When we talk about dating, we’re usually referring to the romantic phase before you make a commitment to another person. For people in long-term relationships, the time that they were dating was the exciting, fun part as they got to know each other. Relationships, on the other hand, are often spoken of as work, not fun. But what if you could combine the two? What would it mean to actively date your long-term partner, no matter how many years you’ve been together?
“Many people think that ‘keeping the spark alive’ in our relationships require a lot of spending, fancy meals, and luxurious vacations,” says Tyler Turk, CEO and founder of the date night subscription box Crated with Love. In fact, what we sometimes do as a couple is jump from romantic event to romantic event. You may have a fancy dinner one night, wait a month, then have another once you realize the romance tank is on empty. But what about those moments in between?”
So while pre-commitment dating looks like a lot like “romantic event after romantic event,” post-commitment dating is more about paying attention to the little things while still making time for those nice dinners and couples vacations. I asked Turk and Dr. Grant Brenner, M.D., a New York City-based psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and co-author of Irrelationship, what their advice is for people trying to figure out how to actively date their long-term partners. Here are their nine top tips.
1. Make Sure You’re Both Committed To Doing The Work
“First, the two people have to be on the same page about maintaining that ‘spark,’” Dr. Brenner says. “They have to share the intention to keep renewing the relationship, and they have to have dedication to cultivating the relationship as a thing-unto-itself. It's important to be realistic — relationships for most of us have dry periods and rich periods — and if the commitment is in the long-run, that reality must be acknowledged. Almost like they would with a child, the couple has to come together to take care of the relationship. Relationships grow and develop over time, and essentially have a personality of their own.”
2. Practice Romance
“The truth is that resorting to romance only when you need it defeats the purpose of romance,” Turk says. “It's a lifestyle, and just like anything else, it slowly gets weaker the less amount of time you put into it. If you want to be an All-Star basketball player, are you going to just practice once a month? No. It's going to be a daily endeavor.”
3. Combine Familiar Activities With New, Exciting Ones
“Couples need to find their own balance, combining familiar go-to activities they know they'll enjoy together, and deepen their enjoyment of, over time,” Dr. Brenner says. “The repetitive elements create a stable base but can become boring — though they can also become cherished and comforting (and not boring). They also need to do new things together which challenge them in positive ways. Some couples need to do this less than others, or they find the novelty in less obvious ways — for example having a rich intellectual life that no one else really shares. Some couples need to be doing new things very regularly. It helps to have an element of surprise, so they can take turns planning adventures, without going to far outside of the box or having it become unsafe in some way.”
4. Commit To A Date Night
“My wife and I went through this scenario in college after we had been together for four years prior,” Turk says. “We each had jobs, internships, and classes, and by that point, our ‘butterfly stage’ was long gone. Fortunately, we realized this and decided to make a change. We made it a priority to have some sort of couple time once a week and even created a ‘date night’ category in our budget. And it started working!”
5. Don’t Forget The Little Things
“Find moments during your normal day-to-day activities that can promote romance,” Turk says. “It may be a text to say, ‘I love you’ or it could be folding laundry together.”
6. Be Open About Your Fantasies And Sexual Needs
“It's important for most couples to keep up a healthy sex life,” Dr. Brenner says. “This maintains a more passionate level of bonding, and itself is an area for discovery and novelty. It's important for couples to be sharing their fantasies and desires, and meeting one another's needs for sexual and emotional intimacy. Again, there can be a balance of the familiar and the novel.”
7. Find Activities You Can Do Together
“Find activities or interests that you both enjoy and do them together,” Turk says. “I love building stuff and Michelle loves antiques, so sometimes we will go antiquing and turn into a craft. Take an interest in your partner's life. I love football. Michelle, bless her heart, does not. That being said, she sits with me every Sunday to watch our team, learning a little more each time.”
8. Keep An Element Of Mystery
“Each person in the couple has to have their own independent identity, including things they do with other people without their partner, or by themselves,” Dr. Brenner says. “Having this protected time and private life is important for all couples, some more than others, and is often overlooked as the relationship matures, since at the beginning sometimes people can't get enough of each other... and when the honeymoon period is over, the sometimes feel like they have to act the same way to avoid hurting the other person, leading to a cycle of self-deprivation, dishonesty and resentment, among other things. It's important to keep that element of mystery, and that means having healthy boundaries.”
9. Have Fun!
“The most important thing? Have fun,” Turk says. “You can turn just about anything into a romantic moment and contrary to what we see in most movies, the most powerful romantic moments come in the form of laughter.”
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