Just Reflections
Just Reflections Podcast
How to Keep the Spark Alive in Long-Term Relationships

How to Keep the Spark Alive in Long-Term Relationships

The longer we're together in long-term relationships, the more guarded and less open we can become. Here are four ways to reignite that sense of wonder and mystery in a long-term relationship.

As we grow closer to our partners, we might expect that having tough conversations becomes easier, but unfortunately, the opposite is often true. The longer we’re together, the more guarded we become. We fear each other’s judgement and become less open, making assumptions about each other, and finding it harder to discuss important topics. Interestingly, many of us were more open when we started dating than we are later in the relationship when we get married, creating a big paradox. You'd think that greater intimacy comes for free with more time together.

Part of the reason for this is that when we first meet people, there's a wide range of possibilities of who they could be. We’re open to the possibility that they could be anyone, with all their likes and desires bundled in, seeing them as expansive and mysterious. But as we get to know them and build a life together, our perspective narrows, and we start to define them by their roles, like mother, husband, teacher, or lawyer. Seeing less of this big, broad person shapes how we interact with them. Suddenly, the mystery that once fascinated us disappears, and they become completely defined in our eyes. Even someone with the most fascinating spouse in the world could become jaded because they’re so well-defined, and the mystery is gone.

So, how do we open up again? How can we discuss things that over time are labelled as "you should know this" or assumed to be obvious? Is there a way to reignite that sense of wonder and mystery between two people who think they know everything about each other?

Here are four aids that can rekindle that lost mystery and turn you into giddy, impetuous teenagers again, constantly curious and continually excited about love.

Pay yourself first.

When we become more familiar, we stop giving each other the best of ourselves.

There’s a principle in personal finance commonly summarised as “pay yourself first.” This is the concept that when you get paid, prioritise your personal financial growth by paying into your savings first. This is contrary to the common practice where people will pay everyone else like the rent to the landlord, the utilities providers, the grocery store for food etc. before they pay themselves. Often there’s little to nothing left for savings after that. What’s that got to do with relationships?

When it comes to our time and attention, most of us treat our relationships the way we treat our personal finances. We give our most important relationship what’s left of our time and attention, and often there isn’t much left. We go out in the morning and as we meet colleagues and clients and friends, we’re super animated, well-dressed, engaged and attentive. By the time we get home, we’re spent and we just bring the leftovers. So at home, we throw on those “home clothes” and undo our hair. We talk very little, only to check on how the day was and coordinate the logistics. Did you pick up the kids on time? Remember, there’s a recital tomorrow. Were the groceries delivered? Did the dry cleaning people come to pick up the clothes?

Think about how much our relationships would change if we reversed the script and gave our partners the best of ourselves. If you’re a morning person, you wake up early and take a walk with them in the morning when your mind’s at its peak and you’re the most alert and attentive and curious.

You don’t need to search long to find research that shows that couples who have regular rituals together are happier and stay together longer. It could be anything; every Thursday at 6 pm we have a gaming night at home. Every Tuesday, we will both leave our offices and have lunch together, and every month we spend a night away from home. Whatever makes sense in your particular context. The key is that no matter what’s going on in our lives; we have a dedicated time that is ours where we check in with each other. A time that says we matter and everything else is secondary, then you’ll have a better shot at maintaining long-term intimacy.

Communication is not enough.

I first heard this on this tweet and it stuck with me. One of the highly hailed pieces of relationship advice is that communication is everything. Communication isn’t everything. There is such a thing as over-relying on communication.

Over-relying on communication can show up as outsourcing the work of really getting to know your partner to them communicating it to you. Expecting them to tell you exactly who they are and what’s going in their minds and line that up perfectly with their behaviour is trying to take a shortcut to put in the work of getting to know someone. Sure, they can try, but some things are much harder to put into words than they are to observe. This is worse because most times we don’t even know all the things about ourselves that external observers can pick up easily. We can only be as honest with each other as we are with ourselves and often, we need an honest, loving partner to help us be honest with ourselves.

We can’t outsource the work of really seeing someone.

Communication is only one tool that helps in getting to know someone. Another significant portion of it is just living life with them and being observant and paying attention. We can’t expect a person to translate to us in words all the complexities and nuances that come together to make them who they are. We learn about people by interacting with them, living with them, doing things with them, going through various experiences with them and paying attention. No amount of talking and communication will teach you as much about a person as just simply living life with them will.

Listen with your partner to other people having tough conversations.

Listening to other people having tough conversations is a sort of mirror to see yourselves through. It gives you some vocabulary and a pivot to start the same conversation about yourselves.

When you have a third entity that you’re both observing, it allows you to explore a subject with your partner through the thing you’ve just watched or listened to. Then you can ask questions relevant to you in relation to it. Things like; have you ever felt that kind of pressure? Is this something you would be interested in trying? Do you have those fantasies? Is that what you feel with me at times? Have you ever faked with me? Is this something you’ve also experienced? Have you ever wanted to try that for us?

This is much easier than out of the blue saying, “You know what? I was thinking that maybe one day we could try this.” If you listen to something together, it places what would have been impossible in the set of permitted conversations we can have as a couple. As I write this, the mini-series Scenes From a Marriage keeps popping into my mind. It’s an amazing show that will really get you thinking about some tough things. And if you really want to dial it up a notch, there’s this amazing app that my wife and I have been enjoying. It’s called Paired (iOS App Store and Google Play Store), and the concept is simple but brilliant; you join it with your partner and every day it asks you a question about something related to relationships. You won’t see your partner’s answer until you give your own. The questions are about many subjects and it’s great for getting the discussion going with your partner about subjects that may sometimes be hard to bring up directly.

Listening to people who have had tough conversations before can help you learn the right approach. You can learn how to approach the conversation, how to listen actively, and how to validate your partner's feelings.

Create a space where you can be your romantic selves to each other.

Creating a space where you can be your romantic selves to each other can be a powerful way to keep the intimacy in your relationship alive. This can be a separate email address, a discord server, a telegram group, or whatever works for you. The only requirement is that it shouldn’t be mixed in with your regular interactions.

In this space, you're not talking about the mundane things in life, but focusing on your romantic relationship. Send songs, jokes, pictures, and sweet thoughts to each other to keep the spark alive. This will cause a connection that goes beyond an obligation and still keeps the same passion as when you first began. It creates that erotic space where you see each other as lovers, not just life partners.

Romantic spaces can also be physical spaces. Create a space in your home that is dedicated to romance. This could be a cosy corner with comfortable chairs and soft lighting or a bedroom that is designed with relaxation and intimacy in mind. By creating a physical space you both like that is dedicated to your relationship, you'll be more likely to prioritize intimacy and make time for each other.

If you shed the notion that you have a full understanding of your partner, you will find that they are actually very mysterious and elusive and that there are many things about them that can be explored and uncovered if you take the time to be curious.

Just Reflections
Just Reflections Podcast
Impactful ideas that challenge my thinking. I hope they'll challenge yours too.