If you’re in a longer-term relationship, you likely have longed for the feelings that were present in the beginning, when it was new, intriguing, exciting. You may wonder if you’re with the right person, since you no longer light up at the sight of your partner. You may even be ready to end your relationship because it has become regular, predictable, and yes – even a little boring. Not so fast. Losing that “in love” feeling is a normal developmental stage of love relationships, one that every couple experiences. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you have to like it, or even accept it for much longer. Before you entertain doubts or even end a perfectly good relationship, there’s a great chance you can bring the romance back. That’s right – you! Wishing for your partner to revert to old behavior puts you in a passive, powerless position and invites sorrow. It is precisely this passivity that has turned those roaring flames of passion into glowing embers. In order to bring romance back into your relationship, you first need to understand why it left.
What’s Happened Neurochemically
When you and your partner were in the early stages of courtship, the euphoria of infatuation had help from your brain: there is strong evidence that the altered state or “high” of infatuation and attraction is accompanied by neurochemical changes. In this stage, your brain was flooded with a powerful chemical cocktail (including 1- phenylethylamine (PEA), an amphetamine-like neurotransmitter, 2 – dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, and 3 – norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter associated with exhilaration, excessive energy, and feelings of excitement) that let you feel boundless energy, optimistic, hyper-aroused, etc. The effects of this cocktail were short-lived, however, and when the high was gone, you and your partner were on your own. So if you’ve come down from the “high” remind yourself that this is normal. This is not the end of love, but the beginning. Now you can see your partner how he or she really is, instead of a love-blind, idealized version of him/her, and enter the next phases of your relationship: discovery and connection.
What’s Happened Behaviorally
We’ve all heard that relationships take a lot of work, but really, who wants to work hard at love? In the beginning of your relationship you didn’t work hard at all, right? It was effortless, romantic, and spontaneous. Why, you wonder, can’t it be that way still?
Here’s the truth: you’ve been fooling yourself. You never worked harder for love, romance and sex than you did in the beginning, when you spent tremendous energy on your relationship. You made great efforts to please your lover, you made romance happen, and every step of it was planned — not spontaneous at all. Believing that you didn’t work hard in the beginning is an absolute falsehood. The truth is that you worked your hardest then, and now you’re probably not working hard enough.
Relationship behaviors can be understood by thinking of them as only two types: nurturance and maintenance. Nurturance includes the meaningful and rewarding activities couples engage in to strengthen the relationship, such as give massages, send flowers, take baths, go for long walks, dine out, send a card, dance, laugh, exercise, play cards or board games, express love, gratitude, appreciation, attraction, dreams, hopes, etc. Maintenance includes the day-to-day responsibilities we all have to attend to in order to get by: earn a living, clean the house/apartment, pay the bills, shop for groceries, do the laundry, run errands, etc.
Early in your relationship you probably spent 90% of your time on nurturance, and only 10% on maintenance. As time passed, the percentages naturally evened out to a more realistic and sustainable 50/50. Still, you felt happy about your relationship and how effectively you balanced the nurturance and the maintenance. As more time passed, however, the scales may have tipped far in the other direction — perhaps your nurturance activities are only 10%, while the maintenance activities are 90%. At this point you may feel distressed about your relationship, disconnected with your partner, and disappointed that you have so much to do, you just don’t have time to have fun anymore.
When you feel distressed, disconnected or disappointed, pay close attention because it’s your wake-up call. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the wrong relationship. It may mean that it’s time to shift the balance and engage in more nurturance behaviors. It’s time to try hard at love, just like you did in the beginning.
What’s Happened Sexually
Your sexual relationship has probably stagnated. You can probably predict with close to 100% accuracy what will happen the next time you and your partner will have sex. It has become routine, predictable and a little boring. When two people first get together, they engage in an unconscious but very complex dance of accommodation in which they manage their own anxieties, as well as their partner’s, by asking for and participating in only those behaviors that seem emotionally safe — that is, those behaviors least likely to result in judgment, rejection, or discomfort. With little or no discussion, you and your partner agreed to what is, and is not, permissible in the bedroom. In essence you and your partner have colluded over time to limit your sexual expression, when in all likelihood both of you crave to expand it.
You can generate some more sexual passion quite easily by ending the collusion and bringing your full sexual and erotic self to the bedroom. Here are just a few ideas to get you started, but only you know what your full sexual expression would look like:
* Break the routine (if you usually start with kissing, start with oral sex)
* Share fantasies
* Role play
* Introduce new behaviors
* Talk dirty
* Incorporate erotica, porn, or sex toys
* Initiate sex in an unexpected place, or at un unexpected time
* Allow for and create different types of sexual experiences: playful, tender, explicit, fast, light-hearted, emotional, brief, prolonged, etc. Mix it up.
* Play a sex game
* Devote time to visualizing and anticipating a sexual encounter with your partner
The specifics are not important. What is important is that you ask yourself: have I shared my full sexual self with my partner? If not, how can I start? Know what you like, what you want and invite your partner to go on the journey with you to explore your sexual and erotic potential.
What Your Expectations Have Created
If you came to the relationship expecting the “in love” feeling to last a lifetime, you are likely disappointed. This expectation created an unrealistic, unsustainable goal. In this case, it may be your expectations, and not your relationship, that need adjustment. On the flip side, if you came to the relationship expecting that after the initial high, it would inevitably be regular and dull, then you may have unwittingly, and unnecessarily, created just that. Both stances reflect extremes – the reality is likely somewhere in between. Look at the expectations you brought to the relationship and determine what those expectations have created. By being intentional about your relationship and re-balancing the ratio of nurturance to maintenance, you can bring the romance back.
Anne Aja, Ed.D.