Picture this: You and your partner have been together for 4 years and now live together. Even though you haven’t been fighting, you feel indifferent toward them. You hardly ever want to hang out with them and don’t feel sexually attracted to them anymore. Sound familiar?
You still love them, but you’re not happy. You wonder if you’re just comfortable in the relationship and afraid to leave. How do you know if it’s worth trying to save the relationship or if you’ve reached the point of no return?
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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’re 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 them 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.
As a therapist and relationship researcher, I can tell you that you’re 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 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’s worth saving and whether you can reignite the passion.
Even if you love your partner, there are three important aspects of your relationship to think about. First, do you trust them? If you trust them, you believe they are honest and truthful to you, wouldn’t hurt or deceive you, and have your best interests at heart.
Next, are the two of you similar in underlying key life values? Do you 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.
We all grew up hearing fairy tales about 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, a constant attraction that never disappears, or one that comes and goes?
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.
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.
Engage in new activities with your partner
This 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 attend a cooking class together. Here are some creative date ideas to spice things up.
Add some mystery or surprise back into your relationship
Yes, all of what you’re thinking regarding role playing and lingerie counts. My research also finds that other activities reduce boredom and predictability, such as spontaneously going to play miniature golf at midnight or surprising them with tickets to a basketball game.
Seek arousal-producing activities
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. You can also 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.
If you’ve exhausted all options and you’re still unhappy, it may be worth taking a break or ending the relationship. Relationships should still be fun and you should continue to grow with a partner. If they aren’t the right fit, don’t forget: The world is full of interesting people.
Terri Orbuch, PhD, is also known as The Love Doctor. Orbuch is a professor at Oakland University, therapist, research scientist, and author of several best-selling books, including Five Simple Steps To Take Your Marriage From Good To Great.