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101 Days of Passion

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Even when we’re getting along well, we can easily fall into intimacy-defeating habits — like watching TV in bed, or using up all our conversation time discussing shared responsibilities or financial concerns, or failing to take as much care with our grooming habits as we once did.

Indeed, the habits of togetherness can routinely lead to more distant emotional patterns, says David Schnarch, PhD, author of Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships (W. W. Norton, 1997). Schnarch points out that, in many cases, the longer we stay with our partners, the more we hesitate to “rock the boat” with novel activities or self-revelation that might cost us our partner’s devotion. We start feeling compelled to be predictable just to keep things stable.

The problem with this risk-averse approach, Schnarch explains, is that we get caught in a cycle of “self-presentation,” trying to be who we think our partner wants and needs, rather than self-revelation, which is what was so exciting about being in love in the first place — exposing our raw, sometimes contradictory emotional selves to our partners. Since the science of romantic attraction is largely premised on risk and reward, this self-imposed predictability can eventually cool even the hottest romance.

Taking risks with and for our partners produces a powerful chemical effect. Fisher’s fMRI studies show how much the brain loves new stimuli, and she’s seen couples married for more than 20 years test as high on romantic passion for their partners as high school seniors. Fisher suspects that the couples that maintain their passion over time have found healthy ways to create novelty in their relationships, both emotionally and physically.

Renew Your Passion
If novelty and exposing our deeper selves are the keys to more fulfilling relationships, how can we achieve these goals in our daily life?

Marital expert John Gottman, PhD, says resilient couples keep in tune with the details of their partner’s life: his or her likes and dislikes, daily routines, and deep dreams. “Emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world,” he writes in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Crown, 1999). “The more you know and understand about each other, the easier it is to keep connected as life swirls around you.”

Make sure you set aside time for a daily check-in with your partner — and not just about household responsibilities or to vent about your workday. Find out what and how he or she is doing. Also, make sure you maintain time (at least weekly) for more far-ranging conversations, during which you can discuss your visions and intentions. Weekly “date nights” help create space for this.

A deep emotional connection also needs regular affirmation. Gottman’s studies show that maintaining a ratio of five positive statements to every negative one keeps a couple in what he calls “positive sentiment override.” Making appreciation the rule and not the exception helps a couple keep their emotional storehouse full of good mutual feelings. As a result, normal arguments and irritations will be less likely to damage their relationship. Take every opportunity to affirm what you like about your partner, both with actions and words.

While a foundation of trust and security is critical to the long-term health of your relationship, rekindling a romantic fire may also require a little playfulness and uncertainty. If your lovemaking has become routine, for instance, you may want to take a deliberate break. Fisher points out that when gratification is delayed, dopamine kicks in and increases the brain’s focus on a potential reward. A little anticipation can stimulate the brain to more thoroughly enjoy the pursuit — and the reward.

Finally, before finding fault with your partner’s appearance, be sure to take a good look at your own efforts to keep yourself attractive, healthy and happy. “Both sexes are attracted to happy partners,” Fisher notes. “This may be because we naturally mimic those around us.”

Trade in your sweatpants for a silk robe. If you’re ornery after work, schedule your workouts then, or stop at a cafe on your way home and read a book for half an hour to shift your state of mind. The efforts we make to please our partners tend to have far more impact than our efforts to change our partners to please us.

The good news is that entering a down-phase in your relationship can be exactly the motivation you need to develop the skills required to sustain a deeper connection with your partner. And over time, only real intimacy can deliver the thrill of true romance over and over again.

Courtney Helgoe is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.
Next: Five right-now suggestions for renewing your relationship.

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46 comments

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8:00PM PST on Feb 20, 2013

Interesting read, I'm not facing any of those sorts of issues at this time but incase I do, I have additional information.

5:06PM PDT on Mar 20, 2012

i think this is great advice for newly weds. something to try and accomplish each year, take one a day and show you care!

6:03PM PST on Mar 7, 2012

thanx

12:12PM PST on Mar 5, 2012

It's great how seniors are getting in on the action, just because you're in the golden years does not mean you need to sleep in separate bedrooms, that's so 1980's!

I love how older people are encouraged to share passion like in their younger days, it keeps the heart healthy too (in fact I think i just saw another article and this site about coffee, sex & health. Chat with a helper on www.theadulttoyshop.com and they can guide you to some good ideas, furthermore the guides are very good on that site as well and I'm a huge advocate of their items mainly because there is no adult x-rated material on there, it's not that kind of site so any couple can browse knowing there won't be anything that will make you feel uncomfortable.

Also, it seem like the aging population is now left at home alone since all their kids (myself included) have now moved out of the house and live on their own, making their own lives. I always wondered my my parents seem to much happier when I go back home in the holidays to visit ;)

10:17PM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Be thankful for those who do have a partner.

7:26AM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Some great tips that are easy to apply. Thanks.

6:35PM PST on Feb 29, 2012

Good advice, but what about when a very necessary medication is a big factor in loss of desire? Yes I want that connection back, but without my meds a normalish life becomes impossible.

5:10PM PST on Feb 26, 2012

you are assuming that both partners are willing to try this, and this is usually the problem....he is never on the same page (and its usually he who is the problem regarding this issue, isn't it?).

2:05PM PST on Feb 26, 2012

For us when the economy crashed things slowed down with my husband's trade and he had to leave home for work. He went across the country but soon moved us closer to him. He now works in the middle of nowhere and stays at the work camps for 11 days then comes home for a break for 3 days.

There is something to be said for having some time apart and missing another to ignite passion. I love getting ready,dressing all up and setting the scene on the day he comes home. We may spend a little less time together now but it seems the time we do spend together is more meaningful.

6:02PM PST on Feb 23, 2012

Thanks.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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