My friend has been with her partner for years. As a couple, they like to say they've been through hell and back just to be together. She works seven days a week and he stays home to watch the kids, so finding any time to just chill and enjoy being together is, according to her, like mission impossible. Many times, she's admitted that stress carried over from work has a tendency to make her irritable, which of course never sits well with her partner. So it didn't come off as too much of a surprise when she asked me one day, "How do I bring the love back?"
"Loving someone is an active choice," licensed professional counselor, Shannon Battle, tells Bustle. "So when your heart is completely in the relationship, you will always find ways to keep it there."
Falling out of love is an action based on emotional discontentment, says Battle. When you're at that state, it's pretty common to focus on flaws and trivial situations. Many times, those minor flaws can become so magnified that it can be hard for you to see the successes that make your relationship strong. "Staying actively committed requires work and strategy," she says. "Always remember, if you fell in love then it's just as likely that you can fall out of love."
Getting your heart back into the relationship is a conscious choice you decide to make. So here are the best ways to do it, according to experts:
1. Make An Effort To Make More Eye Contact With Your Partner
"When was the last time you had eye contact with your partner that lasted for more than two seconds? When's the last time you put down your phone and looked them in the eye for the entire conversation?" love and relationship coach, Jessica Elizabeth Opert tells Bustle.
It's so easy to become distracted with everything that goes on your life, Opert says. But making eye contact with your partner lets them know that you're paying attention. Most importantly, it makes you more present in your relationship. It might seem pretty insignificant, but as Opert says, "Such a little thing, such a big impact."
2. Accept More, Reject Less
Another way to bring your heart back into the relationship is to be mindful of your "bid acceptance." A bid is a request for interaction and every human being actively makes bids to one another for attention, Opert says. You do it at work, with friends and family, and of course, with your partner. "When we start to turn down our partner's bids for interaction, we break the connection between us," Opert says. "This isn't always as blatant as a downright refusal of their request because we are angry. Bid refusals happen even when we're more consumed with what's happening with ourselves, we may not even notice our partner made a bid."
Bid refusal doesn't just hurt the person who's making the bid. Over time, it slowly severs the connection you have with your partner, and your feelings of love. "Spend a week in mindfulness by actively seeking out where your partner is, make bids for interaction, and accept them," Opert says.
3. Start Small And Focus On The Little Things
"Relationships are all about the little things," psychotherapist and relationship coach, Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC tells Bustle. "People get close one small interaction at a time and they drift apart in the same way."
People often fall out of love because they allow their connection to become frayed or broken, Coleman says. So falling back in love involves making small, consistent efforts to connect. "Doing little thoughtful things for one another, just because and setting aside couple time to play, be intimate, or just hang out can help your relationship get back on track," she says.
4. Start Dating Again
Date nights aren't something you stop doing just because you're in a long-term relationship. Take it back to the beginning when you used to be super head over heels in love with your partner and start dating again. "When couples come to my clinic for help I always ask them when is the last time they had a date," David Ezell, Clinical Director at Darien Wellness, tells Bustle.
"Part of couples therapy is helping people remember what brought them together," Ezell says. "Dating reconnects them to the events, hobbies, or interests that created their initial attraction. Research shows that weekly dates are best for connecting and sustaining that connection. Remember, it's easy to be a lover but hard to stay together. Dating is the foundation of keeping wind in your relationship’s sails."
5. Limit The Negativity
While you can't avoid negativity altogether, you can limit it. "Research has revealed that happy couples have at least five positive interactions for every negative one," Patricia Schell Kuhlman, LCSW and Gregory Kuhlman, Ph.D., founders of the Marriage Success Seminars for premarital education and couples counseling, tells Bustle. "Couples who slip below five-to-one have a hard time restoring the balance and tend to interpret neutral interactions negatively."
So keep fights short, repair or heal yourselves after, and don't allow for prolonged periods of resentment to happen. Harboring resentment is never going to bring the love back into your relationship.
6. Find Things To Be Grateful For
I used to think gratitude journals were a bunch of BS, but after trying it out for some time, it definitely helped increase my positivity by helping me realize all the amazing things I had in my life, instead of all the things I was lacking. It could also help you get your heart back into the relationship.
"If you feel yourself falling out of love with your significant other, it is important to maintain a physical and an emotional connection to your partner," NYC-based individual and couples therapist, Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle. "One way to do that is to show gratitude. Find three things you are grateful for each day about your partner and share it with them. Whether it's gratitude for working hard, cleaning up the house or taking care of the children, complimenting your loved one can lead to increased positivity in the relationship."
7. Get It On
Physical connection is just as important to a long-term relationship as an emotional one. That's why Steve McGough, DHS, associate professor of Clinical Sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality tells Bustle having more orgasm and touching each other is important.
"Multiple studies have shown that oxytocin (a.k.a. the 'love hormone') levels profoundly affect how you feel about your partner," he says. "Daily stress increases cortisol (the 'stress hormone'), while oxytocin both makes you feel good and counteracts the effects of cortisol." Some of the best ways to increase oxytocin levels are having orgasms or close intimate touching.
Remember that being in a relationship is a choice. If you really don't feel like your heart is in it any longer, then you shouldn't force yourself to try. But if you really do love your partner and just feel like you're just going through a rough patch, it's definitely worth the effort to reconnect. You might find yourself falling in love with your partner all over again.