“How do we reignite our relationship?” is one of the most popular questions couples therapist Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, gets asked. And it makes sense since it actually concerns all couples.
Yes, you read that right: All couples struggle with a stale relationship.
“Passionate love is the love of arousal, excitement, newness and mystery, and [it] happens at the beginning of a relationship,” said Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. On average, passionate love tends to decline after 18 months, she said.
That doesn’t mean that “passionate love goes to zero,” but it does decline once we’ve gotten to know our partner, what they like to do, what their routines are and so on. The newness — which fuels passion — dies down, she said.
Interestingly, “physiologically, our bodies can’t handle the intensity of passionate love,” anyway. (Not surprisingly, however, “Companionate love increases and is the love of friendship, support and intimacy.”)
But there are many ways that couples can perk up their relationship. Below, Orbuch lists six tips that don’t require much—if any—money, time or even hard work!
1. Engage in a new activity with your partner.
To reignite your relationship, you want to mimic when you first started dating, Orbuch said. One way to do that is by engaging “in a new activity or interest with your partner. Doing novel activities with your partner enables you to reexperience the original emotional state [at the beginning of your relationship].”
In other words, trying something new sparks excitement, producing passion. You can do anything from deep-sea fishing to salsa dancing to hiking a mountain to eating at a different restaurant. One wife in Orbuch’s marriage study planned a treasure hunt for her husband all around the city that led to a skating rink.
2. Add the element of mystery or surprise.
Both mystery and surprise also mimic the emotional state of a new romance. But it doesn’t mean whisking your wife away to the Mediterranean or surprising your husband with thousand-dollar tickets to the Super Bowl.
Here, little gestures also go a long way. Orbuch gave examples of surprising your wife at work and whisking her away for lunch or sending a greeting card in the mail.
3. Do something that kicks up your adrenaline and arousal.
Young relationships start out with an adrenaline rush. Your heart races, you get giddy, you’re alert, awake and excited. “Studies show that the arousal that’s created through [an adrenaline-producing] activity can get transferred to your partner and your relationship,” Orbuch said.
Arousal-generating activities can include exercising, “going on a vigorous hike or a roller-coaster ride, parachuting out of a plane” and even watching a scary movie. So it’s “almost like fooling your brain that the arousal produced to this scary movie [or any other arousing activity] is really due to your relationship,” and this helps to perk up the passion.
A wife who was deeply in love with her husband came to Orbuch concerned about the lack of passion and excitement in her marriage. Orbuch suggested the couple work out together at home. So they bought a treadmill and some weights. It took just a week for them to be intimate — in the middle of their workout. The wife later told Orbuch that she felt better about her body, was aroused and “had the best week.”
4. Take a mini-vacation — just the two of you.
Get out of the house for “at least one night and two days…somewhere that interests both of you and creates new memories together.” Somewhere you can spend what Orbuch calls “unpressured time,” so you can truly relax. “You don’t have to go far from home or spend a lot of money.”
The key is to spend quality time together away from home. Studies show that for women, in particular, getting away is important. “They feel more passionate when they’re away from the pressures of their lives.” At home, women have a tough time compartmentalizing things. They’re thinking about the laundry, lunch, paying the bills, cleaning the house, and checking things off their mental to-do list, Orbuch said.
Even if you have young kids or are super-swamped with work or other responsibilities, Orbuch underscored the importance of investing in alone time together—away.
5. Touch more often.
Touch produces arousal, comfort and support both physiologically and psychologically, according to Orbuch, and “it doesn’t have to be much of a touch. Holding hands on a walk, making sure you give a hug or kiss or embrace daily reminds you that you’re physiologically bonded.”
In the midst of busy lives, financial responsibilities, kids and holding down a household, couples can easily forget to have fun. But “relationships have to be about fun,” Orbuch said.
Couples can play in many ways, too. For instance, every Sunday night, one couple, Orbuch said, would go out in their snow-filled backyard and have a snowball fight or build a snowman. Not only did they enjoy each other’s company, laugh and of course have fun, but it also led to sexual arousal for both.
When reigniting your relationship, the key is to shake things up consistently, Orbuch said. So the “next time you plan date night, think about the elements of newness, novelty [and the] element of surprise.” It’s as simple as trying out a different restaurant or seeing a scary movie.
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