The quest for tips on how to keep the desire alive in relationships and how to reignite the spark is a common search for those in long term and sometimes, not so long term relationships. I am meeting more and more couples, asking questions regarding how to sustain happiness, fulfillment, and desire in their relationship before it becomes a “problem.” Currently, there are many “well functioning” couples beginning therapy stating they feel:
- A lack of connection.
- The spark is fading.
- Unseen by their partner.
- More like a roommate than a lover.
By well functioning, I am referring to couples who have low conflict, are cordial, they are best friends, faithful, manage money and the household well, take accountability, and sometimes are even the couple that others look up to. All of the pieces seem to fit together perfectly, but there is one thing that is getting in the way of them experiencing their relationship to the fullest, they feel the spark beginning to fade. They want deeper, soul connecting, pleasurable experiences. They are seeking the energy of desire but are stating they are experiencing increased boredom.
Can you relate?
Sometimes, transitions in your personal life and the world at large weigh on individuals and if you are feeling the weight of the world, chances are, so is your relationship. Seeking professional help can make all the difference and as a licensed therapist, I encourage anyone who believes they may be experiencing a depressive episode to seek professional help. If it’s more depth, deeper connection, more joy, excitement, and intimacy you seek, then this blog is for you!
Do you ever feel like telling your partner, “I love you, but our relationship feels…BORING!”?
There is some debate around how long after the onset of “problems” couples wait to seek therapy. In the field of Marriage and Family Therapy it has long been believed that couples wait an average of 6 years before seeking therapy. A study done by Doherty, Harris, Hall, and Hubbard, published in January 2021, has now put that average to 2.68 years with many couples seeking support at the two year mark, which is promising!
The data helps us understand how long it takes from the onset of “problems,” however some couples do not categorize boredom or a decrease in “the spark” as a “problem.” Many believe that boredom, “comes with the territory,” and happens to “all couples,” and it is just “part of being in a long term relationship.” Oh the stories we tell ourselves! Yes, without attention and care, the monotony of our day to day and the stressors of adulting can indeed create exhaustion and a lack of enthusiasm about our romantic relationship. However, if it is important to you and your partner to reignite the desire, let’s discuss how to bring more fun, play, intimacy, eroticism, and connection into your relationship.
When I am asked, “Can we ever get that spark back?”
My answer is, YES, ABSOLUTELY! Followed by, if both people are open, willing, and able to not only talk about the disenchantment but do something about it, your relationship can be more sparktacular (made up word) than ever. Society may tell us that it is inevitable that the spark fades over time but that is a myth. I am not bought into that myth and if you are reading this blog, chances are you aren’t either! Your commitment to keeping things interesting is what makes the difference!
So yes, I am a positive and strength focused therapist, however, I am also transparent and keep things real. I do not believe in throwing in the towel in your relationship without doing your best to not only make it work, you get to make it thrive! Are there couples or individuals in couples relationships that give up “too easy,?” Honestly, only the individual can make that determination.
What I can say is this, if you are a person in a relationship where you are no longer excited to hang out with your partner, you do not feel “butterflies,” you are feeling bored in your relationship, the two of you are not touching as much, not kissing, not sleeping together (maybe allowing your child or pet to sleep in the bed), if you rather spend time at work, with friends, or alone, and you have nothing to look forward to with your partner, it may be time to RAMP THINGS UP!
INDIVIDUALS AND COUPLES NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO!
What are you currently looking forward to doing with your partner that excites you? If your answer is: “Nothing,” “nada,” or “zilch,” all is not lost…we just get to figure that out!
How do we bring the spark back? Let’s talk a little bit about the science and then let’s get to the action steps. The feel good hormones also known as the “happy hormones” are oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. There has been research done on partner’s with high levels of oxytocin (the love hormone) being happier in their relationship, finding their partner’s more attractive than others, and one study found that males with higher levels of oxytocin kept a further distance from people they found to be attractive (please see below for reference sources).
What does this all mean and what are some action steps you can take to HACK THE SPARK USING SCIENCE TO INCREASE HAPPY HORMONES?
Do things with your partner that increase both of your dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and serotonin levels. I have worked with couples who within a couple of months have gone from feeling distant, disenchanted, and disconnected, to literally feeling like they have “fallen back in love,” with their partner! Couples are sharing that they are happier individually and within their relationship. This hack is not just for your relationship, this hack is for YOU!
Both partners have to be on board, while one person changing will inevitably change a dynamic, in order to create the relationship you both desire it requires mutual investment and energy.
LET’S HAVE SOME FUN!
