The wonderful thing about long-term love is the sense of stability it can create in an uncertain world. The flip side is the predictability… There’s nothing you don’t know about each other any more – you finish each other’s sentences, your partner guesses what you’ll order before you see the menu and you’re sure they’ll ask you where their keys are every day for the rest of your life. Factor in the past year, which has thrown many of us together at home for long spells, and it’s no wonder a lot of relationships feel stagnant.
But should we accept that long-term love inevitably fades from breathtaking connection to cosy familiarity?
‘Embracing each other’s separateness is what sparks desire in the early stages of a relationship,’ says relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan. ‘When we have an air of mystery and strong independence or separateness, desire shines brightly, but when we attach and that separateness dwindles over years, it can start to dim.’
Happily, you don’t need to take drastic action to bring back a sense of mystique. It’s not about sleeping in separate rooms, spending time apart or even breaking up, but taking small steps to strengthen your individuality. ‘A sense of separateness creates eroticism of the mind, fuelling desire,’ says Ryan. ‘We are more drawn to our partners when we feel a small sense of separateness around our interests and hobbies, going about our day as individuals and exploring things apart.’
Far from leading you down disparate paths, developing your own interests can nurture connection and stoke desire. ‘Keep doing what makes you feel passionate,’ says Ryan. ‘Having a strong sense of individuality and maintaining your own interests can be attractive to your partner, because there’s nothing more interesting than a person who is happy and driven to do things they love.’
Another benefit of following your own interests is that as well as giving you an emotional boost, it’s likely to give you a conversational lift as well. It’s all too easy to run out of things to say to your partner after years together, but finding new passions can spark new connection. ‘Continue coming together in curiosity to explore each other in conversation – and beyond,’ says Ryan. ‘Keeping the mystique alive triggers something inside us that makes us thirst to know more.’
Remembering what first drew you to your partner is key to reawakening a sense of curiosity. ‘Remind yourself that you are in a relationship with your best friend – and, pressures as a couple aside, reflect on what you liked about your partner to make you choose them,’ she says. ‘Remind yourself of who they are at the core and what makes them stand out from anyone else you could be with.’
Writing a list of your partner’s lovely qualities can help. ‘Then, whenever you find yourself sweating the small stuff, becoming bored, or feeling that the relationship has lost its zest, focus on what makes them – and you as a couple – so great.’
If it’s hard to focus on that when they’re right in front of you 24/7, maybe it’s time to take a little time apart. It may seem counterintuitive, but recall the early days of your relationship, when you would long to see your partner and spend nights dreaming about them. The urge to be together was fuelled by time apart. ‘Book a weekend trip alone, go for a long solo walk or split your holiday together in half so you have days apart,’ says therapist Karin Peeters. ‘Wanting to be alone is not a rejection of your partner or your relationship because you can’t feel connected to another person if you lose touch with yourself.’
However, cultivating a sense of mystique isn’t just about spending time apart. It’s easy to fall into tired patterns of communication and behaviour that leave little space for the unexpected, which is how relationships get into a rut. ‘Don’t assume you know your partner,’ says Peeters. ‘Expecting them to be a certain way blocks the possibility of letting them surprise you, or themselves.’
Instead, try creating opportunities for sharing new experiences. If you always organise date nights or plan holidays, invite your partner to take the lead. Changing your routine and ways of being will change the ecosystem of your relationship. Peeters recommends couples therapist Harville Hendrix’s coaching exercise to ‘reromanticise’ your relationship. ‘Start by remembering the early stage of your relationship – think about the caring, romantic things you did for each other that you no longer do,’ says Peeters. ‘On a piece of paper, complete this sentence in as many ways as possible, being specific and positive: “I used to feel loved and cared for when…”’
The answers might be things such as ‘when we put our phones down and played a board game’, ‘when you gave me a compliment’ or ‘when we slept naked’. Exchange lists and each commit to doing at least two of the things on your partner’s list every day for a fortnight. ‘Try not to see them as bartering tools or obligations, and don’t keep score,’ says Peeters. ‘Enjoy feeling generous at heart and acknowledge the moments that your partner does a caring thing for you.’
Remember also that it’s natural for relationships to go through phases. The waning of mystique doesn’t necessarily signal doom. For some, cosy coupledom without intrigue is the definition of a happy relationship. ‘Check in with your heart to see if you are worried about losing the magic because you’re unhappy, or because society’s image of how exciting your relationship “should” be influences you,’ says Peeters.
Above all, resist adding pressure to believe that your relationship should be different or better because its current state is not good enough. ‘If you don’t come from a place of negative judgment, but from a positive wish to improve your connection, it’s much easier and joyful to make meaningful changes,’ says Peeters. ‘Forevers are made moment by moment, so try changing the way you think about your relationship. Relax into it and trust in the love you share. Less criticism and a softening of how you perceive your relationship will bring you closer together.
How to keep the magic alive
Don’t stop dating – Step away from the TV and phone! You both deserve to be courted in old-school ways. Dress up. Surprise each other. Make the effort to reconnect, says relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan.
Me, you and us – Write three lists together: things you want to do alone, things your partner wants to do alone and things you want to do as a couple. Make time for the activities on your first two lists and plan a monthly event around the third.
Iron out gripes – Have a talk about household responsibilities and life logistics. Leave nothing unsaid so you don’t harbour resentment. This frees up date nights to be about your connection on an intellectual, emotional and physical level.
WATCH: the romantic comedy Sex And The City 2 on Netflix. Carrie and Big’s efforts to make their marriage more like their dating days should raise a smile.
READ: Love Is Coming: How To Find Real Love In A Superficial World by Persia Lawson (Book Printing, £9.99; persialawson.com). Whether you’re in a relationship or looking for love, this book has fresh insights.
LISTEN: to Diary, She Wrote by Liz Beardsell – a compelling podcast about sex, relationships and modern dating based on more than 10,000 diary entries.
With thanks to our experts for sharing their advice:
Sarah Louise Ryan is a relationship expert, dating coach, matchmaker and writer.
Karin Peeters is a life coach and therapist. She is the founder and director of Vitalis Coaching and Therapy.
Photographs: Getty Images