Being in a committed, long-term relationship is awesome for many reasons: You love someone who loves you back, you have absolute trust in that person, you don’t have to deal with the craziness and anxiety of dating, you have someone great to come home to everyday, you feel completely comfortable with that person—the list goes on and on. But being in an long-term relationship can also be really, really hard. When you’re with someone for the long-haul, it can be all too easy to take that person for granted, to assume that you both know everything about each other, that you both know how the other person is feeling, that your relationship will continue to work as long as it stays the same. People who have been with the same partner for a long time know that this kind of thinking can be a recipe for disaster: When we stop taking the time to nurture our relationships, regardless of how stable they might seem, distance can grow, small resentments can fester, and before we know it, all that intimacy that we used to have has evaporated.
I know from experience that maintaining an LTR is never easy. But I firmly believe that keeping, and increasing, your sense of intimacy with your long-term partner doesn’t have to be complicated. What it really takes is a commitment on both partners’ parts to spend time and effort nurturing the relationship. Read on for eight simple ways to deepen your connection.
1. Go on real dates
When you’re in a long-term relationship or married, it’s important to set aside time to spend together as a couple. The dates you set up with your S.O. or spouse can take whatever form you like—a fancy dinner out, a yummy meal cooked at home, a long walk around the park—but the important thing is that you clearly delineate that time from the rest of your daily life. Setting up real dates, even when they’re very simple, is an important act in itself because it implicitly states that you and your S.O. feel like nurturing your relationship is a priority.
2. Do this 36 Question thing
Back in January, the New York Times “Modern Love” column make waves when it ran an article by Mandy Len Catron titled, “To Fall In Love Do This.” The article explores the work of a study by Dr. Arthur Aron, which proposes that two strangers can fall in love by asking each other 36 questions, followed by a long, silent stare into each other’s eyes.
I tried this out with my husband, and it ended up being surprisingly cool. It didn’t necessarily make us fall in love all over again, but it did get us to have a real conversation about our hopes and fears, all while making dinner on a random Tuesday night! The end, when we had to look into each other’s eyes for four minutes, was also unexpectedly powerful. Staring that directly at someone can feel strange and exposing, even with a person with whom you’re very close.
If you’re not down with the 36 Questions (or you’ve already done them) challenge each other to come up with your own questions. Mix them up in a hat, pull them out at random, and talk. Look into each other’s eyes without speaking for four minutes at the end. (Then make out because it’s inevitable.)
3. Make something together
Set aside some time for you and your S.O. to make something together. It doesn’t really matter what: You could set aside a Saturday night to cook something labor intensive together. You could paint together, or do origami together. Seriously, it can be anything: Once my husband and I spent an evening putting together a LEGO set that someone gave us for Christmas, and it was super fun. As you both work on whatever your project is, you’ll find yourself bonding over the shared effort and talking about all sorts of things you might not have expected.
4. Have sex
Physical intimacy and emotional intimacy are, of course, not the same. But sex can play an important role in maintaining a long-term couple’s emotional bond, making them feel more connected, more attracted to each other, and generally happier. If you need any more motivation to hit the sheets (but why would you?), sex has also been shown to have all sorts of mental and physical health benefits.
5. Laugh together
Psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein writes in Psychology Today that “Laughter is a potent love medicine. It is an intimacy builder for couples.” Laughter can help to relieve the tension in difficult situations, and it can impart a sense of fun to relationships that are feeling staid. Make an effort to bring more laughter in your relationship: watch comedies together, tell each other jokes, and let yourselves be really, really silly.
6. Discuss the State of the Union
Discussing the state of your relationship might not be the most fun thing to do, but it is necessary. Take time here and there to talk seriously with your S.O. about how you’re both feeling and what you want. These discussions are important even if you feel like your relationship is in good shape; you might discover that, when you press the issue, there are underlying tensions just below the surface. Better to deal with these things now, when they’re small irritations, than later, when they bloom into huge problems.
7. Be uncomfortable together
As a couple, make an effort to try new things together, and to allow yourself to be in uncomfortable situations. These situations could be big events like visiting a country where you don’t speak the language, or small instances, like forcing yourselves to sing a duet at a karaoke bar in front of other people. Dealing with the new and unexpected in these situations as a team will bring you closer together in the other parts of your life.
8. Be physically affectionate
Sex is important, but so is simple, non-sexual touching. Studies have shown that physical affection decreases stress, and it’s been associated with lower blood pressure and increased satisfaction in relationships. Like sex, physical affection causes the body to release Oxytocin, often called the “love hormone.” Oxytocin has a variety of effects; studies have shown that the hormone can make us more likely to be monogamous, more extroverted, and more generous and trustworthy. A study recently published in Nature even suggests that Oxytocin might be useful in treating mental disorders.
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