Many couples like Marcia, 42, and Joshua, 43, are feeling stuck in a loveless marriage with few expressions of affection and love. When we met for couples counseling, Marcia put it like this:
“We rarely spent time together and when we do, we argue and it feels like I’m always trying to get Josh to open up. When he shuts down and that causes me to go into overdrive and try hard to seek him out. Then he retreats and I feel discouraged and unloved. We haven’t had sex in a six months and it’s hard to feel close to him when we are so distant.
If Marcia and Joshua want to fall back in love again, they need to stop focusing on each other’s flaws and spend their energy fostering a deeper connection. In other words, stop assuming the worst of each other and put an end to demanding their partner change. For example, Marcia could learn to give Josh more space and he could try giving her more affirmations of his love for her and spending more quality time with her, so she feels appreciated and loved.
According to experts, the most common reason couples fall out of love and divorce is because of a pursuer-distancer pattern that develops over time. Dr. Sue Johnson identifies the pattern of demand-withdraw as the “Protest Polka” and says it’s one of three “Demon Dialogues.” She explains that when one partner becomes critical and aggressive the other often becomes defensive and distant.
The Science of Trust, Dr. Gottman explains that practicing emotional attunement can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another by showing empathy, and not being defensive. In other words, both partners need to talk about their feelings in terms of positive need, instead of what they do not need. The speaker is really saying. “Here’s what I feel, and what I need from you.”
Ignite Sexual Passion
During the early phase of a relationship, many couples barely come up for air due to the excitement of falling in love. Unfortunately, this blissful state does not last forever. Scientists have found that oxytocin (a bonding hormone) is released during the initial stage of infatuation – which causes couples to feel euphoric and turned on by physical affection – such as touching and holding hands. Oxytocin works like a drug, giving us immediate rewards and binding us to our lover.
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, does not 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.”
6 tips to fall back in love and restore emotional and sexual intimacy:
- Get in touch with your pattern of relating. This includes ways you might be denying your partner or coming on too strong sexually. Avoid criticizing each other and stop the “blame game.” Mix things up to end the power struggle. For example, the pursuer can try being shy and quietly seductive – perhaps encouraging the distancer to move toward him/her.
- Break the pursuer-distancer pattern. Distancers need to practice initiating sex more often and pursuers need to find ways to tell their partner “you’re sexy,” while avoiding critique after sex.
- Increase physical affection. According to Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) causing a calming sensation. Studies show 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. Dr. Michael Stysma recommends couples double the length of time they spend kissing, hugging, and touching each other if they want to improve their marriage.
- Vary the kind of sex you have: (gentle, loving-tender sex; intimate sex; highly erotic sex, etc.). Break up the routine and try new things as your sexual needs change.
- Make sex a priority and set the mood for intimacy before TV or work dulls your passion. A light meal and your favorite music and wine can set the stage for great sex.
- Separate sex from routine. Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure. Avoid discussing problems, household tasks, and your children if you want to bring back the sexual chemistry with your partner. Have fun courting and practice flirting with him or her. Don’t forget to cuddle on the couch and surprise your partner with a kiss.
It’s a good idea to make time for physical affection if you want to enhance the quality of your marriage, according to experts. It can also reduce your stress level so you feel happier, more loving, and satisfied with your partner. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing affectionate touch can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.