Many of us miss the early excitement and lust that often vanishes in long-term relationships.
We can even think there is something “wrong with us” when our connection with our partner isn’t “passionate, urgent and romantic” as depicted in Hollywood films and on social media, explains couple’s therapist Isiah McKimmie.
“Having a deeper connection, finding ways to work as a team and juggle life together doesn’t get the same amount of attention,” she says.
The truth is, you’ll never get back the same spark you once had, relationship counsellor Paul Gale-Baker says, but there is something more meaningful to be celebrated.
Here’s a friendly reminder of what you’re probably overlooking while busy searching for the piping hot flame you once had.
The ‘honeymoon phase’ dies eventually (and we all need to accept that)
“Heightened feelings of passions and sexual drive” best describe the honeymoon period, Ms McKimmie says.
How long it lasts depends on the individual couple, but it can be anywhere from six months to a few years.
Couples doing long distance, for example, will likely feel it for longer, Mr Gale-Baker says.
How we move through the next phases of a relationship is dependent on our own history, circumstances and mental health, Ms McKimmie says.
Labels for those phases will depend on what self-help book you read, but commonly there is the passionate love in the beginning, moving into companionate love.
“I particularly like [American psychological researcher and clinician] John Gottman’s explanation of three phases of love which he calls: limerence, building trust, and building commitment and loyalty,” Ms McKimmie says.
Mr Gale-Baker prefers to avoid labels — particularly companionship — because it prompts images of “elderly couples who are just happy to sit in the same room together”.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I would argue you can still be passionate in your 60s onwards, it’s just a different kind of passion,” he says.
What spark do we lose and how do we deal with that loss?
When the honeymoon phase is over, you’ve lost the illusion, explains Mr Gale-Baker.
“It’s a really a period of illusion drowned in chemicals like dopamine,” he says.
“Losing it means you have to look realistically at the relationship; you have to address issues that are coming up.”
He says it’s when the bond really begins, moving from a period of attraction to an “actual relationship”.
And it’s not just time that causes the sparkle to disappear. Life events like having children can also impact sexual chemistry.
“For a lot of people, sex just stops at that point … people shift into being parents rather than partners,” Mr Gale-Baker says.
Men and women will react differently when sexual desire fades.
“I’m reluctant to categorise people in terms of gender because there is huge variation, but it is fair to say generally men take it harder than women,” Mr Gale-Baker says.
“For a lot of men, sex is a lot of the point of the relationship, and there are a lot who wouldn’t stay in a relationship if they weren’t sexually satisfied.”
He says it’s not black and white, but generally women are looking for a deeper connection sooner
What do we gain after the honeymoon phase?
Although we lose that butterfly feeling, there is a lot we gain, explains Ms McKimmie.
She says getting to know one another’s feelings, emotions and pain deepens intimacy.
“We get to increasingly feel safe with a partner and know they have our back.
“Having ridden the ups and downs together, there’s something about knowing you’re committed to each other and that you can take on the world together that can give you confidence and help reach your goals.”
A greater appreciation for the person you’re with also grows over time, Mr Gale-Baker says.
“We don’t often take the time to reflect there is somebody who is willing to spend a large part of their life living with us, and what an extraordinary gift that is.
“That might sound a bit cheesy, but it’s really important for couples to focus on that — look at what they have, not what they don’t have.”
He says a lot of people are also guilty of spending too much time thinking about what they can get out of a relationship, rather than what they can bring to it.