When you said “I do” all those years ago, you really meant it. The two of you wereso in love!
You still adore your partner. But between both of your jobs and the house and the kids’ schedules, things have gotten a little…dull.
Relax, it's not just you. This happens to just about everyone in a long-term relationship.
“The sparkly and exhilarating rush of falling in love is not permanent,” says Lisa Firestone, PhD, of The Glendon Association, a mental health organization in Santa Barbara, California. “But that does not mean this feeling disappears; it simply evolves.”
What a relief—those questions you’ve had about the state of your relationship are perfectly normal. But where did that excitement go?
Why Long-Term Relationships Go Stale
Besides the fact that passion naturally fades over time (psychologists say it lasts up to three years if you’re lucky), what can cause desire to subside is the everyday stuff of life, along with a backlog of grievances large and small (“can’t heever pick up after himself?”).
“Long distances, contradicting schedules or growing resentment are all common reasons couples lose their spark,” says holistic health coach Josie Santi. “As days, months and years go on, butterflies turn into to-do lists, and a relationship can grow into a routine.”
“This is the wake-up stage,” adds psychologist Deborah Byrne. “We may want to fight for our values, needs and wants to be met.” She notes that unmet needs can lead to couples arguing constantly or “quietly moving apart from one another.”
The good news? “Power struggles and arguments are a normal part of any relationship,” says Byrne. “It doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is doomed to failure.”
Santi says you should think of relationship-building as “a muscle; when you don’t actively work it, it weakens.”
Reviving a Long-Term Relationship
You may be tempted to take a shortcut on the road to renewed love…but that’s not a permanent fix.
“A weekend getaway with sun and lots of margaritas can temporarily bring the spark in a relationship back,” says Santi. “But the truth is that keeping the spark alive in a LTR takes work.”
So what is first step to reviving your love?
“Learning to be honest with yourself,” says Byrne. “Looking at your role in the downturn of the relationship is important—but very hard.”
In doing so, you may realize that problems arising in your current relationship—never standing up for yourself, for instance—have cropped up in previous relationships. If so, talking to a therapist may help.
Once you’ve dealt with your own issues, here are seven ways you can reconnect with your partner.
Sometimes being honest with your spouse is scary, especially if you haven’t spoken openly for a long time. But reestablishing a strong relationship requires an open line of communication.
“When was the last time you had a real conversation with your partner?” Santi asks. “During dinner, ask, ‘What’s something that you’re too scared to try but want to?’ or when you get into bed ask, ‘What’s your favorite thing about our relationship?’”
And that means being open to what you hear in response. “Instead of making excuses or counterattacking when our partner gives us feedback, we should look for the kernel of truth in what they’re saying,” says Firestone. “Think about what applies and be compassionate to how they feel.”
Such honesty isn’t always easy. But it’s essential if you want your relationship thrive.
“Any issues you avoid, or truths you don’t want to acknowledge, will likely undermine your relationship,” says Gleb Tsipursky, PhD. “If you notice yourself flinching away from a certain aspect of reality, this is the time to double down your focus and really get at the truth.”
And don’t make the mistake of, as Tsipursky puts it, “assuming the other person is exactly the same as you in their feelings and thoughts.”
To overcome this tendency (not uncommon in long-term relationships), pay attention to not only what your partner is saying “but also to the emotions underneath the words,” Tsipursky advises. “Pay attention to tone of voice, body language and what is not being said. Such emotional attunement will level up your ability to understand the other person.”
To make such honest convos less intimidating, hold them on a regular basis. Tsipursky says he and his wife “have a relationship check-in every two weeks,” in which they discuss what they appreciated most about each other as well as areas that could use improvement.
“Psychologically, it takes five good experiences to every negative experience in order to feel like you’re in a happy, exciting relationship,” says Santi. “Aim for the majority of conversations to be interesting, funny or enjoyable.”
Try Something New
Come home, eat dinner, hit the couch: Sound familiar?
One way to renew your relationship is to break out of the same-old, same-old.
“Love doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Firestone says. “We have to share time and activities to keep it thriving.”
“Try something new together,” suggests Santi. “Whether you’re interested in traveling to a new place or signing up for a new cooking class, break out of your normal habits.
“Trying something new will not only feel fun and exciting, but seeing your partner in a totally new environment will teach you things you never knew about them.”
