By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
While it’s expected that intimacy will die down after a child arrives on the scene, if you make your relationship a priority, it doesn’t have to take a huge dip. After a baby arrives, parents need to adjust to the emotional and physical demands of becoming a parent. Infants can be challenging (most new parents are sleep deprived), time for intimacy and romance declines sharply, and it’s important for couples to make time to connect sexually and emotionally.
What is the secret of maintaining intense love and intimacy when you’ve lost your spark and deep connection? According relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, the secret is cultivating gentleness and kindness toward your partner.
In his book The Relationship Cure, Gottman 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.”
Although passionate love is more common during the early stage of a relationship, couples who make a commitment to keep passion alive can find great satisfaction. Author Andrew G. Marshall says that the two main culprits that destroy what he calls “Loving Attachment” are neglecting physical intimacy and not accepting each other’s differences – such as different parenting styles or ways of resolving conflicts.
In his landmark book I Love You, But I’m Not In Love With You, Marshall explains that it’s possible for couples to rekindle the love and passion they once had by working toward a better understanding of themselves and each other. Ultimately, they can build a stronger, more passionate connection.
Physical contact releases feel good hormones, according to author Dr. Kory Floyd. Holding hands, hugging, kissing, and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) causing 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.
In fact, humans require the positive feelings released by oxytocin in order to function at our best, explains author Arianna Jeret in “8 Steps to the Best Sex of Your Life.” She writes: “Men in particular have been reported to communicate better and feel love more intensely in proportion to the amount of oxytocin they release. A lack of sex can therefore be understood as a direct cause of weaker bonds and less effective communication within long-term relationships and marriage.”
Fortunately, love and passion can actually be wired into our brains. Author Teresa Atkin advises couples to try new, interesting, and exciting adventures to rev up their sex life. She explains that the human brain, while wonderfully complex, doesn’t always work in our best interest so 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.”
7 tips to rev up the love and passion in your marriage or intimate relationship:
- Plan exciting and novel dates with your partner. Try something like hiking or kayaking that’s outside of your comfort zone. Be sure to extend your dates into the bedroom.
- Schedule frequent dates – no kids. The timing may not be spontaneous but your activities can be. Kids are incredibly resilient and they’ll make out fine with a babysitter once a week or spending time with family members.
- Resolve conflicts skillfully. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy a relationship. Learn to air your differences and compromise so that both of you get some (but not all) of the things you desire. Avoid trying to prove a point and remember you’re on the same team. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to dodge it are at the risk of developing stagnant relationships – so learn to accept this and manage it instead.
- Tune into your sexy side. You can do this by treating yourself to a special night out or massage. Find ways to tell your partner “you’re sexy,” while avoiding critique after sex.
- Be sure to go bed at the same time as your partner. Studies show that going to bed at different times can be a sign of avoiding intimacy. Author Jill P. Weber writes: “Emotional intimacy is likely the most important ingredient in long-term fulfillment.” After analyzing data from the Grant Study – the longest longitudinal study in human development – Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger found that couples who are the happiest and physically healthiest in old age are those who maintain close and intimate relationships.
- Allow tension to build with foreplay. 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.
- Let your children know that your relationship with their other parent is important. You can convey this through warmth, affection, and spending time away from them with your partner.
Making your marriage a priority will pay off for you, your partner, and your children in the long run. For your marriage or romantic relationship to thrive, it’s important to create daily rituals of spending time together (such as cuddling on the couch), practice being gentle and kind, and learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection and emotional intimacy can help you to rev up the passion and 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.