If you’re in a long-term relationship, chances are that you feel very different about your partner now than you did at the start. In the beginning, there’s often fairytale-like bliss and can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you lust. It’s exciting, it’s romantic, it’s…unsustainable. That’s right: You are not supposed to continue seeing your partner through sex-fogged rose-coloured glasses forever.
That initial phase of a relationship puts us in a heightened state of arousal all the time. The body interprets this as pleasurable, thanks to a boost of feel-good chemicals—a dopamine- and serotonin-fueled rush—that helps us get attached to our partners. Since we’re always in this heightened state of arousal, every touch feels fantastic, every joke sounds hilarious, and sex feels spontaneous every time.
But as a relationship gets more stable, our body chemistry does too. This is a good indicator that the relationship is no longer precarious and uncertain—it’s safe. And our biochemistry literally changes to adapt to this new environment. As comfort increases, so do levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and things start to feel a little more, well, familial. Safe is nice, but it can also feel decidedly unsexy—and, dare I say, boring. In a relationship, we may start to feel like friends, roommates, or even business partners over time. Spending lots of time in our pajamas because of a pandemic certainly don’t help.
If this sounds like you and your partner, know this: Your relationship is not broken, and that feeling of comfort is actually healthy. But this doesn’t mean you have to give up on relationship sparks forever! You’ll just have to be a little more proactive about kindling that flame, because your hormones aren’t taking the lead anymore.
So, how do you turn up the heat?
First, ask yourself, How did I act when things felt more romantic? People often tell me that they used to feel different, so acting on those feelings felt natural and spontaneous. But trying to force yourself to first feel something and then act on it never works.
Instead, focus on what you have control over—your actions—and trust that feelings will follow. Did you used to get dressed up before seeing your partner? Did you plan elaborate date nights or romantic gestures? Did you initiate affection or sex?
Next, do those things—don’t wait for your partner to do them first! Yes, it may feel awkward, and you may not get the response you want right away, but that’s OK. If you find that your bids for affection are going largely unnoticed or unreciprocated, gently let your partner know you’re making the effort and ask if they’re open to being receptive. Don’t play the blame game or keep score—that will only lead to further disconnection.
The most effective way I’ve seen couples transition back to lover land is through touch. I’m not even talking about sex here (though that will do it too), but about those little touches (hand squeeze, shoulder rub, forehead kiss) that send the message that you’re more than just roomies.
One of my favourite easy interventions: Relationship experts John and Julie Gottman have found that one six-second kiss per day provides the body with the hormones it needs to feel the rush of those early relationship days. Such a daily kiss (for only six seconds!) will be enough to remind you that this is a romantic, not a familial, partnership. It’s easy to fit that into your day!