You should also find new ways to show appreciation for each other.
Santi advises turning it “into a game—at the beginning of every week, think of something super-specific that you each have to work on for that week. Maybe you want them to plan a surprise date or compliment your looks. Maybe they’ll want more alone time with you or more positive feedback on their work.”
Maintain Your Own Identity
Part of showing your love for your sweetie lies in letting him or her continue to grow as a person…and not just as your significant other. That’s why you should both spend time apart working on your own interests.
“Taking time for yourself and doing what you want every once in a while will increase your confidence,” says Santi. “And we all know what happens when a woman leads with confidence…hello, spark!”
Tsipursky adds that giving your partner their own space also means not monitoring them all the time.
“Technological developments make it so easy for us to track each other and to be in constant communication,” he notes. “However, permitting each other to have privacy helps increase happiness in relationships, since it builds up mutual trust.”
“Getting close to someone shouldn’t mean fusing our identity or losing respect for our innate separateness,” says Firestone. “Appreciate your partner’s unique interests.”
Enjoy Your Time Together
Of course, some of the time you spend in each other’s company will be taken up with such mundane tasks as food shopping. But you can approach even the everyday from a place of playfulness.
“It’s important to be able to share in and experience joy together,” says Firestone. “Being able to laugh at our shortcomings and at our partner’s idiosyncrasies can steer us away from unwarranted dramas and keep our relationship alive.”
Santi suggests thinking back to the way things were at the start of your relationship, of how much you wanted to make your partner happy: “If you act like it’s the beginning, maybe it will never have an end.”
Show Your Love
When you first got together you were always touching each other. But time tends to diminish contact; today it’s more like a quick peck on the cheek before running out the door.
One way to get your relationship back on track is to re-establish connection. Literally.
“Making eye contact with your partner actually has scientific backing—your brain feels more connected with another person through eye contact,” Santi says.
She also recommends putting down your cell phones (for once) and kissing…and “I mean kissing that’s spontaneous and meaningful, like back in high school. Kiss deeply and passionately when there’s no expectation or reason at all.”
Showing your love more openly may be easier if you can generate gratitude for your partner. As Byrne puts it, “ Gratitude will start to help you see the things that are going right for your relationship and for you.”
Another thing: Physical desire tends to wax and wane over time. If you’re having a problem working out differences in that area, try consulting a therapist who specializes in sexual matters.
Learn to Fight Fairly
During the initial phase of a relationship, everything about your partner is perfect…and youknow you’ll never, ever argue.
That’s not an attitude conducive to making things work out over the long term.
“If you go into a relationship expecting never to fight, then your first fight could very well lead to the end of the relationship,” says Tsipursky. “Instead, learn strategies for healthy conflict resolution, and talk about them with the other person beforehand.”
You will also be better served by not turning every disagreement into an opportunity to drag out the same litany of complaints. “Avoid focusing on the past and instead orient toward better behavior in the future,” Tsipursky says.
Byrne suggests asking yourself two questions: “One, canyou be angry about what has happened but still be compassionate, loving and kind towards yourself and your partner? And two, are you being open and honest with one another or are you hiding stuff and being disrespectful instead?”
So how do you fight fair? Tsipursky offers this disagreement protocol:
- Make it clear you still care about your partner and your relationship.
- Talk about what happened—and about how you feel about what happened.
- Avoid blaming your partner and jumping to conclusions when interpreting his or her actions.
- Be open to changing your mind and apologizing if the mistake was yours.
- Be willing to compromise for the sake of the relationship, making sure that any agreement you come to works for both of you.
- After the conflict is resolved, focus on reconnecting with your partner.
This doesn’t always have to happen immediately—you actuallycan go to bed angry if it’s late and you’re both tired and cranky—but don’t let conflicts fester.
Finally, “don’t fight against change,” Tsipursky advises. “People and relationships change all the time. This is not something to mourn; it's just a fact of life, to be acknowledged and celebrated.”
Forgive…and Accept Forgiveness
Learning how to fight fairly also means learning to forgive and to accept forgiveness. Holding onto insults and pain only exacerbates the fight/pout/fight cycles some couples find themselves trapped in.
If you work at it, your relationship can reach the stage of what Byrne calls wholehearted love: “In this stage couples are often more relaxed and the passion has been reignited. They often speak of it as the falling-in-love-again stage.”
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.