Can adrenaline save your relationship?
When a relationship’s shiny and new, everything about it seems exciting. Then the years bring work, stress, kids, and all those wearying effects of simply living – and it’s all too easy to lose the thrill that made your heart pound in the beginning. Here are some tips for tapping back into that just-met feeling.
Little kindnesses make big differences
It sounds simple, but every relationship can benefit from added kindness, says Sue Yorston, senior manager Western Melbourne for Relationships Australia Victoria. Just showing your appreciation for each other constantly in small ways channels those early days when every little thing your partner did was magical.
“If your partner points out a lovely sunset, really take time to look. If your other half makes you a cup of tea, say thanks with a hug and kiss.”
Be best friends
Every good relationship is underpinned by a strong friendship. “Your partner is the one you can vent to, unload on, and trust,” says Yorston. “This is the person with whom you can let your guard down completely and just say: ‘life’s s***t today!’ Take pleasure in that, don’t take it for granted, enjoy your shared values and remember how precious it is to have that safe space.” Asking each other for advice, she adds, is a wonderful way to show that your respect your partner’s opinion.
Make your dates great
Date nights for established couples can sound like trite advice, but it works. To tap back into the excitement of those early dates, says Yorston, be creative and add surprises. “Pre-planning your time together can add extra fun. Maybe take it in turns to organise the occasion and make each of your dates a surprise. Introduce different ideas. Instead of dinner, you could meet for breakfast. Or make a list together of places you’d like to try, and visit those.”
In decades of research into relationships, US psychologist Arthur Aron, one of the world’s leading authorities on couples, has discovered that consistently stepping outside your comfort zone with your partner can keep the excitement alive. He recommends doing something novel and challenging together as often as you can (Aron and his own wife Elaine practice what they preach and seek out a new activity every week).
Yorston agrees. “Risk taking – within reason – does provide that adrenaline rush you get in your early days together.” Whether you go skydiving, watch a scary movie, ride a roller coaster or try an exercise that pushes your physical boundaries, you’ll bond over a delicious thrill and heightened feeling of need for each other that was once provided by your relationship alone.
After years together, you can feel as if there’s nothing new to know about each other. But this is far from true, say experts. Aron’s research has also shown that continued self disclosure over the years – revealing secrets just like you used to in those all-night heart-to-hearts – is a major player in keeping your love alive. He even devised a series of 36 questions for couples, proven to deepen intimacy at every stage. They include biggies about life and death, but also simple asks such as: ‘tell your partner something that you like about them already,’ and ‘what would constitute a perfect day for you?’
The reason this is so effective, says Yorston, is that it allows you to tap into each other’s growth. “People change constantly. We mature throughout life according to our circumstances and needs.”
The adventure of discovering each other is endless, and you’ll be amazed how much there is still to learn, she promises. “In therapy, counsellors see couples making discoveries about each other at every stage along the way.”
Find your hope
Remember that flood of optimism when you first met? The future seemed filled with potential – and it still is. Says Yorston: “As couple therapists, rather than dwelling on negatives, we always look for the hope in a relationship. And there’s usually plenty to find.”
Start, she says, by considering what it was about your partner that first made you smile. Chances are it’s still there. What first attracted you to them? What makes you both laugh? What new fun can you plot together? Remember some of your private jokes, and create a few more. Fun is key. “We can easily just get too serious,” she says. “We’re also good at looking at what we don’t have, but remember to celebrate what you do. Whether it’s five, 10, 20 years, and you’re in a good space, congratulate each other on that. You deserve it.”
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