By Andrea Wachter, MFT
Remember the feelings you experienced when you first started dating your spouse or partner? Perhaps you felt excitement, attraction, and anticipation? As the relationship has progressed, has it been difficult to maintain those initial feelings?
Once life’s responsibilities, careers, kids, and the passing of time are added to the mix, that initial spark can easily diminish if we don’t keep it stoked.
Fortunately, the spark of intimacy and closeness can be reignited. It is possible to rediscover the special connection that initially brought you and your partner together.
If you are in a long-term relationship that’s starting to feel a bit stale or unsatisfying, here are five tips to help you rekindle the spark.
1. Remember and Re-experience
Remember those early days of dating? You probably had butterflies of excitement at the mere thought of seeing your partner. Perhaps you left your first few dates with the thrilling anticipation of seeing them again. If you did notice any less than favorable qualities, they were easy to overlook and probably overshadowed by all the things you liked. Unfortunately, over time, many people start focusing more on what they see as their companion’s flaws and shortcomings rather than the qualities they once found endearing.
If you’ve fallen into that negative trap, try looking at your partner through new eyes. It’s like upgrading your vision. Consciously notice the things you like, love, and appreciate about your partner. Think about what you would miss about them if they were gone.
Recall the sweet times you’ve shared together and focus your attention on your partner’s positive and endearing qualities so you can re-experience the feelings that you felt in the early days of dating.
2. Listen Attentively
When you went on the first few dates with your partner, you very likely didn’t have your face buried in your cell phone. (Perhaps they weren’t even invented yet!) You probably paid close attention and acted in a manner that showed how much you really cared about what your partner had to say. You probably wanted to know everything about them and listened carefully to what they shared.
That loving attentiveness you once demonstrated and received can easily lessen as the years go by. Taking the time to intently listen to your partner can have a profoundly positive impact on closeness, connection, and intimacy.
If your partner initiates a conversation, whenever possible, stop what you’re doing and make eye contact with this person you once adored. As they share their thoughts and feelings, truly focus on what they have to say. Remind yourself that since what they are saying feels important enough for them to share with you, they deserve your undivided attention.
If the timing isn’t good for you, respectfully tell them that you really want to hear what they have to say but you need a few minutes to (fill in the blank with your need) in order to be able to give them your full attention. Then be sure to keep your promise to return to the conversation and listen attentively.
3. Inquire Deeply
In the courting stage of relationships, people usually want to know more about each other. Granted, all the stories are new and hot off the press when you first meet, but even if you’ve been with someone for years, you can still remain genuinely open to hearing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Even if your partner is retelling a story that you’ve already heard, think about how many times you’ve repeatedly listened to a song or rewatched a favorite video, movie, or series. There’s always something worthwhile to learn from your loved one’s experiences and thoughts.
Practice asking your partner about their day or seize the opportunity to inquire more deeply if they voluntarily share something about themselves, even if it’s about a topic you don’t personally relate to.
Try asking a few follow-up questions about what they shared. Give them your full attention and listen in the same attentive, considerate manner that you’d like them to have with you.
4. Remain Respectful
Take an honest look at the way you speak to your partner, particularly when you’re stressed, frustrated, angry, tired, or depressed. The tone we use and the words we choose can have a profound impact (both positive and negative) on the quality of our relationship. It’s extremely important that we manage our emotions. This requires self-awareness, self-control, commitment, and maturity.
Remember to stay tuned in to your own thoughts, feelings, and needs so that you’re able to communicate respectfully when strong emotions arise. Too often people use harsh words and tones that can unwittingly do damage and echo in their partner’s ears for a long time.
If really strong emotions get stirred up for you and you don’t think you can communicate respectfully and productively, consider taking some space to get clarity about your thoughts, feelings, and needs. You can let your partner know that you need some time to calm down and that you’ll be back when you’ve cooled off. Then you can resume the conversation in a respectful and mature manner.
5. Stoke the Fire
In our busy, plugged-in, task-oriented world we too often put our relationship on the back burner and forget to keep the spark of love alive. Getting caught up in our daily rituals and routines, many people miss the opportunity to spice things up romantically with their partner.
You could plan a special date night or initiate a spontaneous slow dance in the living room. You could leave your smartphones at home and discover a new hiking trail or restaurant. Silence the phones and play a board game or reminisce about some wonderful memories. Put a love note in an unsuspecting place, give your partner an unsolicited massage, light a few candles in the bedroom and play a song from your dating days. Share fantasies, give a compliment, or express appreciation. Shake up your routines, be creative, be playful, be open, be kind.
Will recalling the good times, listening attentively, inquiring deeply, remaining respectful, and stoking the fire really rekindle the relationship spark? Give them a try and see what happens!