9 Surefire Ways to Recharge Your Relationship

The early days of any relationship are exciting, passionate and tend to feel a bit like magic. According to the research, this initial passion fades after about two years BUT there are ways to keep the spark. 

Research has found that there tends to be a boost in happiness in the years before marriage or commitment and a gradual decline back to baseline after that commitment.

The phenomenon of waning passion is so common as to have a name – hedonic adaption. This is the tendency to become used to things we are constantly exposed to. It’s the reason food never tastes better than it does on the first mouthful, songs that have you belting out the lyrics one week, become ‘meh’ the next. With repeated exposure, things become less exciting and more is needed to replicate the initial buzz.

When it comes to negative experiences, hedonic adaption is our ally. It’s the reason pain, grief and loss become more tolerable. In the context of relationships, hedonic adaption can be trouble, underpinning a slow decline in both passionate and companionate love.

With consistent exposure, positive experiences like date nights, sex or just being together become expected and predictable. It’s human nature to long for something different and exciting, so the million dollar question (or however many dollars are saved by not divorcing) is this:

If people eventually become bored even with the exciting things, how do we stop boredom from sticking its well-combed, side-parted, pocket-protected beigeness into a relationship?

According to the research there are surefire ways to stave off boredom and keep the spark. Here are nine of them:

  • Bored?

    Understand that feeling bored is normal. Don’t take boredom as a sign that your relationship is dead. It’s not. The lack of excitement is not a reflection of you or your partner, but is a very normal stage of the relationship. Like any stage of any process, you can skip it, get stuck in it or power through the middle of it and come out beautifully the other side. What your relationship needs is some attention and some tweaking.

  • Mix it up.

    Introduce varied experiences. The more varied the experiences that a couple share together, the longer it will take for boredom to creep in. A recent New Zealand study found that couples who spent time together in a shared activity (weekends away, exercising, hobbies, going out, cooking or cooking classes, learning something new, watching a movie) were happier, closer and less stressed in the relationship, both in the short and long term.

    If there is limited opportunity to try different things, try different versions of the same thing. Different restaurants on date nights, different types of exercise together, or a different walking route will have a similar effect.

  • Amp it up.

    Amp up the positive The more positive events and emotions a couple experiences, the slower the adaption. It seems obvious enough but here are the figures to make it concrete AND do-able:

    •  For every negative emotion, at least three positive ones are needed to neutralise it.
    •  For every negative interaction between you, share five positive ones.

  • About criticism.

    Don’t criticise. Ever. The research proves what we already know: Criticism drains a relationship. Let it out and it will stalk, crouch and pounce to maim. First your partner, then your relationship. Just don’t go there.

  • Gently sculpt each other. 

    Promote each other’s ideal self. It’s called the Michelangelo effect and it works. The view of ourselves is never more beautiful than when seen through the eyes of those who love us. Studies have shown that couples can gently sculpt each other towards their ideal selves by supporting each other’s goals and acknowledging each other’s capability, and potential. What a couple think of each other can propel each person toward the best version of themselves and lay the way for closer, richer, more enduring relationships.

  • We all need a buzz now and then.

    Do something exciting together. Couples who engage in novel and exciting activities experience greater attraction and passion for each other. When couples participate in exciting activities together (rock climbing, dancing, sharing secrets), they seem to associate the feelings that stem from the activity (enthusiasm, excitement, warmth) with the relationship itself. What is felt in response to the activity, is felt about the relationship.

    Research has also found that people can mistake surges in adrenaline for sexual attraction. Activities that are charged with excitement, tension, or apprehension (e.g. sky-diving or high thrill theme park rides) have a way of increasing physical and sexual attraction.

    It’s still not enough to get me jumping out of a plane … unless Shirleen from accounts offers to go with him instead … maybe … Fortunately for those of us whose self-preservation instincts are fairly uncompromising, even less exhilarating activities like hiking, watching cliffhangers, or playing sport together can boost attraction, as the arousal can be attributed to the partner rather than the activity. Phew.

  • Push against predictability.

    Be surprising. It’s the enemy of predictability and completely lovely. The surprise doesn’t have to be big (though that never hurts). Anything out of the ordinary will do – a favourite magazine, a message on the windscreen.

    Here’s the grey though – even surprises, thrills and spontaneity can become addictive. And what happens when things become addictive? More is needed to maintain the initial levels of happiness. Not to worry though – science has your back. Here’s how to short-circuit that one …

  • Appreciation. It’s a little bit magical.

    Cultivate appreciation. This is critical in a relationship. Life-giving actually. Watch how a relationship withers without it. So often, the ending of a relationship has its messy, insidious beginnings in one partner not feeling appreciated.

    Appreciation is one of those things that’s as strong in its absence as it is in its presence. A relationship will die a slow cold death without it.

    When a person no longer appreciates or attends to their partner, they stop being open to the benefits of the relationship. They are also more easily drawn in to social comparisons – always a dangerous exercise. Take the person you’re with for granted and you’ll be similarly indifferent to the ways he or she makes your life better for being in it. When that happens, there’s no boost in happiness from being in the relationship. On the other hand, if you appreciate the relationship you’re in and the person you’re with you’re less likely to take your time together and your intimacy for granted.

    Appreciation should be granted hero status for what it can do. Research has found that people who feel more appreciated by their partners are:

    .  more appreciative of their partners in return;
    .  more committed to their relationship;
    .  more likely to remain in the relationship;
    .  more responsive to their partner’s needs.

    So appreciation is a wonderful thing – do it every day. But how do you do it from a standing start? By imagining not having it. In one study, people who were asked to contemplate what life would be like if they had never met their romantic partner reported higher relationship satisfaction than those who did not imagine life without their relationship.

    Actively thinking about what life would be like without your partner in it increases appreciation, intimacy and relationship satisfaction.

For a relationship to flourish, it also needs to be fun. Even the strongest relationship can become predictable and – I’m just going to say it – boring. That in no way means the relationship has run its course or that the people in it are dull and tired. What it means is that the relationship is normal, still with all of the potential, love and richness that made it happen in the first place. With effort and attention, the predictable and the lacklustre can be turned around and the relationship brought back to one that you both love – l o v e – being in.

2 Comments

Luci

Hey, thanks. I when I got to the part about appreciation I began texting my bae. I haven’t been my sweet self toward him recently. The drink helped too, but thanks for the reminder and simplicity of the How To….
??

PS.
He thanks you, too.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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