I’ve been married for over 10 years and the romance seems to have died a long slow death. Basically the only time my partner and I spend together is flopped in front of the TV after the kids are in bed. With kids, jobs and keeping the house running we don’t have much time, money or energy for anything else. I’m terrified we will drift apart and end up divorced in years to come. I’ve suggested a regular date night to my partner but he wasn’t very interested. What can I do to get some of the old spark back?
Rhonda, 43
Answered by:
Romance Coach

Rest assured, it’s a very common problem. The good news is that there are some easy things you can do to rebuild the romance in a relationship. The bad news is that it will take some time if both of you aren’t actively trying. You have two choices with your approach. The first is that you can suggest to your partner that you both try to work on the romance in your relationship and then to put a plan in place. Having a regular date night is a good idea, but it sounds like you might need to start even simpler.

The second approach is to do it by yourself if your partner won’t sign up. Romance is contagious (and addictive) – once your partner experiences it they are highly likely to model your behaviour and start to do the same. You need to use the boiled frog method with this approach. Wait! The what? Well, if you put a frog into hot water it will immediately jump out. If you put a frog in cold water and then slowly heat the water the frog will let itself get boiled alive (please – do not try this at home and I don’t need any nasty letters from animal rights campaigners. I have not tried boiling a frog (or husband) myself). If I’ve completely lost you at this point let me rephrase it… Take it slowly. Like all behaviour changes, they take time. Don’t try to go from being as romantic as a dead fish on a beach to a pair of mating flamingos overnight (you know – how they make a cute heart with their curved necks?). And that’s enough of the dead animal analogies for now!

The first thing to understand is what ‘Being Romantic’ actually means. You’d be surprised how many different opinions there are. Some think it’s simply another word for sex. Some think it involves white horses and maidens in towers (thanks a lot for THAT Disney and Julia Roberts). If you read all the literature (the science-stuff, not the fairy tales) about romance, what it really boils down to is making your partner feel like they are the most important thing in the world to you – the top priority. Some people disagree at this point and say “But, our darling children must be my first priority”. Honey, no. The best thing you can do for your children is to prioritise your romantic relationship, both to keep it together for the long haul and to model a great relationship to your children. Because they will copy what they saw you do when they are adults. What kind of relationships do you want to see your children have – the kind that romance survives in or the “we stay together for the sake of the children kind”?

There are 8 ways that will help you answering your question on how to spice up a relationship:

  1. Giving compliments and showing appreciation
  2. Touching your partner frequently in a loving way
  3. Spending quality time together as a couple
  4. Performing romantic gestures
  5. Doing deeds for your partner
  6. Giving gifts and tokens of your love
  7. Working on improving yourself
  8. Creating intimacy through self-disclosure

When you are just starting out I’d recommend focusing on the first two. Think of one or two physical or behavioural traits you love about your partner and casually drop a compliment about them at appropriate times. Aim for 2-4 times a week. For example, my partner has a great butt – it’s muscular and rounded. Each time he walks past in his underwear I make sure I compliment him on his great butt. He loves it (and it makes him keen to keep it that way!). He’s also amazing at being consistent with the kids. I compliment him on that when we climb into bed after (yet another) torrid session with a teenager about ‘the rules’ (I swear, teenagers are why some animals eat their young). Throw in some appreciation for the stuff they do for you or the family about once a week and you are starting to rebuild the romance. Next, add some physical touch. Make it non-sexual. Just a brush of your fingers across his/her neck or back of the arm, maybe a hair ruffle or that gorgeous move where you push their hair behind their ear when you are face-to-face. Scientists have found that  a 6 second kiss each time you part is an easy way to strengthen your relationship. Ideally, you should both be in the moment – concentrating on the kiss, not mentally going through the checklist of the day’s activities or thinking about work. When you are flopped in front of the TV together stroke your partner’s arm or offer a backrub. Physical touch releases the cuddle hormone, oxytocin, which scientists think it deepens the feelings of attachment.

If you focus on the compliments, appreciation and touching for a couple of months then you can move to suggesting a date night once a month. Try to do something novel and challenging together. It’s another way to hack your brain’s hormones to bring you closer together. Instead of going out for a dinner or a movie try something that you’ll both enjoy that neither of you have done before and that challenges you a little, either physically or mentally. Maybe it’s taking a class together or taking a cycling tour around your city. After a few months you should notice a change in your relationship.

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