It’s a well-known fact that long-term relationships are hard. Indeed, it’s easy to start taking your better half for granted once that initial infatuation fades. Good news: We went to clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook and got some advice to help you get out of a relationship rut. Without further ado, here’s how to reconnect with your spouse when things start to get stale.
How to Reconnect with Your Spouse and Get Back That Lovin’ Feeling
1. Recreate Your First Date
The honeymoon phase is in the rearview and you and your partner are so accustomed to each other’s presence that all those sweet nothings you used to whisper have been replaced with complaints about, say, dirty socks on the floor. The solution? Take a trip for two down memory lane by recreating your first date. It might sound corny, but don’t knock it until you try it. Per Dr. Cook, “Reconnecting to the past and the things that brought you joy to begin with is a great way to remind yourself of what you liked in the first place, which can trigger positive memories and bring back those ‘warm fuzzies.’” Yep, this is one instance in which it’s not such a bad thing to let history repeat itself.
2. Put Your Phone Away
This one is pretty straightforward, as it takes aim at a bad habit most (if not all) of us are guilty of—namely, paying a bit too much attention to our phones. Indeed, the siren song of your Insta feed is hard to resist, which is precisely why Dr. Cook suggests leaving all phones and devices at home the next time you have a night out with your spouse. This eliminates the nagging compulsion to “just check something” on your phone and creates the conditions for meaningful, uninterrupted conversation.
3. Have a Hands-Only Dinner
Now that you’ve decided to leave your phones at home, your hands are free for other things—like eating, for example. “Sensory stimulation during a meal increases your overall pleasure and many people in the world sing the praises of eating food with your hands,” says Dr. Cook. Whether you whip up a meal at home or head to a local Ethiopian joint, a utensil-free dinner date is sure to take things up a notch—just be sure to feed each other a few bites here and there, as the “simple act of offering nourishment to another person brings closeness and connection.”
4. Share A Daily Hug
We already touched on the body’s need for physical connection…so, er, when was the last time you spent a full sixty seconds embracing your partner? Chances are it’s been a while (and Cook says those half-assed goodbye hugs aren’t cutting it). Try to share a long full body embrace on the daily—one in which you really relax into one another’s arms. Pro tip: For best results, both people should be standing fully balanced (not one pulling the other to them) so that you can truly ease your energy into each other.
5. Exchange Random Thank Yous
According to The Gottman Institute, criticism is one of the “four horsemen” of the relationship apocalypse; it’s also incredibly common for those in long-term relationships to find themselves focusing on the negative things about their partner, and it often takes a conscious effort to avoid that slippery slope. For this reason, Cook recommends routinely sending random, sweet messages to your spouse (be it with a text message or a post-it in the pantry) that point out the positive. This prosocial practice is a surefire way to “increase feelings of connection and love.”
6. Take A Class Together
“Learning something new invigorates the brain and excites our inner child,” says Dr. Cook—so it should come as no surprise that when you ride that emotional high with your S.O., you’re on the fast track to reconnecting. Best of all, there are a host of virtual classes available, so you and your partner can learn a new hobby from the comfort of home.
7. Do a Fill-in-the-Blank Activity
No, we’re not talking about doing Mad Libs with your partner (although that could be fun). This fill-in-the-blank activity is more of a written Q & A, designed to find out how your partner experiences you, the relationship, sex, etc. Most questions are fair game, but there’s one major exception: Don’t ask your partner what they would change about you. Dr. Cook tells us the purpose of this activity isn’t to change someone else, but rather to learn ways of improving the relationship and enhancing feelings of connection by asking questions you feel funny asking face-to-face.
8. Try a Body Scavenger Hunt
If this one sounds sexy, that’s because it is. That said, we’re not telling you to reconnect by knocking boots. In fact, the doc points out that having sex and really knowing someone’s body are two different things—and the end goal of this activity is the latter. A body scavenger hunt is a means of “creating intimacy during moments of vulnerability,” says Dr. Cook. (Psst: Intimacy and vulnerability are key components of a strong emotional connection.) To get started, simply strip down with your sweetie and start exploring by following one another’s prompts (i.e, “find a ticklish spot above my waist;” “find the three beauty marks that make a triangle”).
9. Hold Hands
PSA: Not all hand-holding is created equal. When it comes to this suggestion, Cook makes a clear distinction between the “creepy, possessive way” and what she describes as “quiet and subtle ways,” like a quick squeeze as you cross paths in the hallway or holding hands during your nightly TV time. When done right, this simple gesture is a powerful, non-verbal way to tell your partner you’re paying attention to them in an age when most of us use one hand to hold a phone and the other to do everything else.
10. Volunteer Together
“Acting in altruistic ways can release happy hormones in the body and make someone feel ‘loved up’ and connected to those around them,” Cook tells us. Bottom line: There are myriad ways to give back to your community—in-person and virtual volunteering opportunities alike—and when you get your better half on board with the do-gooding, it’s a recipe for reconnection.
11. Massage Each Other
At the end of a long day, a full body rub down for your spouse is kind of a big ask. (We get it.) Fortunately, Cook says a simple foot rub while watching a show together is enough to meet your partner’s need for physical connection, and ideally, the gesture will be reciprocated—you know, so you both get your daily dose.
12. Read the Same Book
You and your sweetie used to stay up all night talking about everything under the sun, but now your interactions are mundane and business-like. Alas, if the conversation is stale, the relationship probably is, too. Fortunately, a good book might be all you need to tap into shared interests and revive your curiosity in and (hopefully) admiration of each other’s intellects.