By Courtney Helgoe, Experience Life
Denver Times columnist Doug Brown wasn’t ready to give up his favorite sweatpants, but after his wife, Annie, declared them a libido-killer, he agreed. After all, when you commit to making love every single day for 101 days, little things really do count.
Even before embarking on this challenge, the Browns, both in their late 30s, considered themselves a happy couple. But like many happily partnered people who have been together awhile, they felt like their romance was getting a little stale. Two feisty young daughters, two jobs and 14 years of marriage had left them less focused on the sizzle of their intimate connection — a situation to which most people in long-term partnerships can readily relate.
Whether it’s stress, time pressure or just the effects of always-there familiarity, most long-term partnerships reach points where the romance could use a boost.
As it turned out, the Browns’ experiment delivered far more than they bargained for. In Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Life for 101 Days (No Excuses!) (Crown, 2008), Doug Brown explains how daily intimacy not only renewed their physical connection, it significantly deepened their emotional one and increased their daily pleasure in living. It inspired them to take yoga classes, go on more short vacations and even commit to buying a house.
So what to do if your own connection feels flimsy and your passion a bit predictable? A 101-day lovefest might not be what you have in mind, but many experts suggest that taking some initiative to renew your bond in other ways can yield unexpected rewards. Here, relationship experts explain why romances tend to cool over time and how you can help revive the energy and passion you’d both like to enjoy for the long haul.
Why Things Cool
When a long-term relationship falls into a holding pattern, a variety of factors may be at play. Some of the change is simply chemical, explains scientist and anthropologist Helen Fisher in her book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (Henry Holt, 2004).
During the rush of new romance, we’re high on dopamine, which the reward centers in the brain churn out in response to novel stimuli. But as relationships stabilize we’re more influenced by oxytocin and vasopressin. These calming hormones deepen our bonds and increase our sense of loyalty and security, but the sensations they produce can feel flat compared with the who-needs-sleep-or-food dopamine high we felt in earlier days.
There are also the inevitable challenges that emerge when a relationship survives its early flame phase: the reality of shared household responsibilities, work demands that keep partners apart or exhausted, maybe the arrival of a new baby, or negotiations around stepparenting. Having one or both partners faced with a choice between intimacy and much-needed sleep can also take romance down a notch.
Next: How to Renew Your Passion