While all long-term relationships will have dull moments, as you go about everyday life, it is possible to keep boredom at bay by trying new things as a couple. In fact, studies have shown that "self-expanding" activities, or doing things to broaden your horizons, can help promote desire and satisfaction in established relationships. And that means not only having more fun, but feeling more connected as a result.
According to the study, the self-expansion theory suggests that engaging in novel activities with your partner can reignite the passionate feelings you had in the early stages of your relationship. Researchers found evidence that doing new things together was associated with higher sexual desire, which in turn was associated with feeling better about the relationship overall.
"Relationships become routine and we have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone to grow as people and to grow as a couple," Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Self-expanding activities allow for opportunities to grow, give us shared experiences with our partner, and help to make for a more meaningful partnership." So what might you and your partner want to do, in order to keep your relationship strong?
Traveling is always a big one, as it allows you to step out of your usual routine and see new people, places, and things. "Doing so with your partner allows you both to have this shared experience, as well as prompt new discussions and thoughts," Jordan Madison, LGMFT, a therapist and owner of Friends in Transition Counseling Services, LLC, tells Bustle. "Traveling can also bring along its own challenges, and challenges can be self-expanding as well. It helps you to get creative and have new perspectives to problem solve."
Learning something new, possibly by taking a cooking or language class, can also be an interesting way of broadening your horizons. "Not only will you and your partner get a chance to connect in class but the two of you will also get to practice your new skill at home as you make dinner, grocery shop, and go through life," Nelson-Terry says. "What better way to learn and applicably apply a skill?"
You might also consider picking a cause that stands out to you both, and getting involved. "Volunteering is a self-fulfilling activity that can benefit any individual, but it can also strengthen your relationship as a couple," Dr. Brian Wind, PhD, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "When you volunteer with your partner, you will likely see the exact qualities in them that made you fall in love [...] in the first place. This kind of interaction will not only be personally rewarding, but it will be an opportunity to collaborate together and develop an even more powerful bond than before."
But you don't need to sign up for classes or fly to a foreign city in order to expand your minds and feel closer. Sometimes expanding your mind can be as simple as getting out of a rut and changing up your daily routines, possibly by going for walks after work, reading books together, or seeing what interesting things your town has to offer. You could even give each other challenges, such as spending less time on your phones.
"The benefit of low-commitment activities such as having a movie night once a week or agreeing to have an unplugged-day where [you keep your] phones and devices on silent for the majority of a day, is that there are fewer barriers to putting these activities into action, which makes it more likely to happen," Yesel Yoon, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "These simple acts build momentum for [you to] implement more and different activities."
It's up to you to decide what might bring your spark back, and which activities you'll want to try. But this study shows anything that feels new can do the trick. "In relationships, couples get to know one another and get used to following a particular routine," Wind says. "This routine can sometimes become monotonous, however, by trying new things and broadening the horizons within a relationship, a couple can learn new perspectives and connect to one another in new, unique ways." And that can certainly mean feeling more connected, and passionate, about your relationship again.
Muise, A., Harasymchuk, C., Day, L. C., Bacev-Giles, C., Gere, J., & Impett, E. A. (2019). Broadening your horizons: Self-expanding activities promote desire and satisfaction in established romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(2), 237–258. doi: 10.1037/pspi0000148
Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Jordan Madison, LGMFT, therapist and owner of Friends in Transition Counseling Services, LLC
Dr. Brian Wind, PhD, clinical psychologist
Yesel Yoon, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist