The anticipation of a text, the spark of a first kiss, the need-to-have-you-right-now sex...There's little to dislike about the beginning of a relationship. In fact, the only thing not to like is the fact that the newness can't last forever. Eventually, the chemistry fades to complacency, and the excitement gives way to routine.
That's necessarily a bad thing, though. Long-term relationships bring an element of stability and comfort to one's life, and depending on whom you ask, familiarity is the lesser evil when compared to the anxieties of a relationship's getting-to-know-you phase. Moreover, research shows that sustained relationships have a positive impact on an individual's happiness, particularly among people who are married. A 2012 study by Michigan State University psychologists revealed that "married people are indeed happier than they would have been if they did not get married." In other words, married people reported an increase in individual satisfaction when compared to their pre-nuptial happiness baseline, and they're believed to remain happier in the long run.
Still, there's a way to have the best of both worlds—the passion of new love and the benefits of a long-term relationship. Read on for seven ways that you can maintain (or reignite) the spark in your relationship, whether you're married, cohabiting, or otherwise attached.
As you settle into a cozy groove with your S.O., it's only natural to feel a little nostalgic for your relationship's initial stages. "During early romance, we’re getting all kinds of great, pleasurable experiences that are giving us a bit of a hit of dopamine," says psychologist Marsha Lucas, Ph.D. "After you’re married and the thrill has settled, those big, constant hits of dopamine taper off, and like coming down from a high, it can feel like a huge letdown.”
Don't beat yourself up (or worse, hold it against your partner) for having a tough time transitioning between phases. Instead, be honest and open with your feelings, and allow your better half to do the same. Not only will an open line of communication allow you and your partner to have a better understanding of each other's strengths, weaknesses, and needs, it'll enable you to recognize early on when something is amiss—before your paths have a chance to diverge.
Remember that communication is more than just words. It's also important to read your partner's non-verbal cues, like their body language and eye contact, for more intel on how they're feeling.
Spend Quality Time Together
Sorry, but your usual dinner-and-a-movie date night won't cut it. Novelty is key here, so it's important that you and your partner spend time sharing new experiences, whether low-key (trying a new restaurant) or something more adventurous (traveling to a foreign country). Per an article in The New York Times, new experiences activate the brain's reward system, flooding the brain with dopamine and norepinephrine—the same chemicals responsible for those euphoric highs of early romance.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but intimacy can be hard to find as time passes, household duties increase, and if you're raising children. According to Chris Kraft, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the dreaded sex slump occurs around a relationship's three- or four-year mark: “Intimacy breaks down at this stage because couples don’t talk about their sex life,” he says. “And, couples aren’t as intentional about connecting with each other as they were earlier in the relationship.”
To keep the romance alive in your marriage or partnership, aim to have sex at least once a week, advises a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, a peer-reviewed academic journal. Not in the mood? Foster intimacy in a different way. "Being intimate can be as simple as talking and cuddling or affectionately touching,” says Kraft.
Get Back to Basics
Think back to some of your first few months together, and revisit the places that set the scene for your early romance. Maybe you whiled away the hours at a coffee shop, or you bonded during long, meandering strolls around your neighborhood. Reliving these first dates is likely to invite all of those old feelings to come rushing back, reminding you of the person you fell in love with—and why you did.
Surprise Your Spouse
Even if you and your S.O. know each other inside and out, there's always one unknown that you can keep in your back pocket: the element of surprise. When was the last time you sent your partner a steamy photo? You don't need to get completely nude to get the message across. If your partner loves your stomach, snap a photo of your bare midriff along with a mischievous question or statement about what will happen when you see each other again.
You could also initiate sex at an unexpected time or place, or, for a more G-rated option, treat your sweetie to an unexpected date night or getaway. By catching your partner off guard, you introduce some novelty back into your relationship.
Don't Get Bogged Down With Chores
It's easy for household tasks to become a point of contention (especially if one person feels that they're doing more than their fair share), so make a point to share the responsibilities evenly. And instead of viewing your everyday tasks as mundane, approach your chores as an opportunity to bond. For example, you could tackle a new dinner recipe together while sneaking kisses and complimenting each other's cooking skills. Remind your partner that someone who takes out the trash or does the dishes is incredibly sexy.
Ditch the Distractions
Turn off the television or computer and put your phone away. Spend time engaged and attuned to your partner. You can enjoy a romantic dinner, play a game together, or sit outside with a couple glasses of wine. The goal here is to create a distraction-free environment that's conducive to communication and bonding, even if you're simply sitting in silence and enjoying each other's company.