How to Get the Spark Back in Your Relationship
Falling in love is like having a new toy with lots of secret compartments to discover. Staying in love… well, that’s a different story. After a while, “‘til death do us part” can seem like a pretty long time to keep the spark alive. (Like…forever…actually!) But if you worry your relationship has started gathering dust at the bottom of the bin, there’s hope. We spoke to therapists and relationship experts who say it’s totally normal for a long-term love or marriage to feel like it’s flaming out, and even to question whether or not it’s time to cut ties. Better yet, they gave us tips on how to rekindle the romance. (And we promise that’s the last of the cheesy fire metaphors.)
First of all, no one feels “in love” all the time.
“When you first fall in love, there’s excitement and passion,” says relationship expert Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW. But, she says, “as your relationship grows, it becomes more about intimacy and connection.” So if those butterflies have flown away, don’t worry—it doesn’t mean your love has died. “The first thing to realize about being in a long-term relationship is that it waxes and wanes,” says Miller. “What you feel in the beginning is impossible to sustain.” She says that if you understand this concept it will lessen the pressure to feel deeply in love all of the time.
It helps to go back to the beginning.
While you can’t expect that fuzzy sensation to last forever, you can revisit the places where the butterflies started. Jennifer Levy, professional counselor and certified sex therapist says that the beginning stages of a relationship are “marked by powerful feelings of infatuation, fantasies and desire.”
To help rekindle those feelings, “return to the area where you met, or got engaged,” she says. Amiira Ruotola, co-author of How To Keep Your Marriage From Sucking also recommends a walk down memory lane. “Going somewhere you have great memories together can remind you that you’re still interesting people who like each other,” she says. “Sometimes we need a sensory kick in the butt to reignite a dormant spark.”
And share secrets with each other.
If you’re feeling disconnected, try telling your partner a secret you’ve never revealed to anyone before. “When couples are welcoming and non-judgmental of their partner’s secrets they strengthen their connection,” says Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, co-author of Happy Together, which she wrote with her husband James Pawelski, PhD. Whether it’s a childhood memory, a vivid dream, or a fantasy, when you share these truths, you’re saying “I trust you,” which helps re-establish an emotional bond. And that can feel very sexy.
Get your hearts racing together.
If you watch The Bachelor, you’ve seen how bungee jumping can bring two people closer (well, temporarily at least). And while they may seem in love, it’s the adrenaline rush and endorphins that help speed things along.
“Studies show that adrenaline increases attraction,” says Miller. So if you’re longing to make your heart go pitter-patter again, try literally kick-starting it. If jumping off a bridge isn’t your thing, Miller suggests going to an amusement park, a haunted house, or trying anything new and adventurous that interests both of you.
Don’t underestimate the power of a “thank you.”
Kira Bartlett PsyD, says that one of the easiest ways to keep the spark alive is to acknowledge the things that your partner does. So if you feel like your relationship is waning, make it a daily practice to tell your partner (in a text, or face-to-face) something you appreciate. For example, “Thank you for taking the trash out every week, I know I don’t seem to notice, but it’s a big help.” Pileggi Pawelski says that gratitude is one of the most important positive emotions for thriving relationships. “When expressed regularly, gratitude has been shown to be a booster shot for satisfaction,” she says.
Burn your resentments.
According to Dr. Juliana Morris, therapist and certified sex expert, one way to rekindle a flickering relationship is to literally light a fire. “Sit down together and, on small pieces of paper, privately write down your resentments,” she says. Then use a pit, or burning bowl, and “set the papers on fire with the intention of releasing the negative feelings.” When done correctly—as in ensuring that the focus remains on healing and moving forward, and not dredging up the past—Morris says that this can be a “fun and freeing practice.”
Take sex off the table.
It may seem counterintuitive, but to get heat back, it may be best to take the sex out of it—at least for a little while. “For some couples, removing the pressure of having sex can help rekindle romance and connection,” says Morris. She suggests trying an ‘anything but’ rule: “Kiss and hold hands and go to second base, but that’s it,” she says. “Not going all the way can help relax the situation, as well as allow vulnerability and create a build up of sexual tension.”
(Or, have sex on the table!)
On the other hand, amping up your sex life is also a good idea. Morris sometimes recommends that her clients try a 30 day sex challenge. “When you’ve committed to having sex every day, it can be fun to anticipate it,” she says.
Cori Dixon-Fyle, founder and psychotherapist at Thriving Path, also recommends shaking up the usual routine. “Changing when, where, how, and who initiates sex can make a long-term relationship feel fresh again,” she says. But if your sex life has gotten so stagnant that you feel like nothing will help, Morris suggests seeing a licensed sex therapist who can teach you that “sexual connection is something that deserves attention,” she says.
Plan secret dates for each other.
It’s always nice to be thought of, and it feels good to do something nice for your partner. So once a month, take turns planning dates for each other. “Simply tell your partner how to dress, from sweats to formal,” suggests Dixon-Fyle. “The surprise of the date adds desire and mystery,” she explains. Pileggi Pawelski also recommends planning dates for each other. But be careful! If you hate football and your partner is obsessed, don’t plan to take them to a bar to watch a game. You’ll be grumbling the whole time. Instead, Pileggi Pawelski says to identify your partner’s strengths, and pair it with yours. For example, if you love to learn, and your partner is creative, take a painting class together (and bring some wine!)
Give each other space.
Remember when you were first dating, and you’d spot your partner across the room? Levy says “distance creates desire and anticipation,” and suggests this little game: The next time you go out together, sit at opposite sides of the bar. “You never know what feelings you’ll stir up,” she says. Miller also agrees that distance can help revitalize a flatlining relationship, but she suggests taking it one step further by spending time apart from one-another. (Woot! Girls trip!) “Sometimes we need time away to truly miss our partner and to remember what we have at home waiting for us,” she says.
Take care of yourself.
When you’re in a relationship for so long, it can be hard to remember where your partner ends and you begin. Unfortunately, that’s a sure way to suck the oxygen out of the fire. “It’s difficult to feel attracted to someone who has lost their autonomy and individual identity,” says Dixon-Fyle. She suggests rekindling the passion in your relationship by fueling yourself first: Find a hobby, set some job goals, or do charity work. “Not only will having individual interests give you something to talk about,” says Dixon-Fyle, “but when you’re happy with yourself, you set the standard on how others love you.”