Having a good romantic relationship can protect your health and extend your life. But keeping the spark alive in your relationship is easier said than done. Most of us have experienced the thrill of new love, what scientists call the ‘Limerance’ phase. It seems like you are addicted to your new love (which is no surprise – the same areas of the brain are involved during addictive behaviours) and they are the centre of your world. Then work, stress, kids and a lack of time get in the way and the romance in your relationship starts to fizzle. But with the right knowledge and tools you can put a plan in place to rekindle the romance in your relationship…and keep it alive. Here’s how.
Check your relationship health before you start
Just as you shouldn’t start an exercise program without getting a health check, don’t start on a romance program without a strong relationship in place. If your marriage is in trouble, ramping up the romance without addressing the underlying issues is probably going to make things worse, not better. Get some professional help to rebuild the foundations before you embark on rekindling the romance.
Be clear on the ‘why’
Knowing why you are attempting to rekindle your romance will help you stay on track. Most people want romance in their relationship, but their motivation varies. Do you want to divorce-proof your marriage? Are you envious of a friend’s seemingly loved-up relationship? Are you terrified you and your partner are drifting apart?
Understanding your motivation, your primary purpose for trying to rekindle romance, will help you stay on track when life gets in the way or your partner doesn’t respond well and it all gets too hard. Just like other parts of your life that are integral to your happiness such as health and money, romance takes work – constant work. It’s not a matter of buying flowers once or twice a year and booking a nice restaurant. Keep your key motivation in the back of your mind as you go through your romance journey and remind yourself why you started if you ever get the urge to quit.
If you need more motivators:
Good relationships keep you healthy
The 80 year long Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. The study has delivered some interesting findings about the impact of personal relationships on the lives of the study participants. “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation of this study.”
Your children will model your relationship
Watching your 2 year old copy your phone behaviour with their toy phone may be cute, but it’s a sign of just how much kids absorb by observing their parents. From a very young age they see and hear the compliments, loving touches and other romantic gestures you and your partner share and they’ll replicate them in their own relationships in the future.
It can impact the health and behaviour of your kids
A 2014 study found that more positive couple interactions are beneficial for children residing with both of their parents, with children less likely to have behavioural problems than children in families with a poor relationship between the parents. In another small 2016 study, researchers found that parents that exhibit romantic affection have a positive impact on the health of their children who suffered from asthma.
Like any behaviour change, starting and sticking to a new way of interacting with your partner can be daunting. You are likely to give up if your partner doesn’t respond well (or doesn’t respond at all) or if illness, work or other responsibilities get in the way.
You need the right tactics in place to allow you keep on track when barriers get in the way. The key is to set very specific, achievable goals. Trying to achieve the level of romance that you probably experienced when your relationship was brand new is unrealistic. You and your hormones have moved on! Instead, try using the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) approach to goal setting:
Specific- Rather than setting a vague, lofty goal of ‘get more romance back into our relationship’’, set specific goals for a few of the following eight aspects of romantic behaviours:
- Giving compliments and showing appreciation
- Touching your partner frequently in a loving way
- Spending quality time together as a couple
- Performing romantic gestures
- Doing deeds for your partner
- Giving gifts and tokens of your love
- Working on improving yourself
- Creating intimacy through self-disclosure
Compliments/appreciation, romantic touch and couple time are the best ones to start with. Starting with just one aspect would be fine. Set a specific goal to give a certain number of compliments a week (one a day would be achievable) or aim to create one daily ritual that involves touching your partner, such as stroking them while you watch TV together. Creating habits of these behaviours so that they happen without you thinking about them will set you up for long term success.
Measurable – Putting numbers in your goals makes it easy to know when you’ve achieved them. Try to avoid making the number the frequency of sex with your partner. Yes, you may very well improve your sex life by boosting the romance in your relationship, but sexual desire is influenced by many things in your life. You shouldn’t stop working on the romance in your relationship if it doesn’t directly correspond to increasing the sexual encounters you have with your partner. A good example of a measurable goal is “Every work day I will kiss my partner and say “I love you” when we part and again when we reunite.”
Achievable – You are going to be disappointed if you are visualizing returning to the attentive, rip-each-other’s-clothes-off type of romance. Try setting a series of smaller goals instead. For example, “to celebrate all the important dates in our relationship this year” is an achievable goal. Having a monthly date night is another. Setting these smaller short term goals can help you stay motivated.
Relevant – As well as understanding why you want to rekindle the romance, you need to determine if this is the right time to do it. Are you going through a tough time in your relationship right now? Maybe it would be better to wait until things settle down or get some marriage counselling before you try to ramp up the romance. Romance is not a bandaid for a broken relationship – get some help with the core issues first.
