Bring back the days of ripping each other’s clothes off.
Losing the spark in a long-term relationship is often inevitable, just like realizing that Justin Bieber is actually making amazing music right now. The longer you’re with someone, the more likely you are to transition from “passionate” love into “compassionate” love, Gary Brown, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, tells SELF. Passionate love is more about sexual arousal, while compassionate love is what helps you forge a deep emotional attachment with your partner. That’s a nice way of saying as time goes on, you’re probably less interested in break-the-bed sex than you are in curling up and watching Friends reruns together.
“Rare is the couple that after 20 or 30 years of being together–or even a couple of years, for that matter–still experiences the same high level of sexual passion that existed at the beginning of their relationship,” says Brown. Even though that transition might be scary, it’s not necessarily a bad thing! “Passionate love may be more prominent in the earlier stages of a relationship, but it is often compassionate love that sustains a relationship over time,” says Brown. Plus, if you were in passionate love forever, you’d probably lose your job and have no friends because you’d be sexing 24/7.
Even though your compassionate love will grow, the passionate love doesn’t have to completely disappear. “If all other aspects of the relationship are generally good, then couples can view this development as absolutely normal. It doesn’t mean that your romantic life cannot be rekindled,” says Brown. Here, 11 ways to infuse your relationship with some of that old excitement.
1. Experiment with “sensate focus” exercises.
This is a kind of foreplay that can help you stay present, which, as a bonus, can make you more likely to orgasm. The point is for one of you to be the “giver” while the other is the “receiver.” The giver’s only job is to figure out all the different ways they can make their partner feel good without resorting to the go-tos you usually use during sex. “Start at the top of their head and work your way down their body slowly and gently with your fingertips,” says Brown. After that, roam around with your hands, mouth, or whatever strikes your fancy. The giver should work on incorporating all types of sensations, and the receiver should try to experience it with all five senses. “This level of foreplay focuses more on the subtle aspects of sexuality and true sensuality,” says Brown.
Even better, decide that at least once a month you’ll build on this type of exercise and have sex without using any of your usual positions. That’ll force you to mix it up, and ideally discover some new winners along the way.
2. Make a game out of it.
Constructing a passion wheel is an excellent way to try new things, Ava Cadell, Ph.D., founder of Loveology University, tells SELF. The craft would probably get you banned from Pinterest, but it would still be worth it. “Draw a circle on a large piece of paper and divide it into 12 pieces to create a pie chart,” she says. “Then take turns writing a romantic or sexual activity in each slice.” You each get to fill six slices with the activities of your choosing, which can range from taking a bubble bath to watching pornography to engaging in mutual masturbation, then pick one every time you have sex. Or you could try a very adult take on a high school favorite: share some wine and when you’re done, let the bottle do the choosing for you.
3. Exchange three “love vows” each.
Figure out what your partner wants more of and commit to doing it (as long as it’s something you’re comfortable with, of course), says Cadell. She suggests things like one of you promising the other 20 minutes of foreplay at least once a week. This can help make sure you’re doing things both of you enjoy over time instead of letting them fall by the wayside.
These promises don’t only have to be physical! You can definitely make them about emotional needs as well, like telling each other why you’re grateful for the relationship at least once a week. That can help combat what Brown calls “creeping apathy,” or taking each other for granted without even realizing it. “This lack of gratitude is what I refer to as the emotional black hole of relationships. It is, at the end of the day, a relationship killer,” he says.
4. Check in with each other every day.
Even if you spend hours on end with your S.O., you still might not be connecting with each other. Brown recommends sitting down together for at least 10 minutes a day just to see how the other person is doing. “This may not sound very sexy, but I cannot tell you how many couples find this one suggestion helps in the romance department,” says Brown. It’s simple, but this move sends the message that you’re invested in keeping your bond strong even though life can get chaotic.
5. Get to know your partner on a deeper level.
The easiest way to do it is by asking each other questions that go there. You can get inspiration from The And, a cool interactive documentary that records couples asking each other questions like, “Do you really think I’m the best for you right now? Why?” and “Do you feel we’re living up to the dreams we had when we started this relationship?” After watching some of the videos, The And’s website serves up 12 questions you can ask each other.
6. Institute one phone-free hour every day.
You already know the world won’t end if you don’t check your phone for an hour, so why not use that to your advantage? “Human beings managed to survive and feel connected for hundreds of thousands of years, but we’ve only had cell phones for a few decades!” says Brown. Think of when you and your partner usually feel most distracted by technology, like in the morning during breakfast or at night before bed. Agree to ditch your phones for a portion of that time each day so technology doesn’t get in the way of maximizing your affection.
7. Revive the activities that helped you fall in love in the first place.
In addition to sex, that is. “Start a list of things you used to do together that brought both of you pleasure,” says Brown. As you move from constantly feeling head over heels back to regular life, you may have let some of those plans fade into the past. Whether it’s meandering through your city to discover hidden gems or cooking elaborate meals together, reintroducing them can make you feel that heady, so-in-love-I-might-actually-die feeling all over again. Don’t just say you’ll do them and forget—aim to do at least once per month so you have a steady stream of dates to look forward to.
8. But try new things, too.
Especially if some of them are a mix of terrifying and exhilarating. “When these new activities are enjoyable, that tends to increase your attachment to each other, and you have more in common to help further build the ‘glue’ of your relationship,” says Brown. And if the venture is something scary, like hitting up an insane roller coaster, skydiving, or even sampling an exotic cuisine, your body releases chemicals to bond you two together. “Oxytocin, the ‘love hormone,’ and dopamine, the ‘feel good’ hormone, play a role here,” says Brown.
Combined with the rush of adrenaline you get during a thrill together—reaching the top of the roller coaster, successfully deploying your parachute, realizing that fried grasshoppers are quite delicious—your stomach might swoop in more ways than one.
9. Tell yourself this time having sex will be your last.
Yes, it’s a tad morbid, but there’s a reason Brown recommends every single one of the couples he sees try this at least once! “It may seem a bit awkward, but if you truly knew that this would be the last time you would ever make love, what would you do the same and what would you do differently?” says Brown. Thinking of it this way can snap you out of la-la land and help you focus on every single detail of the experience.
10. Download the Kindu app.
If you’re bored with your recent bedroom antics but a little shy about how to broaden your horizons, an app like Kindu can help. Free on iOS and Google Play, Kindu presents different sexual ideas to each of you privately on your phones. If you both like the idea, it’ll show up as a match, but if only one of you does, the other person will never know. It’s a safe way to explore what you might both be into if you’re not ready to speak up just yet.
11. Make out, but don’t let it go any further.
“Kissing is like facial intercourse,” says Cadell. “It’s one of the most intimate things we can do as human beings.” Unfortunately, it’s also one of the first things to slip when you’ve been with someone for a while, she says. Putting in the effort to do more than a peck-and-go every morning can help, but you can up the ante by making out like teenagers and not having sex until hours later. Feel free to clue your partner in, otherwise they might just get confused or feel hurt by your refusal to have sex. That way, you can both build anticipation until you’re ready to hit a home run, if you know what I mean.