“We used to be intimate all the time. I don’t know what happened.” I hear this a lot from the couples I work with. Their relationship started out so passionate and romantic. Now, years later, they find intimacy lacking, and they are not sure why.
Is the Honeymoon Over?
Part of the reason is what most people think about: the honeymoon phase is over. Of course, there is a lot of truth to this. Dr. John Gottman calls these early days “limerence.” It is a time when bodies release feel-good hormones that give you that feeling of deep connection. As great as this period is, it can’t last forever. Although the passion does fade a bit over time, this is often not the only (or even main) reason intimacy and romance fade.
Research by Dr. Gottman uncovered a direct and very strong correlation between the amount of fondness and admiration in a relationship and a couple’s satisfaction with romance, passion, and sex. Couples who report feeling love, appreciation, and admiration from their partner also reported more passion and sex in the relationship.
Sex is a very vulnerable act. It makes sense that most people would be hesitant to engage sexually with someone they weren’t even sure liked them.
A Ratio for Love
What I see a lot in my practice is that couples usually do love, respect, and appreciate one another but neither partner actually feels this in the relationship. Often this is because there is not enough positivity in the relationship. Dr. Gottman’s research on thousands of couples showed, for your partner to feel loved, respected, and appreciated, there must be 20 positive interactions for any one negative interaction. This means that every time you accidentally hurt your partner’s feelings, miss a bid, or have an otherwise tense moment in the relationship, you will need to balance that with 20 positive interactions for your partner to continue to feel loved, respected, and admired. (Editor’s Note: the other commonly referenced ratio is 5:1, which applies specifically to interactions within conflict—learn more here)
This statistic shocks most of my couples. However, the brain is wired to notice and respond to the negative. It is necessary for survival. What this means in relationships is that any negative interaction you have with your partner will stick out in your mind. It will take 20 positive interactions to counteract it. So if you are missing the romance and passion your relationship used to have, it may mean that you and your partner are not hitting the 1:20 ratio.
Tips for Sharing Fondness and Admiration
The good news is that there are many ways you can increase the positivity in your relationship so that you both feel appreciated and you can rebuild intimacy. Below are some ideas to get you started:
- Give your partner a genuine compliment. One of the most powerful ways to show your partner you admire them is to express your appreciation for specific traits they possess. For example, you may love that they are generous, loyal, caring, fun, adventurous, or a great parent. Often couples I work with believe, “My partner already knows I like this about them.” While this may be true, expressing it out loud can have a huge positive impact on your relationship. More often than not I hear that people actually didn’t know their partner felt that way. They love hearing the compliment.
- Catch your partner doing something “right” and thank them. Most couples end up in a place where they each have their designated responsibilities. Over time, they often lose sight of all the ways their partner contributes. Pay attention to the things your partner does and express your appreciation for it, even if it is “their job.” For example, you can thank your partner for taking out the trash, making dinner, doing the dishes, picking up the kids, paying the bills, etc.
- Share a fun or favorite memory from your past together. Think of all the good times and/or romantic times you have had together and share one with your partner. You could reminisce about the day you met, your wedding day, a passionate evening, or any other special moment.
- Tell your partner how proud you are of them or how proud you are of the relationship. Include all you accomplished as a team and the storms you weathered together.
- Tell your partner you love them. Everyday!
- Be physically affectionate with your partner. Kiss them, hug them, hold their hand, and cuddle up to them.
- Express appreciation for the ways they supported you such as helping you fulfill a dream, listening to you vent about a bad day, or being there for a loss you have endured.
- Surprise them with a gift just because you thought about them.
- Plan a date, an outing, or a vacation together. This lets your partner know you want to spend time with them and that they are important to you.
- Write them a love letter or leave a note letting them know you are thinking about them.
The options are endless. Whatever way that you express your admiration, make sure you do so more than any negativity you express. When you both feel loved, admired, and appreciated in the relationship, it sets the stage for the romance and passion to flourish.
Learn how to share fondness, admiration, and so much more at the next Art and Science of Love workshop. At this live two-day virtual event, you and your partner will hear from Gottman-trained experts about how to keep your emotional bank account full and the romance alive. Register today!
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Kimberly Panganiban is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a private practice in San Diego, CA. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist, Trainer, and Consultant. Her practice focuses on premarital couples, newlyweds, long-term relationships, affairs/betrayals, sexual dissatisfaction, and the transition to parenthood. Visit her website.