along and you’re overtaken by parenting. Samantha says, ‘ It’s important to get back to being friends and lovers, and turning sex into a game can help. Role play, for example, forces you to tap into your individuality and get out of your comfort zone – which can be hot!’
5. Don’t assume
All couples suffer ‘communication gaps’, and in long-term relationships we can fall into the trap of interpreting our partner’s actions through our own filter. That’s because the closer you are, the more you assume, says Lily. ‘Assumptions can really bring relationships undone. We need to get into the habit of asking open-ended questions of our partners, such as, “Let me know what you think about that” or, “This is how I feel about X, how do you feel?”’
6. Stay curious
Do your eyes glaze over when your partner launches into an anecdote you’ve heard a million times? Instead, paying attention and being interested in what they have to say ignites more interesting conversations – like the ones you had when you first met, suggests Samantha. It’s about asking new questions, even about old stories, and not falling into the mindset that you know everything there is to know about your partner. ‘ We all change over the years but if you stay curious you’ll get new insights into who your partner is, which can inject new passion and excitement into the relationship,’ she says.