If you are reading this, you are likely searching for ways to improve your relationship. You have probably heard all about how romance tends to “die down” in a partnership after commitment, such as marriage. You have probably also heard that the key to improving your relationship involves something like “changing things up” or “getting to know each other again” so that you can rediscover the spark that once was.
Couples in the Twin Cities often approach us at Twin Cities Mental Health & Couples Center with questions about improving satisfaction in their romantic partnership. How do we restore my marriage? How can we fix this? What am I, or what is my partner doing wrong? What many couples do not know is that all relationships are made up of three essential factors, as described by Dr. Robert Sternberg (2007): Intimacy, Commitment, and Passion. This is also known as the Triangular Theory of Love.
Intimacy: involves the degree of emotional connectedness that is felt in the relationship. This includes a sense of bond, of warmth, and generally enjoying each other’s company.
Commitment: involves the degree of choice to remain in the relationship. This is more of a decision and does not necessarily require emotional attachment.
Passion: involves the degree of physical affection that occurs in the relationship, such as sex, kissing, hugging, etc. This can also include what most people think of as “romance,” such as buying your partner some roses.
These three factors differ depending on the relationship. For example, a casual friendship may have good intimacy but low commitment and no passion. A couple in a hookup relationship may have high passion but little intimacy and commitment. In a strong romantic partnership, you ideally want to have all three as high as possible. Long-term relationships, such as marriages, often experience changes in their triangle over time. We have all heard the stereotype of couples burning out of passion later in the relationship. However, a reduction in passion may not necessarily be the culprit for decreased satisfaction. So, what will help you boost your relationship and regain satisfaction?
The therapists at Twin Cities Mental Health & Couples Center work with couples to target the area you and your partner need the most help with.
We Need More Intimacy!
Sometimes relationships can feel more like a committed union that functions because of the social and physical needs that are satisfied. Although many of those relationships work for some couples, often people want to build more friendship and lovey-dovey-ness with their partner.
Tactic: Unplug and Make Space
Set aside a specific time in the next week for the two of you to spend time together without your cellphones interfering. Couples often spend too much of their together time interacting with other people through their device. You do not need to plan something fancy or special, but it helps if you make an effort to try something new. Go to the zoo together and feed the llamas. Head over to the coffee shop and go people spotting. Cook a meal together using only ingredients that start with the letter G. Whatever it is, just be alone together without the temptation to look at social media on the Internet. Try to do this at least once per week, and keep track of changes in your relationship.
Here are a few tips to make the most out of this time together:
- Smile often, even if you have to force a grin at first. This will help communicate that you are actually enjoying your time together.
- Ask your partner what she/he would like to do, and start with that.
- Not sure what to talk about? Try visiting about an upcoming event, such as a holiday or trip, and plan it together.
We Need More Commitment!
An imbalance in commitment can be one of the most stressful and hurtful things in a relationship. At Twin Cities Psychology & Couples Center, one very important question will be asked about your relationship: Are you both willing to work for this relationship?
Tactic: Have Some Real Talk
Imagine a two-person rowboat, and one person is unwilling to paddle their oar. Are you both willing to work, or is one of you frantically paddling to try to keep your relationship moving forward? We suggest having this conversation. Set aside some time to talk about how each of you feel about the relationship, and be willing to ask each other if this is worth the struggle.
Here are some ways to keep your talk from escalating into conflict:
- Make the conversation private, so find a time and place where you can speak freely.
- Speak from your feelings and experiences. Use “I feel really _______ when ________ happens” statements.
- Avoid the blame game. This is not the time to highlight each other’s mistakes.
- Make sure you have both had a decent meal beforehand. We tend to grow irritable and more emotionally labile on an empty stomach.
We Need More Passion!
This is a common complaint amongst couples who feel that their sex life has dwindled over recent years. Although a decrease in sexual desire over time is normal for most couples (see Beutel, Stöbel‐Richter, & Brähler, 2008), many would like to know how to rekindle that flame.
Tactic: Sit by one another on the couch as you end your day
If you and your partner spend your evenings sitting and watching television together, why not cuddle up with one another on the couch and avoid the temptation to have your cell phone next to you. The simple thought of wanting to be next to your partner is a precursor to increased physical intimacy. This fulfils a need for human touch and closeness that you and your partner may not currently have. Physical touch and playful kissing while sitting next to one another is another way to express a desire to make your partner feel nice and be relaxed, and this sends a meta-message of overall physical affection.
Need other ideas for improving your relationship? Book your first meeting with us today, we would love to hear from you!
Beutel, M. E., Stöbel‐Richter, Y., & Brähler, E. (2008). Sexual desire and sexual activity of men and women across their lifespans: results from a representative German community survey. BJU international, 101(1), 76-82.