How to fall in love again
Martin Luther King Jr famously said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Why is it then in romantic relationships that once the blossom of new love fades, it can sometimes feel like you’re sleeping with the enemy? Do you need to fall in love again?
Think back to how you and your partner first met. Perhaps your eyes met across a crowded room. After a few dates, you’re finishing each other’s sentences. You get each other and just know you’ve found the one. Fast-forward a few years and with a mortgage, children, work stressors and bills to pay, the magic has turned into monotony and those blissful carefree days may seem like a distant memory.
You might now be a divorce daydreamer, or you may even imagine what life would be like if your spouse died, like Alisa Bowman, the author of Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When The Fairytale Falters. And no, she didn’t bump off her bloke in the end.
Many couples just plod along together over the years, far from the analogy of feeling like a pair of warm comfy slippers; they’re more like a pair of old boots that pinch your toes and don’t quite fit properly anymore.
When the fairy tale fades, real life takes its place. But, take heart. Among the madness and mayhem of life, it’s possible to not only rekindle your romance, but to build an even deeper relationship that you shared before.
Get set for a wild ride
Did you know falling in love can take a mind-blowing one-fifth of a second? According to Syracuse University professor, Stephanie Ortigue, not only does it happen quickly, she likens the effect to a hit of cocaine. Results from Ortigue’s team revealed when a person falls in love, 12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin and adrenaline, a heady love drug.
For many, the erosion of love can take a lot longer. Kate Lloyd, a relationships counsellor at Relationships Australia, says that when fades for many couples, it’s more like a subtle disconnect that grows to an ever-widening chasm of discontent. “There just isn’t the same sense of intimacy you once shared, and it’s from that place of discontentment that negative narratives begin to unfold,” she says.
It’s you, not me … or is it?
If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your spouse, do some soul searching. What is it you aren’t getting out of the relationship? More intimacy, more freedom, more support? A little positive introspection can shake things up a bit. Lloyd suggests asking the question: how does my behaviour impact my needs if they are being met? “People resist looking inward and sharing responsibility, because they want their partner to change,” she says. “But if you start to modify your own behaviour, that can often kick start changes in the other person.”
Think about what you could do differently so you both get what you want out of the relationship. It’s a great way to start a conversation. From there you can negotiate and work on helpful ways to light that spark and fan those flames again.
What was it about your partner that won your heart? Their kindness and inner strength? Their quick wit? A quirky sense of humour? An adventurous spirit? There are many reasons why humans pick each other as life partners.
Joanne Wilson, a neuropsychotherapist and relationships counsellor at TheConfidante Counselling, says it’s a process that’s both complex and intriguing. “It’s fascinating how and why we pair up with someone, and what we find attractive in another person,” she says.
Just as selecting a partner is a choice, so too is staying together. “Cultivating a relationship is a choice and remaining committed and attentive to your partner is a choice — that’s what keeps love alive,” says Wilson.
I love you even though you’re driving me crazy
Being loving even when your partner is annoying you is an effort, but it builds respect, trust and intimacy. Forgive past mistakes or errors in judgement. Deal with them and move on. And nix any nagging; it just doesn’t work.
Of course, there will always be times when you don’t see eye-to-eye in a relationship. Conflict is part of life and, if you have issues to work through, pick a time when you’re feeling calm and rested. Also choose your battles with care; try not to sweat the small stuff.
“Cultivating a relationship is a choice and remaining committed and attentive to your partner is a choice —that’s what keeps love alive.”
Wilson says when negotiating conflict in relationships, people often inadvertently find themselves treading the same old worn-and-tired path and that loops back to dissatisfaction.
“One partner might find it hard to ask for what they want, another is averse to feedback (or criticism). They can stop talking and that establishes a conflict cycle,” she says. “It becomes a bit of a conflict dance — a different topic with the same moves.”
If you find yourself locked in ongoing battles, it can help to speak to a counsellor to help break free from conflict patterns.
When resolving issues with your spouse, watch your words. Often, the tone most use with their partner is a lot harsher than they’d use with their friends. Minding your manners and treating your spouse with courtesy and respect when you speak to them is important.
Understand the languages of love
For more than 40 years, psychology professor and author John Gottman has studied marriage. He says there are four things that toll the death knell in any marriage: stonewalling, criticism, contempt and defensiveness.
Instead of finding fault, practise gratitude. Gottman suggests to simply trying to view your partner through a different-coloured lens. Instead of “you drive me crazy when …” try saying, “I love it when … you make me a cuppa in bed.”
Appreciation can be a powerful catalyst for positive change that will strengthen the bond you share.
