When the spark goes dull in an intimate relationship, some people may shut down and deny it, while others may start to fantasize about running away with someone else or being single. But in most cases, a dying spark does not have to mean a fully extinguished flame.
Though some couples may have more layers of emotional and psychological issues to sort through before finding their sweet spot, many intimate partners will find that their passion for one another can be reignited by exploring some relatively simple gestures and practices.
In general, aside from strengthening overall relationship satisfaction, boosting intimacy within a relationship can have a positive impact on many aspects of personal well-being. As Mieke Rivka Sidorsky, LCSW-C and GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert for Sexuality and Sex Therapy, says, “The benefits of sexual intimacy are related to stronger emotional bonds, greater heart and immune health, and better mental health.”
According to Denise Onofrey, LMFT-C, also a Sexuality and Sex Therapy Topic Expert, “If we don’t work on improving intimacy, we run the risk of becoming ‘roommates’ or ‘business partners.’ We have many relationships that don’t require intimacy, so it’s an easy rut to get into within intimate relationships.”
For couples who are struggling to feel sexual desire for each other, the following expert tips should help to stoke the fire.
1. Get intimate one day a week. Ideally, the time spent doing so will be a pleasurable experience. However, Sidorsky says, “That doesn’t mean they have to be in the mood or they have to have sex. It’s a time they will commit to trying to get in the mood. Don’t wait for the mood to strike. Just begin physical intimacy and see if desire follows.”
2. Treat one another to a “hug to relax.” According to Onofrey, this involves “a three- to five-minute hug with no talking to simply notice senses, feel the other person’s body in stillness, and access each other for relaxation.” Hugging is known to increase the production of oxytocin, otherwise known as the “bonding” or “love” hormone, thereby making two people feel closer and more connected.
3. Make relationship needs a priority. It can be easy to neglect time with a partner for the sake of pursuing other interests or taking care of the myriad personal responsibilities that come up on a day-to-day basis. While it’s important for each person in the relationship to keep his or her life in order and respect boundaries, when intimacy suffers due to busy schedules, some shifting of priorities needs to take place. “If scheduling alone time, date night, or sex is the only way the relationship can get its due time, then schedule it!” says Onofrey.
4. Establish a daily ritual or practice. Sharing a mutually enjoyable activity with a partner is a fun and easy way to boost intimacy, says Onofrey. Some suggestions: morning kissing, hugging to relax every night before bed, partner massages and foot rubs, planning and cooking a meal together, going for an evening walk, sharing something you are grateful for every day with each other, and texting sweet messages during the day when apart.
5. Experience something new together. The “something new” could mean an actual getaway or vacation, but it doesn’t have to be far away or exotic; it could be as simple as a trip to a local museum, art gallery, restaurant, park, campground, hotel, or music venue. The excursion could span a few hours or a few days—or a few weeks or months if the time is available to do so. Regardless of what you do, just make sure it’s something new.
6. Freeze your technology. According to Onofrey, this could involve no cell phones or computers 10 minutes before bed; or it could be an entire night, maybe once a week, where neither partner looks at anything with a screen—no cell phones, computers, televisions, iPads, and the like. One weekend a month also works. “I really push clients to challenge themselves,” says Onofrey, who adds that this is the first “assignment” she gives couples seeking help with intimacy. “In addition, I ask clients to list five things they’d [like to] do instead: read, walk together, play a board game, cook a meal, work in a garden, or have alone time separately—but without technology.”
One final tip, perhaps simultaneously the simplest and the most difficult endeavor, is just to talk with one another. Spending long periods of time around the same person, getting familiar with all their quirks and oddities, as well as their perspectives and general thoughts on life, it’s not uncommon for couples to simply run out of things to say to one another. They know a deeper connection existed at one time, but they may reach a plateau of feeling like they know all there is to know about the other person.
And yet, as human beings, we are constantly changing and growing in response to our environments; this means that most likely, there are plenty of new and interesting things for a conversation-challenged couple to discuss and explore together. Opinions on certain topics may differ, but if they approach conversation with an attitude of openness and interest in one another’s thoughts and feelings, they may be surprised at the renewed bonding that follows. Start by making eye contact and asking “Hey, how are you feeling today?” and see where it goes.
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