At this time of year, card shops, supermarkets and florists fill us with the heady scent of love in its giddy infancy; hearts racing on a first date, love letters, gifts and gestures of adoration, the thrills, romance and passion of all that early chemistry. We’re made to feel that love is an emotion, something we just feel, fall into, something that blinds us, something we are completely and utterly helpless to control. But the reality is that love is a skill, honed and perfected over time as we learn to understand and navigate the particular quirks of another human being.
The pay-off is significant – research tells us that those with happy partnerships live longer, healthier and more successful lives – but relationships of any kind require ongoing effort and maintenance. As a marriage celebrant and couple’s coach, I get to share people’s love stories year-round and it’s a privilege I never tire of. But I am on a mission to change our perception of what love is. So here are five ways to re-kindle long-term love.
- Re-learn your partner’s world. Think of it like this; our mind reserves a little space where we carry a map of our partner’s world. In the early days we spent most of our waking hours putting this map together, noticing things, finding hidden places and constantly adding new pieces of knowledge. But like a sat nav, you have to keep updating your map, because the things that make up your partner’s world change over time. Fail to take note, and it can feel like we’re a little lost. So set aside time to re-learn each other. Do you know what your partner’s current favourite book is? Who is causing them a headache at work? What their biggest life goal is? How they like to be challenged or comforted? Time to get the notebook out.
- Kiss longer.‘Kiss often’ has got to be my first rule, but if it’s just a habitual peck on the cheek as you leave the house, let me tell you – you’re missing out. We need to kiss for longer. Science has a lot to say about the art of kissing. A proper kiss, lasting six seconds or more, releases oxytocin. This is our ‘bonding’ hormone that increases our connection with our partner. It also releases dopamine, which stimulates the same area of the brain that cocaine does. Need I say more? Studies also show that kissing lowers our cortisol levels, making us feel less stressed. And when you kiss properly, who knows what else it might lead to…
- Schedule relationship business meetings. I know, I know, tip three is a bit of a romance dampener. This one doesn’t sound sexy, but trust me on this. A long-term relationship is, to some degree, like a business. You are co-project-managers of the to-do list of life; the food shop, the washing, taxing the car, worming the dog, visiting family, servicing the boiler. We might have established roles, but we inevitably need to collaborate and manage new issues that haven’t been delegated. The trick is to designate time to check-in on the boring business side of our partnership – maybe schedule a weekly breakfast meeting. Otherwise our quality time together – including our sacred date nights – can get hijacked by discussions about missed bin collections or when your mother-in-law is staying. And that is not sexy.
- Have mindful date nights. On the subject of date nights, yes, I implore you, do ringfence regular time together. But it’s not just about time – it’s what you do with it. A night spent snuggling up watching a movie sounds cosy (and any close physical contact sets off that oxytocin), but is this really shared time, or just synchronised individual time? Trying something novel and exciting together can set our pulses racing, but my personal favourite is the classic dinner date. You’ve dressed up and made an effort. You’re sat facing each other offering your full attention (and is there anything more alluring than eye contact?) There is no prepping, cooking or clearing away. Nothing to do but converse and listen to each other. Update those love maps. Be in the now. And most importantly – leave your phone in the car!
- Make tech work for you. Technology is increasingly becoming the arch-nemesis of healthy and fulfilling relationships. Yesterday I spotted a Valentine’s Day card that quipped, ‘There’s nobody I’d rather lie in bed and check my phone next to.’ Too true, right? When the first and last thing we reach for each day is our i-phone, rather than the human being next to us, something’s not quite right. Having said that, there are ways in which we can make technology work for our relationships, not against them. For example, every day my husband will Facetime me as he walks in to town on his lunch break, just to check in. I like to send him daily photoshopped photos of me or the cat on WhatsApp because I know it makes him smile. Why not download the One Second a Day App and record a snippet of your daily interactions to look back on. But at the end of the day, switch off the tech, tune in, and turn on your partner.
Maxine Beech is a couple’s coach and celebrant who creates captivating ceremonies that make marriage meaningful.