Love doesn’t have to be a series of grand gestures. Often, it’s the sum of those little things that connect people and nurture relationships. According to Lloyd, acting lovingly is often more about what you do, not what you say. “Everyone expresses love in different ways. Appreciate the other person’s ways of expressing their love for you — often that gets missed,” she says.
For some, it’s making their partner’s favourite breakfast on the weekend and for others, it’s refusing to rise to the bait when a difficult in-law slings a few barbs their way.
Let your partner know they’re valued, that you appreciate the things they do for you. Appreciation can be a powerful catalyst for positive change that will strengthen the bond you share.
Looking at the bigger picture, champion your partner’s efforts at work, on the sporting field or in other areas of their life, and celebrate their accomplishments. They might not always win at what they do, but they need to know you are unfailingly in their corner cheering them on.
Love and laughter
Find ways to tickle each other’s funny bones. Have a giggle over your favourite movie or check out some comedy shows. Dig a little deeper and change up how you react to situations together. Laughter keeps you happy and heathier as it boosts heart health and is a known stress buster.
In Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner’s book, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, he discusses the absence of laughter in intimate relationships and its impact on a marriage crumbling. “In the early stages of a marriage, anger and contempt are highly toxic,” he writes. “In the later phases of intimate relationships, it’s the death of laughter that leads individuals to part ways.”
If you want to go the distance with your partner, work to be a little playful in how you communicate. Life will always throw you curveballs, from time to time. Learn to laugh together at minor mishaps instead of stressing about them.
Have regular date nights
Cast your mind back to the sweet blossom of your new romance with your partner. The heady feeling of anticipation before seeing each other, the loved-up feelings of contentment when they slipped their hand in yours, the way you’d stay up talking until the sun came up.
Rekindling the romance begins with building intimacy. Wilson says having one-on-one time with your partner needs to be a priority. “Dedicating time to cultivating your relationship is important, and one way to do that is to take turns in arranging regular dates,” she says.
Decide beforehand any hot topics that you won’t discuss. Take time to dress in something you feel good in. Be playful with each other. Flirt a little. Enjoy each other’s company and really listen to each other.
While spending time together is important, so too is giving each other space to grow. Take time to nurture and honour your own needs, to do what you love and are passionate about. Don’t compromise your sense of self. If you’re less stressed, you’ll be bringing your best self into the relationship.
Make the most of moments
Take the special elements you share on date nights and make them part of your daily dialogue. Wilson says in day-to-day life there are countless opportunities to rekindle your romance. “Eating together, cooking together, going to bed without screens, warmly saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to each other,” she says. “All of these moments in time can be used to build intimacy.”
Wilson also suggests researching books and literature to glean tips from others and to track down mentors to share their story. “Talk to a couple you respect that have been together for many years and ask them how they have gone the distance,” she says.
Let him wear the superhero cape
Despite the age of equality, some experts believe time-honoured traditional roles can benefit the emotional needs of spouses and improve relationships. Wilson says men thrive on respect and women want to be cherished. “He has a deep emotional need for his woman to show admiration — I agree with the notion of the hero instinct,” she says. “Men need someone to rescue and women thrive on being nurtured and loved.”
Make time for sex
Cuddle to connect with each other. Snuggling up to your partner before you go to sleep helps to build intimacy in your relationship. Of course, physical intimacy is important in relationships, too. It might seem like a lifetime ago that you could hardly keep your hands off each other, and with increasingly busy lives, it’s often not a priority in relationships — but it should be. Andrea Meltzer of Florida State University and fellow researchers showed sexual afterglow lasts up to 48 hours — and that afterglow promotes bonding of partners and intimacy in relationships in the long-term. Numerous studies have also shown sex is great for exercise, lowers blood pressure and can also lessen pain and stress.
It also turns out taking a bit of a walk on the wild side by trying new pursuits can spice up your love life. Have you ever thought about catching a flight to a far-flung exotic destination, or perhaps yoga or a shared cooking class are more your jam? Amy Muise at York University and her colleagues showed self-expanding activities boosts sexual desire for your partner and increases the likelihood that you will have rewarding sex and, moreover, that this is particularly the case for people in long-term relationships.
Learn to love listening
When you first met, chances are you hung on every word. You offered support and encouragement to continue, because you wanted to find out more about this amazing person. With the competing work and family demands of today, when was the last time you truly listened to your partner and encouraged them to share their thoughts and opinions about what mattered to them? To rekindle your romance, make time to listen, especially if your partner had a bad day. According to researchers it will make you both happier in your relationship. American, Swiss and German researchers interviewed 365 heterosexual couples in 2018 and found that attentive listening when one partner recounted a stressful story showed significantly higher relationship satisfaction.