7 Ways To Stay Connected In A Long-Term Relationship, According To Science
All relationships go through ups and downs, so there may be times where it seems like you've lost that initial spark you had with your partner, or that you're no longer as close. But if you want to maintain a strong connection in your long-term relationship, you definitely can. And there's even research to back it up.
Do keep in mind, though, that this isn't necessarily something to worry about. "It's completely normal for couples to start to feel bored or that a spark is missing," Bill Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, tells Bustle. "So people should definitely not feel bizarre about it. However, the successful couples are the ones who do something about it."
If you feel like your spark is dwindling, acknowledge it. And then decide as a couple how you plan on getting it back. "The best way to recapture that spark is to start doing fun/novel things together again," Chopik says. "Even the most entrenched/bored couples would be surprised by how quickly they start enjoying their relationships again!"
Read on for a few research-backed ways to keep the spark alive in your relationship and remain connected for years to come, according to the experts.
1. Be More Intimate With Each Other
If you've been with your partner for a long time, it can be easy to fall into a rut, and forget to show each other love and affection. And yet that's just what you need to do in order to stay connected.
"Studies have shown that when we experience a pleasant touch, the area in our brain known as the frontal orbital cortex lights up," Amica Graber, a relationship expert for the background checking site TruthFinder, tells Bustle. "Touch also stimulates the production of oxytocin — 'the love hormone' which makes you feel more connected and loving towards someone."
Holding hands, cuddling, kissing — the more you can touch, the better. "Touch is one of the most powerful components of a relationship, but as time passes it’s easy to stop holding hands when walking down the street or stick to opposite ends of the couch during [streaming]," Graber says. "Make an effort to re-engage with your partner physically by using the power of touch."
2. Try New Things Together
If it's been a minute since you experienced something new as a couple — even if it was just trying a new restaurant — then it's definitely time to step outside your comfort zones.
Research from Stony Brook University found that married couples who spent time engaging in new experiences had greater satisfaction in their relationships, Graber says. "In a long-term relationship, there’s a real danger of falling into a rut — especially if you like to visit the same restaurants and repeat the same activities." But by trying new things, you can keep the spark alive.
"New experiences can stimulate the brain’s reward system, triggering a release of hormones like dopamine and norepinephrine," Graber adds. "These are actually the same hormones that are usually released in the early stages of courtship, so by activating this area of the brain, you can chemically re-create 'the spark' that you felt when you first met."
3. Pay Less Attention To Your Phones
It's only natural that you'll both spend time doing your own thing — including texting friends, checking emails, and overall ignoring each other in favor of technology.
To stay connected, though, you might want to make an effort to put your phones away on regular basis. "According to a study from Berkeley, paying more attention to our phones than our partners decreases relationship satisfaction," Graber says. "It’s easy to come home and start scrolling straight away, but over time this can create a disconnect between you and your loved one."
It's not necessary to pretend you don't have phones, in order to have a healthy relationship. But you can lessen the amount of time you spend on them.
"Try implementing ‘device-free’ hours — for instance, no cell phones after 6 p.m.," Graber says. "Instead, dedicate that time to each other. Engage in a conversation, try making dinner together, or go for a walk around the neighborhood. Concentrate on being really present together without any distractions."
4. Go On Dates Again
It's important to still go on dates, not only for the fun of getting out of the house, but as a way of keeping your relationship going in a positive direction.
"In relationship science, there's something called 'self-expansion theory,'" Chopik says. "When we first start dating, we don't know much about each other — we have our separate interests and lives. However, when we try new things together, we start to expand ourselves to include our partners and all the new experiences we have together."
That's why therapists and experts often suggest long-term couples make date night a priority again. "Those new feelings of excitement and novelty are often good for couples," Chopik says. "This is especially true for particularly adventurous or novel things couples can do together (e.g., skydiving, escape rooms, awkward obstacle courses.)"
Of course, it's not necessary to jump out of a plane in order to keep a spark alive. If you can have the same type of fun you had in the early days, it will remind you why you got together in the first place, and help keep things fresh.
5. Share Goals And Dreams With Each Other
Once you know you're together together, you might stop talking about your hopes and dreams — and everything else you're looking forward to in life. But that's the very stuff that keeps couples together, and feeling just as happy as they did on day one.
"Share your life dreams with each other, and work together to make them happen," relationship counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle. "These may be ideas for the long-term, like buying a house in France or backpacking in the Andes, but that doesn't mean you can't discuss them and enjoy the fantasy together."
In fact, doing so may even add some much-needed excitement to your relationship. As Bilek says, "Supporting and sharing in your partner's dreams is a deeply connecting experience, and can keep the romance and love alive in your relationship for the long run."
6. Figure Out Your Love Languages
If it feels like you've been disconnected lately, it may be time to figure out your love languages, and focus on them in your relationship.
The five love languages were devised by Dr. Gary Chapman, who pointed out the different ways people tend to give and receive love. These include words of affirmation, acts of service, giving gifts, spending quality time together, and physical touch.
Figuring out your love language, as well as that of your partner's, really can make all the difference in the world. "When you know your partner's preferences, you can deliver the goods based on them," Krista Rizzo, relationship expert and certified life coach, tells Bustle.
Do they need words of affirmation? Then you can say how much they mean to you, and how much you love them. Do you need physical touch? Let your partner know how meaningful it is to be hugged at the end of a long day.
It may sound simple, but knowing what you both need — and providing that for reach other — can bring you closer together.
7. Keep Talking
One of the best ways to keep your connection alive is by talking more often, which is something that long-term couples often forget to do.
So if you aren't already, go ahead and make it a priority. "The single most important element in any relationship is communication," Rizzo says. "Tell each other what you want and need." And then listen to the answers.
To really create a connection, you may even want to go to couples therapy as a way of learning how to truly hear each other. According to the American Psychological Association, couples counseling as it is currently practiced using Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) is now roughly 75 percent effective, meaning couples who went reported less relationship distress.
So yes, there are things you can do to feel close again and have a healthier relationship, no matter how long you've been together. It's all about recognizing a problem when you see it, then making a few changes as a couple to keep that spark alive.