When most people are single, they crave partnership. When others are in committed relationships, they crave independence. It's human nature to want to feel desired and needed, and to possess those same emotions for someone in return. And even when you've been with a partner for many years, seeking and maintaining intimacy can be a most difficult task. Life, comfort, and routine begin to crowd the headspace which was once occupied with feelings of lust, excitement, and affection. But it's never too late to rediscover the passion in your relationship.
To learn more about reigniting the spark, I chatted with Dr. Jennifer Guttman, clinical psychologist and behaviorist; Jeremy McAllister, licensed professional counselor at Portland-based Lifekey Counseling; and Dr. Wyatt Fisher, licensed clinical psychologist in Colorado, who specializes in marriage counseling and porn addiction.
"It's normal for couples to drift apart the longer they are together if they aren't careful. Therefore, it's important to keep tabs on this drift and intentionally promote intimacy emotionally, recreationally, and sexually," as Fisher tells me.
Below, find 11 ways to reconnect with your partner on an emotional, recreational, and sexual level in an effort to keep the intimacy alive.
1. Stay True To Your Authentic Selves
"There's an old quote from Gestalt Therapy that says, 'The more we try to be what we are not, the more we stay the same.' Many times we become comfortable. We get stuck. We want to avoid pain and conflict. We want to avoid hurting our partner. In this protective mode we are actually denying our own change and the changes it will force in the relationship. When we are able to be with and process our own fears of change, we open up space to expand and grow, even if it brings pain and struggle. ... If we stop trying to be something, we each change naturally. When we honor our own hearts, change is constant," McAllister tells me via email.
It's important for couples to acknowledge the presence of change and welcome personal growth together. Each partner should remain true to his or herself so as to not lose their respective identities as a couple.
2. Feed Your Sense Of Self-Exploration
"It is vitally important to remain your full and true self outside of your primary relationship. This means hobbies, passions, friendships, travel, whatever feeds you as a unique person," McAllister says. Make time to keep learning about yourself, digging deeper into your passions and new interests, which you can, in turn, share with your partner.
"There's a natural rhythm to relationships, a cycle. Just like our own breath, there is an ongoing contraction and expansion. We feel stagnant in the relationship, so we move outside. We seek out friends or even affairs. We begin finding alternate ways to get needs met. As we move out and explore ourselves, we also bring new energy and ideas back into the relationship. So there is this constant coming together and moving apart. If we try to inhibit that cycle, or if we feel too dependent on a partner to provide for our needs, the relationship stagnates," McAllister further explains.
Allowing comfort to become a plateau upon which to rest your relationship leads to boredom and a stagnate state of being. Be open to the cycle moving as it should, and introducing new factors and elements into your relationship to keep things interesting.
3. Remain Open & Honest
"[Honesty] is the hardest part for many couples. Identify your needs and communicate them with compassion," according to McAllister. It's important not to fail your partner with deliberate deceit or by beating around the bush so as to avoid conflict or hurt feelings. Being upfront and honest is the best foundation for a relationship, as it builds open lines of communication and no topic is ever too contentious to confront.
"Intimacy conversations don't need to be brought up subtly," says Dr. Guttman, "They can be brought up directly and thoughtfully, just mindfully and not in an accusatory manner." If you need more from your partner, speak up, whether it's sexually or emotionally.
4. Cherish Separate Interests
"Keeping separate interests is important to inspire lively conversation, allowing couples to feel like they are still learning new things about each other through nuanced dialogue," Guttman states. No person should feel guilty about keeping certain hobbies to him or herself. It's acceptable to be selfish in some areas of your relationship, so if you enjoy exercise classes best without your partner, keep it that way.
5. Don't Lose Your Sense Of Wonder
"Intimacy lessens because partners stop 'seeing' each other. Whether it be because of a long-distance relationship or not scheduling enough alone time, couples can lose their spark for each other when they are not always in contact. It's the classic 'out of sight, out of mind' syndrome in relationships," Guttman shares with Bustle via email.
Couples should make the effort to seclude themselves from the rest of the world at least once a week, whether it be a weekend date night or Monday night spent in. This will give them the opportunity to tune out work, responsibilities, and social circles to focus on each other for a moment.
6. Maintain The Element Of Spontaneity
"Keeping the mystery alive by bring back unpredictability into your sexual or weekend routine can bring the spark back into your relationship and make couples that have been together for a long time feel like the relationship is still exciting," Guttman states. When life allows, ditch routine for something spontaneous and fun to drip excitement back into the relationship. There is so much opportunity outside of the mundane to switch it up and share new experiences together.
7. Establish Daily Check-Ins
"Emotionally, couples need to spend time together daily doing a head/heart check. Head is items on their agenda and heart is what they are feeling and why so mad, sad, glad, or fear and why. The more couples practice this regularly, the closer they'll feel emotionally, which will translate into more intimate and dynamic sex in the bedroom," Fisher suggests.
Check in with one another each day, going deeper than small talk conversations. Share emotions, needs, wants, and keep each other aware of what's going on internally. If each partner is not actively, vocally sharing his or her thoughts, they will remain unheard.
8. Talk About Everything
"For those on the avoidant side, where you just want space and freedom: talk more. Share everything, even the topics that feel routine and mundane, even if it takes minutes to find the words," McAllister says.
There is nothing out-of-bounds when it comes to romance. Couples should make the consistent effort to talk until they have nothing left to talk about. Stay interested in one another.
9. Ditch Routine Sex
"Couples need to keep things fresh in the bedroom with variety. Some examples could include having sex in different areas of the house, trying different positions, some nights having quickies, some nights having longies, some nights focusing on your love during sex, and some nights focusing on having fun during sex, etc. Furthermore, couples, especially men, need to avoid porn. Regularly viewing porn is one of the quickest ways to feel dissatisfied with one's spouse and sex life," according to Fisher.
Sex is an intimate act, not a chore or responsibility. Treat it as such, and keep it sexy.
10. Stay In Touch With Your Childlike Sense Of Fun
"Couples need to intentionally have fun together. They need to go out and do recreational activities they enjoy, such as hiking, dancing, biking, etc. The more couples play together, the more they tend to feel in love, which will lead to better sex," Fisher says.
To reiterate the need for spontaneity, keep it fun by remembering to play with each other. There is no limit to what you and your partner can do together; never stop exploring.
11. Practice Steady Independence
"While there may be some common approaches, the complexity of intimacy increases for the nearly 50 percent of people with attachment traumas. For those on the other side, with anxious attachment: practice intentional independence. Find ways to remain present and focused on your body so you can begin internalizing the love that is actually already present. Awareness and ownership of your own attachment style can dramatically decrease conflict and revitalize a relationship," McAllister claims.
Know yourself to know what you need from a relationship and how you should carry yourself in a relationship to maintain a comfortable level of dependence and independence. It's important to maintain your independence without isolating your partner in order to not become dependent on a relationship for happiness.
Relationships require hard work, and it doesn't get easier the longer you've been together, but justifiably more difficult as intimacy, mystery, and lust begins to die down. You and your partner can work together to keep the spark alive by placing a concentrated effort on respective independence, communication, and playtime. Working through hard times does not come without reward.