If you’re feeling like a spark has dimmed in your relationship, whether you’ve been dating or married to your significant other for months, years or decades, you shouldn’t feel worried or ashamed. In fact, it’s super normal for relationships to ebb and flow over time.
Just as with other areas of our lives, there are peaks and valleys in our relationships, be it friendships or romantic ones, notes Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, certified relationship coach, blogger and author of A Conversation Piece. “Couples shouldn’t feel nervous about being in the valley, as there is a lot to learn and several ways to grow in that space,” she says. “When it feels like the relationship isn’t in a great place, each partner should be spending time exploring (likes and dislikes, goals and vision for the partnership) while in the valley.”
Not only is it normal to not feel like your relationship is all sunshine and roses 24/7, but Miami relationship therapist Sofia Robirosa LMFT, points out that the expectation to not have ups and downs often leads many to consider divorce too quickly. “The idea that we find someone and that there will be a ‘happily ever after’ is a fairytale concept,” she says.
There are plenty of good reasons why you should expect your relationship to ebb and flow through the years. First, it’s important to remember that we change as individuals over time, therefore Robirosa urges couples to be curious about each other and remain connected by adapting to each other as these changes happen.
We also stop “dating” each other at some point or another. But even when this happens, it’s important to continue to nurture romance in the relationship. “Just because we get married and busy with life, does not mean that we need to stop going out on dates, doing things together (without the kids), compliment one another, and be nice and courteous,” says Robirosa.
Certain life milestones, such as moving in together or having your first child, may also place pressure on a relationship and remove some of the romance that once fueled your connection. “Some transitions are hard to work through and can redefine major parts of the relationship,” she adds.
The good news: Just because the spark has dimmed a bit doesn't mean you can't reignite it. It starts with making a few choices, according to Cunningham-Sumter. “You have to choose to love your partner, to put some effort and elbow grease into the relationship, and find ways to be attractive to them again, which means more than just outward appearance, but also how you make your partner feel,” she says.
Ready to increase the romance in your relationship? Follow these expert tips.
Feel good about yourself first.
If you’re not feeling happy, attractive or confident, it can be difficult for you to even want to keep the romance afloat, notes Cunningham-Sumter, who points out that loving yourself first is vital to any relationship success. She recommends using kind language when talking about yourself, such as “you look beautiful today” and “you are a good person.” “The better you feel about yourself, the easier it will be to connect with your partner,” she says.
Plan regular dates.
It’s always nice to curl up on the couch with your partner and watch Netflix, but if this looks like most of your nights together, this can’t count as date night. “We need newness in a relationship, to promote excitement in the relationship, so dates should be planned in a way the couple is trying new activities and places, as well as socializing with other couples,” says Robirosa. “In anticipation of date night, plan to dress nicer than usual, smell good, and do anything that makes you feel confident and sexy.”
Learn to say “no” to the things that drain your relationship.
Cunningham-Sumter recommends that couples increase the romance in your relationship by saying “no” to the things that drain you and that keep you away from your relationship. “The romance in the relationship might be suffering because you’re simply tired—i.e. you might have to say ‘no’ more often to those extra needy friends or family members—but the relationship should always be the priority,” she says. “Those family members and friends will understand because they are likely doing the same for their own relationship.”
Prioritize affection and sex.
It’s not uncommon to have sex ruts—or times when you’re less sexually active than usual. In order to normalize these situations, Robirosa recommends getting comfortably talking about sex—what you enjoy or don’t enjoy, and any fantasies that interest you—so you can weather the ruts, as well as an understand that this part of the relationship needs to be taken care too.
Practice connecting at least 15 minutes a day.
Even if you both lead busy lives, chances are you each have 15 minutes that you can offer each other daily to connect. “This may be at breakfast time, dinner time, after the kids go to sleep, or whenever, but should be an uninterrupted moment to learn about your spouse's day, to see if there is anything weighing heavily on your partner's mind, or to celebrate an achievement,” says Robirosa.
Work through conflict as it happens.
When conflict in your relationship arises, as it naturally will, it’s important not to shy away from resolving it, as this helps prevent resentment from one or both sides. “This requires learning how to communicate effectively and putting in enough effort and time until it is resolved,” explains Robirosa. “When we resent our partners, it can generally decrease the desire to spend time with them, which only worsens the relationship.”
Discuss the satisfaction of the relationship regularly.
If you’re unhappy in your relationship, don't wait to talk about it when big problems arise, notes Robirosa. “Talking about your relationship, both what's working and what's not working, helps prevent problems as well as the opportunity to let our partner know what works so they can keep doing it,” she adds.