Invite your partner to participate by saying something sexy like…
“Baby, let’s help our endocrine system produce some feel good hormones…(then gently whisper) TOGETHER!” (ultimate turn on!) Maybe it will intrigue them, maybe not. The bottom line is, it works!
Once you entice them with science driven “dirty talk,” go through the list of hormones and couple activities together. I have created the list below to support my clients and am sharing it on my blog to support couples with understanding how the dates/activities are conducive to happiness, connection, bonding, safety, desire, and overall mental health and well-being. Each of the four happy hormones will be explained and a list of date ideas is provided. Use one of the 17 date ideas AND HAVE FUN CREATING YOUR OWN “COUPLES ACTIVITES.” Surprising your partner is another great way to spruce things up! I recommend at least one activity per week, with partner’s alternating who plans the date/activity.
INTIATION AND EXECUTION MATTER!
Upping your mood together will not only support both of you as individuals, it will create stronger connection and bonding. Seeing one another engaging in something new, feeling and looking confident, and enjoying themselves is attractive. When we put shared time together, with adventure, touch, and a mutual desire to create the relationship we seek…wonderful things can happen!
DIFFERENT DATES FOR DIFFERENT HORMONES, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SPARK?
• Reward center in the brain. Every time we do something we enjoy dopamine is released in our brain.
• Controls feelings of pleasure.
• Released SLOWLY and you feel the mood boosting sensation after the activity.
• Dopamine deficiency contributes to low mood.
• Satisfaction of completing something.
• It plays a key role (along with serotonin) in sexual desire.
• It’s the feel-good neurotransmitter.
INCREASE DOPAMINE with:
• Sleep, sex, running, listening to music, eating well (no processed foods), managing stress, meditating
1) Create your own at home concert! Create a playlist and have a dance party!
2) Make a meal together, set the table, and create your own visually pleasing indoor dining experience! Avoid processed foods. Foods such as avocado, soy, bananas, and poultry are high in the amino acid tyrosine (boost dopamine levels in the brain and helps with memory and mental performance), so try to include some of those foods on your menu!
3) Take a dance class together! This can be a lot of fun and will not only increase dopamine, you will also get an increase of endorphins and “the love hormone,” oxytocin!
4) Go for walks together when the sun is shining. The sun and brisk walking are two ways to increase your dopamine levels. Try to stay away from any housekeeping or stressful topics. Use the time to talk about things you want to try together and/or ways you want to grow individually. Sharing your joint and individual desires creates more connection. Remember to ask your partner questions and validate them, ensuring you both have a chance to heard.
5) One of my favorites, meditate together! Having your own meditation practice is beneficial in countless ways. Have you ever had a meditation date? It can be quite intimate. Sit across or beside one another and either hold hands or rest one hand on your partner’s knee and the other hand on your own knee and put on a 10-minute guided meditation. Remember to be still and just allow yourself to embrace your connection to your partner and yourself.
• Natural pain killer that is part of the brain’s reward system.
• They are released QUICKLY during a specific act.
• Neurotransmitter Chemicals /hormones the body releases during pleasurable activities.
• They create a sense of well-being.
• Improve mood.
• Boost self-esteem.
INCREASE ENDORPHINS with:
• Sex, laughing, dark chocolate, dancing, meditating, acupuncture, exercise.
1) Have fun outdoors if possible, going hiking, biking, kayaking, frisbee, and running all increase endorphin levels which leave you feeling clear headed and calm afterwards.
2) LAUGH. Watch a comedy or go to a comedy club. Invite your friends over and play a game that makes you laugh. Give yourselves permission to be silly and playful. You can have your own comedy night where you both try your hand at standup! Laughter releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. There are many benefits to Laugh Therapy.
3) “Music, makes the people come together.” – Madonna. Yes, music does indeed make the people come together and that means it can bring you and your partner closer together. Especially, when it is upbeat. Music Therapy is becoming more and more popular, it releases endorphins and creates a feeling of well-being.
4) Invite dark chocolate into your diet in moderation as a decadent indulgence. Plan a date to bake at home or go out for a dark chocolate dessert. Dark chocolate has flavonoids that trigger our brain to release endorphins. Feeding it to one another can be playful, connecting, and sexy!
• Referred to as the “love hormone.”
• It is released when we are excited by our sexual partner or are falling in love. The release of oxytocin during sexual activity appears to play a role in erection and orgasm (this is still being researched).
• Creates a feeling of bonding and trust. It has a social function by impacting social recognition, the creation of group memories and bonding.
• Oxytocin is released in response to the activation of sensory nerves, with low intensity stimulation of the skin through touching, stoking, hugging, kissing. It is also released through stimulation of the nipples.
