4 Steps to Bring Back Passion in Marriage
Do you remember the first few months of your relationship when you wanted to spend every waking moment with your partner? Every smile lit up something within you; every touch tingled. You couldn't keep your eyes off each other. You laughed more. You'd found your best friend, soul mate and lover.
Then years passed. Perhaps you lost your passion in marriage. There were children, you cemented your careers and you both began settling into the busyness of everyday life. There was no longer "me time" for either of you. If you were lucky, after putting the kids to bed you got to cuddle together on the couch for a quick Netflix session before calling it a day.
Eventually, you started to wonder: Where did all the romance go?
Neurologist Fred Nour, author of "True Love: How to Use Science to Understand Love," once stated the intense romance we feel at the start of the relationship (also known as the honeymoon phase) typically lasts two to three years at most.
Of course, if you're going to get technical, there is nothing romantic about these feelings at all. They are actually triggered by the chemicals released in our brain to get us to procreate and care for children, ensuring the survivability of our species—a course of nature hardwired into each of us.
This doesn't mean you can't reignite the spark and keep the fire burning. After all, if you are going to spend the next few decades together, wouldn't it be great to feel passionate love for each other?
All kinds of underlying problems
Relationship coach Alana Rowe, of the California-based platform Relationship Hero, explained that many couples simply don't know how to bring passion back into their relationship.
"We aren't taught this in today's society," she said. "Losing passion or connection is a symptom of underlying problems. It's not simply about the lack of physical intimacy, it's also about the erosion of trust and the disconnection of hearts yearning for expressed love. When couples become shut off from each other's deeper intimate connection, it's usually also an indication that they're disconnected from themselves and their own needs."
Couples therapist Kathy McMahon, Psy.D., founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc., a center with counselors based across the United States and internationally, provided another perspective on developing (and maintaining) romantic passion.
"Being passionate is a skill best practiced in all areas of life," she said. "If you lack enthusiasm for your job, your parenting, your appearance or your life, it's hard to manufacture it in the bedroom. Developing a lust for life is essential throughout your life."
She sees a marriage with a lack of passion as "bad habits we've worked our way into."
"We often blame our desire for sex, or lack of it, on our sex drive, mental health or simply the number of years of marriage," McMahon said. "I prefer to consider a sexless marriage a 'state.' And, if you choose, you can enter a new state.
"The best lovers are best friends," she added. "What they have, when sex is present, is a commitment to keeping their passion alive."
Form romantic habits through the little things
McMahon and Rowe both agreed that falling back in love with your partner requires intentional effort.
"Reprioritize the relationship at all costs," Rowe said. "Often, [the relationship] has fallen down the list of priorities and couples experience the result of that. To begin with, start with a few simple steps: the little things. Many small things done consistently over time can have a bigger impact than the special events where the effort is bigger or grander."
Rowe gave some suggestions on where couples can start: "Making time for a kiss, for a minimum of five seconds, before you leave for work and when arriving home creates a connection through your presence and physical touch."
Rowe encouraged couples to be present when spending time with each other.
"The greatest gift you can give each other is your presence and receptivity," Rowe said. "Even if it's 20 minutes, put your phones on silent or airplane mode. Remove the distractions."
Take the time to ask your partner how they feel and what they need, she added.
"This supports staying connected and being aware of each other on a simple but profound level," Rowe continued. "Plan a date night once a week, even if it's as simple as taking a walk together with no distraction. Doing these [activities] helps keep you connected more consistently. And when you experience presence and receptivity, it builds desire or passion."
Building sexual connections habitually
McMahon, a practicing sex therapist for more than 30 years, gave four tips for reigniting a sexual connection with your partner.
1. Take personal responsibility
Instead of blaming each other, it is important to "admit that you haven't been playing your part in inspiring sexual connection," McMahon explained. Once you take personal responsibility, you become an ally instead of an enemy.
"Ask your partner if they want to try to break the bad habits you've both fallen into," she added.
2. Become better friends and listen to each other
"Many couples will claim, 'We're friends, that's the problem,' but it is often not true," McMahon said. "Friends take time to be friends. They listen, show interest, are empathetic, take time to be alone together and just talk. And friends tell each other the truth.
"Many marriages have given up some or all of these elements of friendship," she noted.
3. Break bad habits and introduce new ones
McMahon advised couples to identify bad romantic habits, such as not going to bed at the same time, watching TV in separate chairs, avoiding even casual touch or not kissing for at least six seconds at a time. The six-second kiss is the ideal length of time for a "mindful kiss" to create a connection with our partner, according to American psychologist and relationship researcher John Gottman.
McMahon suggested spending time "holding hands, embracing until both of you can start relaxing into the embrace, fondling more than the erogenous zones and keeping eye contact. Start for 30 seconds of looking at each other in the eyes and work up to two minutes at a time."
4. Be willing to be aroused
"If you've not been aroused with each other for a while, that's going to be the biggest challenge," McMahon said.
Creating arousal might feel weird at the start, but that's actually perfectly fine. McMahon advised couples to start slow and take simple steps.
"Forget penetration if that's at all uncomfortable," she said. "You don't need an erection if that's unreliable. Focus on simply being willing to be aroused in your body again. Remember the first French kiss you ever had?
"Kill the porn if you are watching it, and let yourself feel good on your own initially," McMahon advised. "Then just kiss and hug like young teenagers again, without the expectation that it will go anywhere. Wherever you are, that's where you need to be."
If you need help implementing any of these suggestions, or are simply looking for couples therapy for any reason, you shouldn't hesitate to start that process. Most couples, though, don't have a therapist they see regularly, so taking that first step isn't always easy. Video visits have become a viable option for most people, and more physicians and therapists have added them as a service. Giddy telehealth makes it easy to get connected to a qualified healthcare professional who can help with a variety of relationship issues.