We've been conditioned to believe relationships are just like the movies: perfect in every way. But for us real people who are coupled, it takes some creativity to keep the connection with a partner strong. What makes for a solid long-term relationship may look different from couple to couple, but there are a few easy expert-backed solutions for deepening your bond.
“You want to have wonder and a sense of newness,” says Quandra Chaffers, LCSW, a licensed couples therapist and certified sexuality educator. “And that requires looking at your partner with new eyes.”
Rather than trying to recreate first-date butterflies, Chaffers encourages couples to keep up regular practices. This includes making time for sex and intimacy, even when life’s everyday stresses get in the way of romance.
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Phexxi encourages women to take charge of their sex lives but it’s not approved to enhance sexual satisfaction or protect against STIs. While Phexxi could be a great option for many women seeking hormone-free birth control, it won’t be right for everyone, like those with a history of repeated urinary tract infections. Phexxi is designed for use in the moment and it only works when used before sex. As with any new birth control, be sure to check for any ingredients in Phexxi you or your partner may be allergic to.
Whether you’ve been with your partner for years or are just starting your life together, these tips are super easy to integrate — and make for a lasting bond.
1. Make Time For Intimacy
“We know that the couples that win at sex are the couples that prioritize sex,” says Chaffers. “They decide that it’s important and they put it on the calendar.”
Plenty of people scoff at the suggestion to schedule intimacy, but Chaffers says it’s a tip that works. Marking it on the shared calendar signals that it’s a priority, which prevents long-term partners from waiting (and waiting) for the mood to strike. Scheduling sex also allows couples to build anticipation, which is super important. Enjoy the build-up! Send some flirty texts in the hours leading up to it, or select cute lingerie together that morning.
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2. Create ‘Administration-Free Zones'
“At some point, couples fall into a routine. Especially for new parents, everything becomes about the task of the day: ‘Did you get milk? Can you pick up the kids?’” Chaffers says. “It becomes very administrative in the relationship. So, you have to turn it off.”
To do this, couples can schedule “Administration-Free Zones” that prohibit topics like to-do lists, chores, or other day-to-day stresses. Try starting with 30 phone-free minutes a day. Even if you’re simply washing dishes together, limiting topics forces you to get creative with your conversations. It’s also a gateway to chatting over bigger topics and finding emotional closeness.
Does it feel impossible to shift your mindset? Chaffers gives her couples homework. “Find an article and share it with your partner. What do you both think? Or find something trivial in a reality TV show and talk about it,” she says.
3. Don’t rush to fix fights
Following the heat of an argument, rushing to go back to normal is all too common, Chaffers says. There’s also a problem with just forgetting about it.
“Frequently, what happens is the other person feels increasingly misheard and not seen. And the more you feel not seen, the more you feel disconnected in your relationship,” Chaffers says. She encourages you to consider how your partner’s reality is just as true and valid as yours.
As best you can, consider the other person’s truth. Chaffers compares arguments to walking along opposite sides of a valley: Neither viewpoint is more correct, it’s just different. “Empathy is learning how to come down from your mountain ridge, cross the valley, and see it from your partner’s perspective,” Chaffers adds.
Acknowledging your partner’s side does a lot to help repair after the fight in a lasting way. It also softens your partner, making them more likely to see your reality, too. Once both people feel seen, there’s room for problem solving: “What are we going to do differently in the future?”
4. Maintain a sense of yourself outside of the relationship
It’s important for each half of a long-term partnership to grow and evolve as individuals, fostering independent identities, hobbies, and passions. This isn’t just awesome life advice — it strengthens your relationship, too.
“Partners get excited by seeing you with some newness,” says Chaffers. It doesn’t have to be huge, she adds. It could be learning some Spanish in your spare time. “But, in those places where you get excited or are growing, it gives your partner an opportunity to experience it through you. And that's usually where people spark desire.”
This same thinking also boosts your sexual connection. Chaffers encourages you to explore their bodies solo. Grab a mirror and be curious about how you look, and understand what feels pleasurable. Women who are acquainted with their own body are often more confident in bed, Chaffers says. They have more agency — and communicate what they like with more assertiveness.
5. Establish shared goals
“When couples don't have something they’re working towards together, they're usually just coexisting like roommates,” Chaffers says.
Consider taking on projects around the house, taking a class, or finding a new hobby to deepen your connection. Having a specific end goal helps. For example, if you’ve been invited to a potluck, enroll in a cooking class to prepare.
Trying new things and seeing your partner in a new environment also creates a sense of curiosity and wonder about them, Chaffers adds. You might be surprised by what you discover, or see them in an alluring new light.
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6. Know you don’t have to spice things up if you don’t want to
Chaffers says long-term couples often feel they need to sprinkle their sex life with things that are totally outside of their comfort zone or desire, like BDSM or kink, to “fix” it.
“I think that’s often the premature suggestion,” Chaffers says. There might be a simpler solution than buying a dungeon’s worth of whips and chains. For example, maybe one part of sex suddenly feels uncomfortable or painful due to life changes like pregnancy or menopause, new medication or side effects from hormonal birth control. Chaffers says avoiding intimacy and not communicating these discomforts often makes the other partner assume they’re doing something wrong. “Things can sometimes be solved by the right kind of lube or medication,” she says.
It's also worth it to get into the habit of having a variety of pleasurable experiences together. Chaffers suggests placing less importance on traditional penetrative sex, and instead valuing oral sex, mutual masturbation, or kink just as much. “If couples are in the habit of valuing our range of sexual activities that give them pleasure, when one becomes difficult or not as interesting anymore, it doesn't mean the end of all of their sex life,” Chaffers says.
7. Be patient when your partner evolves
It’s natural for people to change and grow over time. But, this can cause couples to worry, or even panic. Chaffers says, “Sometimes couples will misread normal changes in their partner as, ‘The romance and passion has gone!’”
But, realizing your long-term partner has evolved from the beginning of your relationship is totally normal. “How two people fell in love with each other and what they found important in their twenties is not necessarily going to be what's important in their fifties,” Chaffers says. Check in about life goals and planning for the long-term to know your values align, but try to be curious about your partner’s growth.
This article is sponsored by Phexxi™. Please visit Phexxi.com for the full prescribing information. Please report side effects by contacting Evofem Biosciences® toll-free at 1-833-EVFMBIO or contact FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or www.fda.gov/medwatch.