Q: I'm 26. My boyfriend and I have been together for four years and now live together. Even though we haven't been fighting, I just feel indifferent toward him. I hardly ever want to hang out with him and don't feel sexually attracted to him anymore. I still love him, but I'm not happy. Am I just comfortable in the relationship and afraid to leave? How do I know if it's worth trying to save the relationship or if I've reached the point of no return?
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A: Most of us have experienced that crazy, out-of-control feeling at the beginning of a new romance. Our heart races, we feel a rush of adrenaline, and all we want to do is be with that person. This is known as passionate love, and it feels wonderful and exciting.

But here's the truth: Studies show that passionate love declines in most romantic relationships after about 12 to 18 months. Most couples fail to maintain the urgent longing for each other that originally led them to be together.

And there is a very logical reason for this. At the beginning of a relationship, passionate love is high because everything is new and stimulating. You are learning interesting and exciting information about your partner every day, which fuels the passion. Plus, at the early stages of your relationship, you idealized your partner and saw him or her through “rose-colored glasses.” But, as time went by, you took the rose-colored glasses off and began to notice their imperfections—and trust me, everyone has flaws.

What happened to the days when we couldn’t wait to rip our clothes off?

As a therapist and relationship researcher, I can tell you that you are not alone in asking, “What happened to the days when we couldn’t wait to rip our clothes off?” Once novelty and mystery wear off and the everyday activities of living together settle in, the excitement and sexual desire are bound to fade. While time and getting to know your partner is comforting and increases companionate love (the love of support, intimacy, and friendship), this can also lead you to think that you're headed toward a sexless, boring, or incredibly dull love life.

So what does the future hold for you and your relationship? Should you stay and work things out? Sit down and ask yourself the questions below to see whether you’re in a relationship that is worth saving and whether you can reignite the passion.

3 Questions to Consider

Couple Sitting on Bench

1. Is your relationship worth saving?

You say you love your boyfriend, but there are three important aspects of your relationship to think about. First, do you trust your boyfriend? If you trust him, you believe he is honest and truthful to you, wouldn’t hurt or deceive you, and has your best interests at heart.

Next, are the two of you similar in underlying key life values? Do you and he think similarly when it comes to those values that are most critical to you and your life, like the importance of religion, family, or health?

And lastly, how do the two of you handle stress and conflict together? You want to handle your disagreements and stress in a positive, constructive way. If all three of the previous qualities are present in your relationship, then it's at least worth trying to see if you can save it.

2. Are your expectations the problem?

We all grew up hearing fairy tales about a handsome young prince marrying his beautiful princess and living happily ever after. But the fairy tale didn’t warn us that one day, when the relationship was no longer new and different, our magical romance would suddenly appear familiar and routine. Do you expect fireworks all the time or a constant attraction that never disappears or comes and goes?

Understanding how passion works is a key secret to making your relationship last. It allows you to have completely different expectations of yourself, your relationship, and your partner.

Many people crave passion, take it for granted, and assume the intensity and excitement will last forever. Unfortunately, these assumptions are wrong. Understanding how passion works is a key secret to making your relationship last. It allows you to have completely different expectations of yourself, your relationship, and your partner. Instead of thinking, “What’s wrong with us?” you’ll be able to calmly say, “Hey, my relationship isn’t in trouble after all! I should expect passion to fade over time. This is totally typical.” You might even decide to work harder on your relationship and give it another try. (Here's more advice on how to know if your relationship doubts are normal or not.)

3. Are you able to add some new behaviors and reignite the passion?

Even if you reset your expectations, that doesn’t mean that your relationship should only be about friendship. The elements of passion, romance, and sexual desire are still essential to any long-term relationship. My long-term study of couples finds that you can rekindle the passion and sexual desire by adding three behaviors back into the relationship: newness, mystery, and arousal—the same behaviors that created the passion in the first place.

The first strategy: Engage in new activities with your boyfriend. It can be as simple as finding a new restaurant in a part of the city where you never go. Or you could try water skiing for the first time or attending a cooking class together.

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The second way to reignite the passion is to add some mystery or surprise back into your relationship. And yes, all of what you're thinking regarding role playing and lingerie counts. But my research also finds that activities, which reduce boredom and predictability, such as spontaneously going out to play miniature golf at midnight or surprising him with tickets to a basketball game, can lead to sparks.

The third strategy is to seek arousal-producing activities. Studies show that if you do an activity together that creates an endorphin and adrenaline rush, this state of heightened arousal can actually get transferred to your partner and relationship. In a sense, you're tricking your brain to attribute these pleasurable sensations to your partner. A vigorous workout side-by-side at the gym will work. Or watch a really scary movie—the kind that makes your heart race—or scream your head off on a roller coaster ride at an amusement park.

After you reset your expectations about passion, try adding these behaviors to your relationship. Assuming that your relationship has trust, compatibility, and you can manage your differences, the passion and sexual attraction should return.

On the other hand, if you've exhausted all options and you're still truly unhappy, it may be worth taking a break apart or ending the relationship completely. Relationships should still be fun and you should continue to grow with a partner. And don't forget: The world is full of interesting people.

Dr. Terri Orbuch (a.k.a. The Love Doctor) is a professor, therapist, research scientist, and author of five best-selling books, including Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. Learn more about her at DrTerriTheLoveDoctor.com.

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