Is your relationship with your significant other defined more by friendship than passion? The good news is that you're not alone and there are some fairly simple things you can do to restore the spark that you once had. In fact, renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman reminds us that friendship is the glue that can hold a marriage together: "Couples who "know each other intimately [and] are well versed in each other's likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams are couples who make it."
However, the most common complaint of couples today is that they've fallen out of love, according to Andrew G. Marshall, author of "I Love You, But, I'm Not In Love With You." Marshall answers the question: Is it possible to fall back in love? He explains that Limerence is the early phase of falling in love characterized by elation and passion. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov first coined this term in her landmark book Love and Limerence to describe Limerence as the kind of love that has an obsessive quality to it and is unlikely to be revisited with the same partner - at least not with the same intensity. The phrase "love is blind" is a good analogy for Limerence because lovers in this stage are so infatuated with their loved one that they tend to overlook their weaknesses and elevate their strengths.
Thus, being in a state of Limerence can be a curse but it also brings great pleasure. It's associated with intense physical attraction - which can't last forever. Marshall writes, "Someone under the spell of Limerance is bound tightly to his or her beloved, however badly he or she behaves." But what happens to one's feeling of being in "love"after Limerance is gone? He coins the term Loving Attachment to describe the type of love that sustains us - that makes us smile as we watch our loved one lay sleeping in bed on Sunday morning. While not as passionate as Limerance, partners have a deep connection, sexual intimacy, and loving feelings toward each other. Fortunately, they are also able to realistically tackle the challenges of life together.
According to Marshall, a couple might maintain a Loving Attachment even if they neglect their relationship for a short period of time. However, their deep connection will deteriorate if their relationship isn't nurtured over a longer period. Marshall posits that the two main culprits that contribute to a loss of Loving Attachment are neglecting physical intimacy and not accepting each other's differences. He labels a third type of love Affectionate Regard and says it's friendly but lacking in passion - similar to the love between a brother and sister.
A typical case would be Marisa, a thirty-six year old speech therapist and Jason, a thirty-seven year old teacher. They've been married for seven years and have gone through rough patches - like Marisa's cancer scare, yet their marital bond stayed strong until recently. As they sit in my office discussing their issues, they appear to be more like friends than husband and wife. They've clearly lost the spark that they enjoyed early in their marriage. In fact, they rarely argue, have sex, or intimate chats- most of their conversations are about their two daughters, Kaitlyn and Bailee.
Marisa starts off our session: "I love Jason, but I'm just not in love with him anymore." When Marisa drops this bombshell, Jason responds, "I thought we were pretty happy, I really did. Even though we don't have sex much anymore I thought it was because of the kids and our busy schedules." Marisa explains that her feelings have been building up for years and that she feels guilty because she's starting to fantasize about being with another man. Jason says, "I feel so betrayed, she has no loyalty - there's no way I saw this coming."
What is the secret to helping you revive your intimacy if you have drifted away from Loving Attachment and lost your spark and deep connection like Marisa and Jason? Couples who "turn toward" one another rather than "turning away" are more likely to be happy and less likely to be headed for misery and/or divorce court according to Dr. Gottman. In his book The Relationship Cure, he writes: "It's not that these couples don't get mad or disagree. It's that when they disagree, they're able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect."
Author Teresa Atkin advises couples to rewire their brains to experience feelings of pleasure so they can experience emotional and sexual closeness. She reminds us that the human brain, while wonderfully complex, doesn't always work in our best interest and we need to rewire it in order to experience pleasurable feelings. She writes, "Research shows that we get a healthy shot of dopamine (the feel good hormone) when we are seeking reward, and when there is something new to experience. Also excitement is transferable, so the heightened arousal that follows say, a roller coaster ride, can be used to rev up your sex life."
Here are tips to help you rev up your sexual intimacy and rewire positive connections:
• Resolve conflicts skillfully. Don't put aside resentments that can destroy a relationship. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at the risk of developing stagnant relationships, according to author Kate McNulty. Couples counseling can be a beneficial way to increase positive connections if both partners are motivated.
• Reconnect by increasing physical affection. According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. Studies show that it's released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones - lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
• Allow tension to build. Our brains experience more pleasure when the anticipation of the reward goes on for some time before we get the actual reward. So take your time, share fantasies, and change locations for sexual intimacy.
• Set aside time to spend with your partner on a daily basis. Carve out time to be together so you don't evolve into "two ships passing in the night."
In closing, for your marriage or romantic relationship to thrive, it's important to create daily rituals of spending time together, show physical affection, and learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Practicing emotional attunement while relaxing together can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means "turning toward" one another, showing empathy, and not being defensive. Be sure to pay close attention to the role you play if you are drifting apart and focus on what you can do to reconnect with your partner rather than resorting to the "blame game." Even if you're not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.