NOT so FUN FACT: Symptoms of low oxytocin: Difficulty achieving orgasm, sexual interactions that feel mechanical, more anxieties and fears than usual. Which is further evidence of the possibility that part of what can be contributing to the missing spark in your relationship can be you!
INCREASE OXYTOCIN with:
• Sex, at least 1 ten-second hug daily (some studies suggest 8 hugs), loving-kindness meditation, acupuncture, touching your pet, massage, music and singing, gift giving, volunteering, food activates touch receptors in your mouth, warm and cold temperatures, and yoga.
1) Plan a “get to know you” session on your next date night. Come prepared with 5 questions each. You can create your own questions or purchase helpful cards such as “The And” Couples Edition from “The Skin Deep” or Esther Perel’s, “Where Should we Begin a Game of Stories.” Give one another undivided attention and sit in close proximity to allow some form of touch. Ask provocative and erotic questions, make them playful or insightful. The most important part is staying interested, being vulnerable, and digging deeper.
2) Massage one another. You can plan a home date where you both focus on massaging one part of your partner’s body (foot, leg, neck). Take turns, get a pleasing scented lotion and play some music to set the mood. Focus on how good it feels to provide pleasure to your partner and try not to talk in order to be fully immersed in the experience.
3) Sing a song out loud. Do you both have music you enjoy singing together? If so, do it! Research has shown that listening to music and singing along for 30 minutes, significantly increases oxytocin levels (reference link below). Karaoke for two?
4) Take a warm or cold shower together. Extreme temperatures have proven to increase oxytocin levels. Taking a warm bath together and finishing off with a cold rinse, can be fun and will have both of you on an oxytocin high!
• Neurotransmitter and hormone that sends messages between nerve cells.
• Chemical messenger that acts as a mood stabilizer.
• It is responsible for happiness.
• It affects emotions, appetite, and digestion.
• There’s a link between lack of serotonin and depression.
• It plays a key role (along with dopamine) in sexual desire.
INCREASE SEROTONIN with:
• Physical activity, 15 minutes of sunlight daily, stress management, correlation with probiotic-rich foods, tryptophan-rich foods (eggs, nuts, milk, animal protein, soy products), and thinking happy (gratitude filled) thoughts.
1) The walk wins again! Walking in nature and breathing in fresh air raises oxygen in the brain which in turn, boosts serotonin levels. Try going out during the day together, the sunlight helps increase serotonin levels.
2) Thinking happy thoughts can raise serotonin levels. Each partner can begin keeping a gratitude journal and carve out time in your day and week to share it. You can also create an album with pictures of joy filled moments. If you already have albums, pull one out and reminisce. Joyful memories are a gift, give yourself permission to bask in them together!
3) Have a brunch date and get dressed up! Ensure there is probiotic yogurt and nuts, or eggs and a soy or animal protein on the menu. Whether you are in the comfort of your own home or trying a new restaurant together, eat foods high in tryptophan and talk about things that make you smile.
4) Create a Couple’s Vision Board. Get some magazines, quotes, pics, and anything else that makes you feel good and connected. Think about the experiences you would like to have and shared goals. Create a visual representation of what you are working towards creating in your shared life.
5) Stretch together. Movement supports all of the feel-good hormones. Stretching and yoga help with stress management. Focus on your breathing and support one another with slowing down and stretch one another out. Listen to the needs of your body and your partner. It builds trust and intimacy. Play relaxing music or light a candle to set the mood and promote relaxation.
Remember to do your part and give your partner an opportunity to show up differently.
Over the years, I continue to share with couples that we all grow and we get to give our partner’s an opportunity to show us who they are now and who they are becoming.
No one likes to be boxed in and not given an opportunity to grow. Being stagnant and stifled does not only lead to low mood and depression, it is also not very attractive!
Additionally, according to a top relationship expert, psychotherapist, and author, Esther Perel, in order to increase desire, couples need time apart to allow the relationship to get some air and within that space the individuals get to explore their passions, do things they are good at, and be confident when alone.
Perel states, “desire needs mystery and, in the beginning everything is mysterious.” It is within that mystery of your partner where desire and eroticism exists. It is within the dates and activities above that closeness and intimacy are nurtured. Through active and intentional participation, you can create a balance of both, periodically assessing to allow for recalibration.
You can absolutely grow together if you continue to stay open to getting to know yourself and getting to know the latest version of your partner.
Six Tips to making this process successful:
- Stay open – to growth and doing things differently.
- Stay curious – do not make assumptions.
- Stay loving – operate from your heart
- Take accountability – own your role through accountability
- Listen to understand – VALIDATE them and do not take ANYTHING PERSONALLY!
- Be intentional – about the time and energy you are putting into your relationship!
REFERENCES USED & FOR FURTHER READING: