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Five ways to save your relationship

7 March 2012

Five simple ways to breathe new life into your relationship.

It's often thought that the breakdown of a long-term relationship must be the result of a single, cataclysmic event such as an affair. However the truth is that most marriages and long-term relationships (even those that end in said affair) fall apart slowly, the victim of being taken for granted or overlooked until it becomes two, stale strangers who greet one another over the breakfast cereal every morning. Often it's small, everyday changes rather than grand one-off gestures that can help save a relationship that's growing cold. The following tips offer you simple ways to breathe new life into yours.

1. Spend quality time together
It might seem obvious, but the couple that plays together has a far better chance of sticking it out than those who lead separate lives in all but name. According to a report by the Office of National Statistics, UK couples only spend an average of two-and-a-half hours a day in one another's company (a figure that's halved for couples with children), and around an hour of that is spent watching TV. With so little time to share, how can we honestly expect a relationship to continue to grow unless we make the effort to allow it to do so?

It's the little things that make us feel cherished and understood, just as it's the lack of those same little things that makes us feel neglected and alone. So turn off that television and make a promise to one another that you'll have dinner together at least three times a week so that you can once again learn how to really talk to one another and communicate. (And try to squeeze in a leisurely weekend brunch, too – the languor of such a date makes it deliciously intimate).

[Related feature: Dating rules for grown-ups]

2. Spend quality time apart
At the risk of seeming somewhat contrary (every handbagger's right, surely?), the opposite advice also holds true. Any couple who's been together for any length of time knows that remaining interested in the minutiae of one another's lives becomes difficult when those lives run to the same rhythm month after month and year after year. When you met you were separate people and it's inevitable that over time some joined-at-the-hipness is going to appear. But having separate interests that excite and stimulate you as an individual can inject some of that self-same excitement and stimulation into a relationship as a whole.
Whether you decide you're going to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro for charity or, more simply, join a book club or take up yoga, the aim is to develop interests that will encourage you to continue to forge your individual identities, making you more interesting (and therefore attractive) to one another. Just remember that a key part of the deal is that each of you remains interested in the other's extracurricular fun. Failure to do so will only drive you further apart.

3. Stimulate his interest
We all know that sex in any long-term relationship isn't always going to be met with the heart-racing anticipatory longing that we (sob!) remember from the early days, but nor does it have to settle into a yawn-fest of over familiarity. Some couples find that a foray into the world of fantasy and dressing up is what's needed to re-oil the wheels of attraction, while for those of us of a more conservative disposition, a more basic law of sexual attraction can hold true: use it or lose it.
The simple fact is that the more you have sex, the more you want to have, and vice versa. So rather than making excuses about headache-related ailments or fretting about all the things on your to-do list (and this goes for the male of the species too), try to view your partner's body anew – avoid familiar moves and tried-and-tested erogenous zones and put some new (or at the very least new-old) tricks into your repertoire. By re-imagining the familiar as anything but, you can trick your mind into experiencing long-forgotten degrees of stimulation. And where the mind leads, the body follows…

4. Reacquaint yourselves again
Don't just stop at sex. Take your newfound willingness for an alternative perspective to look at one another through fresh eyes. It's a sad fact of any relationship that, after we think we've got to 'know' someone, we tend to pop them in a little mental box where their likes, dislikes and world views remain forever frozen in our mind's eye. Why oh why do we do this? After all, we don't believe our own hopes, dreams and impressions stagnate the moment we settle down, so why do we assume that that's what happens to our partners? The truth is that we're all changing all the time and if we only take the time to track those changes – by listening and supporting and learning – then we should be able to continue to grow alongside, rather than away from the gloriously complex creatures that we've pledged to spend the rest of our lives with.

5. Practise a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Of course, none or any of this can happen unless you're willing to truly listen to one another with the attention you both deserve. Ultimately, a relationship is built on love, but that love must be built on a foundation of mutual respect. The so-called Golden Rule works in relationships as effectively as it does in all other aspects of life – do unto your partner as you would be done to and really, you shouldn't ever go too far wrong.

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