Timely – Put time frames around your goals e.g. “’to go on four date nights over the next six months” makes it easier to determine when you’ve achieved your goal than a vague “go on regular date nights”.
Romance usually dies because it doesn’t get prioritized. A lack of time is usually the reason. Adding romance to your already busy schedule may sound like the opposite of romantic – more of a stress than a benefit. To retain or rebuild romance it is important to be proactive, scheduling time for intimacy and connection with your lover. Without this, you risk losing the loving foundation that underpins your marriage.
If you are stressing out at the thought of organising (and paying for) a babysitter, getting dressed up after a hard day at work, and going out for a date night with your partner then rethink date night. It’s better to have quick, regular chunks of 1-on-1 time with your partner than a grand night out once in a blue moon. Carve out regular couple time in your daily schedule and train your children not to interrupt you during that time. It might mean taking a 30 minute walk early each morning or talking while you both cook dinner together at night or relaxing with a hot drink after dinner. Once you’ve decided that you’re going to dedicate some time to it, then schedule romance like you’d schedule anything else — work meetings or life commitments. Make it a recurring appointment in your calendar and plan on sticking to it. The special dates in your relationship should also be scheduled as recurring appointments in your calendar. Add a reminder that gives you enough notice to get organized ahead of time.
Tip: Don’t use couple time to talk about work or the kids. Rebuilding intimacy between you requires self-disclosure. You need to talk about topics that you wouldn’t necessarily share with anyone else. Your partner will feel privileged to be trusted with the information and closer to you as a result. If some of that trust has been eroded over the years, try starting off with the 36 questions that lead to love. If you need more conversation starters then try the free app from the Gottman Institute. If your partner has difficulty opening up try asking gentle questions when you are side by side, rather than when you are looking them directly in the eye. Oh, and it goes without saying, you need to turn your phones to silent and put them away.
Make it enjoyable
Romance should be enjoyable, right? Scheduled couple time could turn into a chore unless you plan activities that you both enjoy. Romance researcher, Arthur Aron at UC Berkeley, recommends doing things with your partner that are novel and challenging. Instead of booking for dinner, re-invent couple time and try new and interesting things.
To keep a steady stream of ideas (and discount offers) coming in, sign up for emails from newsletters covering things to do your local area. Alternatively, follow them on social media. If you have a free concierge service provided with your credit card (it’s usually associated with the higher level cards) then ask them come up with some date night ideas for you catering to the budget and interests that you specify. There are plenty of resources online for novel date night ideas. You can even outsource the work via a task outsourcing service such as Airtasker.com.
Aim to make the other aspects of romance as enjoyable as possible. Romantic touch can be ramped up with skills learnt from massage videos on Youtube. You can learn how to give effective romantic compliments and there are plenty of ideas online to spice up your sex life.
Make it a habit
There’s no point having a one-hit attempt at romance and then lapsing back into ignoring your relationship. Building romantic habits into your life will strengthen the loving foundation of your partnership.
Behaviour change researchers have been researching the psychology of habits for some time. At Stanford University Dr. B J Fogg developed a method of creating new habits called Tiny Habits (here’s his TedX talk about it).
You can use a behaviour change method like the Tiny Habits approach to make romance a daily habit. It’s easier if the new habit is something you want to do every day as the frequency helps the habit form quickly. Increasing the romantic touch between you and your partner or ramping up the complements and expressing appreciation are the best romantic habits to start with as they are something you can do at least once per day.
Dr Fogg’s Tiny Habits approach works like this:
- You take an existing habit or trigger – something that you do at least once a day, but preferably multiple times. For this example, you could use the trigger of putting your feet on the floor when you get out of bed or grabbing your keys as you leave the house.
- Then you use that trigger to remind you to do the new habit you wish to form. For example, “After I pick up my keys I will hug and kiss my partner.”
- Then you celebrate the fact that you remembered. According to Dr Fogg’s research, that reinforces the relationship between the existing habit and the new one. For example, you could do a fist pump or say the word that you usually say when something goes well (think about how you would respond if you threw a ball towards a basketball ring and it went in).
If you create a series of these habits you can automate being more romantic towards your partner (Dr. Fogg has free online five day program to teach the Tiny Habits method). It’s worthwhile learning the method and then you can choose how to apply it.
By applying common behaviour change tools to being romantic you can build romance into your life, just as you would do for exercising, with similar long term health and wellbeing outcomes.