How to get the spark back in a relationship
Remember those heady days when you wanted to rip each other’s clothes off and found one another constantly fascinating? Then, life happened: work, kids, pets, money worries – and suddenly you wake up one day and feel, well, a bit lukewarm about it all.
Can relate? Don’t worry, it’s perfectly natural for two people to lose that loving feeling – relationships, like all the things worth having, need work to keep the fire stoked. Luckily, we asked the best relationship experts, from family mediators to psychoanalysts, to give us their advice as to what that ‘work’ might look like…
1. Say 'thank you'
You may assume your partner knows you are grateful but often this is not the case and a reason why simply saying ‘thank you’ can be a game-changer.
‘Thank you’ is a magical phrase that can unlock important feelings of validation – vital for making a relationship feel rewarding,” says Kate Thompson, a couple psychoanalytic psychotherapist at Tavistock Relationships. “It prevents feelings of being taken for granted which create resentment. It creates a benign cycle between partners, encouraging ‘the giver’ to repeat a generous act – even if it is just unloading the dishwasher.”
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2. Get out of your comfort zone
Getting that sexual spark back and creating deeper connection often comes down to simply “changing up the context in which intimacy takes place,” says psychotherapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity.
This could be something as straightforward as revamping your bedroom, paying attention to mood, lighting and texture. Or, how about “taking out separate email addresses,” suggests Perel “just for writing love notes to each other. Take a class. Go for walks together at night.”
3. Speak their love language
Accredited family mediator Louisa Whitney says that often in a separation, people talk about not having felt loved. But, she says,“often we express love in the way that we want to receive it but not in the way that our partner wants to receive it. For example, my love language is acts of servitude. I can be told I’m loved but nothing gives me a spark of joy like discovering the hoovering has been done,” she says. “That really helps me to feel that my partner is supporting me in a meaningful way.”
According to author Gary Chapman, there are five love languages: words of affirmation (compliments), quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Find out which one your partner speaks; learn, converse in that language and watch your relationship light up.
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4. Have a laugh
It’s easy – especially in a long-term relationship – to go through periods of ‘sense of humour failure’. But because it helps us to release those feel-good endorphins, laughter is a brilliant tool for bringing back that sparkle and reminding you of those days that you found one another constantly hilarious (remember those?)
“Research reveals that most people look for a good sense of humour in their ideal mate and sharing a sense of what’s funny affirms an intimate relationship and creates that spark,” says Thompson.
So, even if you’ve both exhausted most of your jokes, “trips to a comedy show, watching a funny film together or doing something light-hearted can increase a mutual sense of pleasure in life and each other,” adds Thompson.
5. Enjoy sexual play
It’s natural, what with kids, work and life getting in the way, to forget how to ‘play’ together sexually and to regularly talk about each other’s desires and fantasies so that you don’t just do the same thing all the time.
In order to relight that fire, Perel suggests making a list of your sexual turn-ons and putting it under the pillow for your partner to discover. “Or discuss how you’d direct your perfect erotic scene,” she says, “getting right into the granular detail.”
6. Share your hopes and dreams
“When was the last time you sat down with your partner and talked about what you love about your life and what isn’t working so well?” asks Whitney. “Are you sharing your ambitions and pipe dreams? Or just the mundane practicalities of life?”
You may think you are communicating because you talk about the kids or who’s buying the dog food, but it’s the conversations about our hopes and dreams that – Whitney says – “nurture the spark and help to fuel that feeling of being lovingly supported by your partner.”
7. Plan a date they would like
It’s actually quite hard to be selfless but reaps huge rewards for your relationship and is really romantic. By planning a date they would like, maybe incorporating a favourite hobby (yes, and that might mean going cold-water swimming when you’d rather cut off your arm…) “creates really positive feelings of being valued,” says Thompson, and can go a long way to re-establishing closeness.
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8. Get equal
And no that doesn’t mean getting revenge – quite the opposite.
“One thing that can dampen a relationship spark is a lack of equality,” says Whitney. ”This might be with regard to household chores or how finances are managed. If one person feels that the other person is getting a better deal, this can feed resentment.” A huge spark extinguisher, we think you’ll agree.
Family mediator Thompson, who sees the consequences of this all the time in her practice – advises you keep reviewing whether you feel things are equal with your partner because what felt equal when you first met, might not now.
“Keep discussing if there is a balance and whether you feel you both have an equal say in decision making,” advises Whitney. “One person feeling controlled, ignored or unsupported by the other, is a very quick recipe for extinguishing the spark.”
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