Perhaps no song better describes the feeling many couples have when the passion and sexual desire is gone than the Bob Dylan lyric from "It Ain’t Me Babe": "There’s nothing in here moving…"
That’s how many men and women come to feel in a long-term relationship—as if the chemistry that once tied the two together feels dead and lifeless. Can you get passion back when it feels as if it has totally died?
The answer, for the most part, is yes.
To begin, how frequently do happy couples have sex? According to Muise (2015), more frequent sex is associated with more happiness, but having sex more than once a week wasn't associated with even greater happiness. In other words, a good goal for a long-term couple is to have sex once per week.
I recently worked with a client in a long-term marriage who confided that she and her husband no longer have a sexual relationship. “I want to feel wanted by someone,” she said, stating what countless others feel after years with the same partner. The kind of passion that comes from a new relationship is usually not found again in a couple that has been together for many years. The excitement (and lust) of a new relationship is fortified by the mystery inherent in discovering someone new and exploring each other’s minds, bodies, and emotional landscapes. Once you have been with someone for many years, you already know that person well and there is far less to discover—and to pique excitement—than when you were each a blank slate.
Although you may never ever experience a resuscitation of the kind of excitement you had in the beginning, you can feel passion and lust again. Following are six questions to ask yourself, and related strategies you can use to get emotionally and physically connected to your partner again.
1. How much time do you spend together?
If you already spend most of your free time together, a little space can help make the time you spend together a little more exciting. Join a club or social group, or start an extracurricular activity that will give you something to look forward to and improve your mood. When you make your own life more exciting, you will find that you are better able to reconnect with your spouse during the time you spend together. On the other hand, if you don’t spend a lot of quality time with your spouse, then make an effort to have more time together. Have a date night a couple times per month and plan a special activity together—a weekend trip, a special dinner, etc. For couples that don’t see each other often, more quality time together is one the surest ways to get emotionally connected again. The key, of course, is to focus on getting emotionally connected; the sexual and passionate feelings only flow from that source.
2. Why haven’t you tried couples therapy?
The vast majority of couples who feel a lack of passion have not sought help from a professional. Most people think that going to couples therapy means opening up a Pandora’s box and then enduring a year or two of grueling therapy to deal with the issues that arise. Instead of approaching the concept of asking for help in such an all-or-nothing way, tell yourself that the two of you could go for just a few sessions to get some feedback or helpful ideas. If you choose to go for more sessions, that’s your choice; if you decide you just want a brief tune-up, that’s OK, too. But you might be surprised to find that just two or three sessions of couples therapy can kick-start a change in your relationship.
3. What romantic activities have you engaged in recently?
Sometimes the most basic ideas are the most meaningful and true. If you want to feel more romantic with your spouse, here’s a crazy idea: Do things that are romantic in nature. Go to dinner at a romantic restaurant, take walks after dinner on a nice evening, or light a fire in the fireplace and play soothing music. Other options include writing occasional notes and leaving them for your spouse, bringing a small or large gift home after work, and setting up a homemade meal or a bath with candles. None of these efforts on their own will instantly change the tone of your overall relationship, sticking with such practices on a regular basis can slowly bring the two of you closer together.
4. Do you have some turn-ons you want to introduce (or reintroduce)?
For some men and women, the idea of costume and role play in the bedroom is exciting, but it's not for everyone. Have you ever tried exploring with sex toys or special outfits in the bedroom? If you haven’t, you may want to try it: One key to restoring passion in a relationship is to make things fresh again and trying new things could help. If you already use accessories, or have tried them in the past and didn’t like them, some of the other behaviors listed here could help. (If you find that nothing helps to increase the passion, what you might really need is feedback from a professional who can help you figure out what’s really missing in your relationship.)
5. Have you taken inventory of what you appreciate about your spouse?
Some people benefit from writing in a journal about how they feel about their relationship and their partner. If you are open to this, write a gratitude list once a week in which you note the qualities that you like and appreciate in your partner. Also list the behaviors your spouse engages in that you appreciate. If you aren’t likely to pull out a leather-bound journal from your nightstand and document your most private thoughts, don't worry: Simply spend some time each week thinking about the things you value in your spouse. Whether you’re driving, doing laundry, or making dinner, take a few minutes and be disciplined about remembering what you like about your partner.
6. How frequently do you compliment your partner, or express what you appreciate in him or her?
Most of us don’t work hard enough to regularly convey to our partner how and why we love them. You may say “I love you” every day, but what else do you do to single your spouse out and make him or her feel special and wanted? For example, how many compliments do you think you gave your spouse last week? If you want to get emotionally and sexually connected again, compliment and appreciate your partner more each day. You will see that these efforts have a reflexive effect; your spouse will start doing the same for you.
Ultimately, there is no simple trick to rekindling passion and getting emotionally connected again in a long-term relationship. It requires work on your part, and you must try multiple avenues, all of which will lead to a more positive and connected couple.
Explore my book on dysfunctional romantic relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.
Amy Muise et al. Sexual Frequency Predicts Greater Well-Being, But More is Not Always Better. Social Psychological and Personality Science, November 2015 DOI: 10.1177/1948550615616462