The most common complaint of couples that I work with today is that they have fallen out of love and that the passion has dwindled between them. However, falling out of love usually does not occur overnight. Likewise, relationship repair takes time and effort on the part of both partners and includes rekindling sexual intimacy and emotional attunement. Fortunately, here are many ways for couples to fall back in love and ending a habit of criticizing each other is a good first step.
During a recent couples counseling sessions, Marisa, 49, and Joshua, 53, spoke about how they are locked into a pattern of criticism and attack which had lowered the amount of positive interactions and sexual passion between them. When I asked them to increase positive comments during conflict and to spend more time nurturing their physical and sexual relationship, they were resistant at first but over time they improved.
Stop Criticizing Each Other
Marisa puts it like this: “Joshua is a good husband, but I’m just not in love with him anymore.” When Marisa drops this bombshell, Joshua responds, “We don’t have hot sex often – and our timing is just off. But I was shocked when Marisa talked about splitting up recently.”
As Marisa and Joshua describe their typical pattern of relating during their twelve years of marriage, it amounts to Marisa seeking out Joshua for emotional and sexual intimacy and Joshua distancing. Joshua describes his withdrawal from Marisa as a habit. “It just feels hard to meet her needs so why bother? We used to be in sync but lately we’re distracted by our jobs and demands of our two kids.”
Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples discovered that partners that get stuck in this pattern the first few years of marriage have more than a 80% chance of divorcing in the first four or five years of marriage. He posits that men have a tendency to withdraw and women to pursue. This pattern is wired into our physiology and reflects a basic gender difference. In his classic “Love Lab” observations, Dr. Gottman noted that this pattern is a major contributor to marital breakdown.
Nurture Emotional Intimacy
If Marisa 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.
In over 40 years of research on couples in his “Love Lab” Dr. Gottman discovered that the two leading causes for divorce are criticism and contempt. In his book Why Marriages Succeed and Fail, he reminds us that criticizing our partner is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an attack on the person. For instance, a complaint is: “I want to be included in financial decisions. We agreed that you’d discuss big purchases with me.” In comparison, criticism might be: “You never consider my needs, you’re so selfish.”
Instead, couples who want to rekindle their passion and love need to “turn towards” each other. In 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.”
How to 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.
The struggle between Marisa and Joshua is a common one for hard-working couples balancing jobs, parenting, and intimacy. Sex therapist Laurie Watson, author of Wanting Sex Again: How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage writes, “Most sexual concerns stem from an interpersonal struggle in the marriage.”
7 tips to ignite sexual intimacy and fall back in love:
- Avoid Criticism: Make a plan to stop the “blame game.” Examining your own behavior will end the power struggle. Take responsibility for your own behavior and stop pointing your finger at your partner.
- 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. For example, the pursuer can try being shy and quietly seductive – perhaps encouraging the distancer to move toward him/her.
- Boost time showing 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.
- 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, change locations, and make sex more romantic.
- Variety is the spice of life: (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. Find time to be sexually intimate at least once a week. A light meal and your favorite music and wine can set the stage for great sex.
- 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.
Igniting sexual passion is possible if you make pleasurable activity a priority and don’t put it on the back burner. If you want to improve the quality of your marriage, according to experts, increase physical affection, stop criticizing each other, and make intimacy a priority. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing affectionate touch can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond that will endure the test of time.
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.