By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC
Keeping the Love Lights Glowing
The stability of a long-term relationship can be comforting and secure. But let’s face it – it can also be dull and boring. Everyone loves the excitement of a new relationship, the heady exhilaration of what some call NRE, New Relationship Energy. The key is figuring out how to keep some of that NRE in your old relationship.
When the chemistry is right, new relationships don’t take a lot of effort. They’re fueled by a chemical soup of hormones that adds excitement to even mundane activities. In contrast, after years of repetition, those mundane activities become, well, mundane. It takes more effort and imagination to keep the sparks alive.
So what can you do to add new life to your old relationship? Here’s a few ideas to jump-start your tired old engines.
Listen more, listen better. Long-term partners have a tendency to tune each other out and offer non-committal responses without really paying attention to what their partner is saying. Show an interest in what your partner tells you by responding with curiosity to hear more about it. Be interested because s/he is interested and you care about your partner even if you don’t care about the particular subject. Listen for the feelings underlying what is said. If s/he comments, “What a day! I got stuck in heavy traffic and was late for lunch with my friends,” instead of dismissing it with “Yeah, traffic is really bad this time of year,” you might respond, “How frustrating. I know you were really looking forward to seeing them today.” Your partner will feel heard and cared about.
Share more and connect. Good listening promotes more sharing, and sharing leads to connection. After many years together, partners may begin to lead parallel, disconnected lives. Become a better conversationalist by sharing humorous or lively details about your day. Give more than a report of your activities; share about your experience of what it was like for you to do it or be there.
Be surprising, do new things together. Plan a ‘date’ doing something out of the ordinary. Instead of going out in your old scruffies, dress up and let him or her know they’re still special and attractive. Take a class and learn something new together, or cultivate a shared hobby. Do something old in a new way, like watching a movie together at home but adding candles, a little wine, and an exotic snack (tip: this works way better with a romantic movie than a shoot ‘em up).
Let’s get physical. I’m not just talking about sex (though that is also a terrific way to stay connected). Hold hands, give lots of hugs, and frequent quick kisses just because. Have at least one long kiss a day that lasts a minimum of five seconds.
Offer praise and compliments. Relationship expert John Gottman says partners in healthy relationships should make at least five positive comments to each other for every negative one. Complaints and criticism carry more weight than praise and compliments, and so the 5 to 1 ratio is important to maintain a positive balance.
Remember when you couldn’t keep your hands off each other? The real relationship began when you got past that and truly deepened your friendship. There’s something irreplaceably special about sharing a life together with someone who’s your best friend and your lover. Keep the special from going stale by treating your long-time partner like a newfound friend. The perks are well worth the effort.