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Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW Headshot

How to Revitalize Love and Passion With Your Partner

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Is your relationship with your partner defined more by friendship than passion but you still love each other and haven't given up? Rest assured -- it's common for couples who have been married or committed to each other for a while and have busy lives, to drift apart emotionally and sexually. The good news is that if you've lost the spark you once had, you can rediscover your sexual relationship and get back on track.

Lack of sexual passion is the most common problem that brings couples to therapists, according to Marianne Brandon author of Unlocking the Sexy in Surrender. She writes, "While every couple is different, the most common scenario I see are couples with a strong emotional connection, a caring and respectful commitment to one another -- they like one another -- but they just don't feel that sexual spark any longer."

A typical case is Marina and Jake, both in their late thirties and married for ten years. "I've been unhappy with our sex life for some time," says Marina, "We're just not in sync with each other so go months without having sex." Looking a bit embarrassed Jake says, "I still love Marina but we don't connect in a passionate way like we used to."

During the early phase of a romantic relationship, many couples barely come up for air due to the excitement of falling in love. Unfortunately, this blissful state doesn't last forever. Scientists have found that oxytocin (a bonding hormone) is released during the initial stage of infatuation -- which causes couples to feel euphoric and turned on by physical affection -- such as touching and holding hands. Oxytocin works like a drug, giving us immediate rewards and binding us to our lover.

It's normal to feel a sense of disappointment when our desire for sexual intimacy doesn't match our partners and a pursuer-distancer pattern can develop. This is a common struggle among hard-working couples balancing jobs, parenting and intimacy. "Most sexual concerns stem from an interpersonal struggle in the marriage," writes sex therapist Laurie Watson, author of Wanting Sex Again: How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage. She explains that one spouse becomes the "pursuer" favoring closeness, and the other becomes a "distancer," favoring separateness." It's not uncommon for the person who is an emotional distancer to crave more sex and visa versa. For instance, some couples swap roles over a particular issue -- such as a woman who wants to be closer emotionally to her husband may not be interested in sex.

Let's face it, when we fall in love and commit to someone, we have high hopes that we'll feel blissful and excited by him or her indefinitely. This leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when the passion dies down. In her Huffington Post Article " Not Having Sex? 7 Ways To Start Again," Laurie Watson writes "We think sex will grow in frequency and quality. Yet within two years, 20 percent of marriages end up sexless (less than 10 times a year) and an additional 15 percent become low-sex (less than 25 times per year)." According to Watson, skipping the wedding ceremony doesn't seem to alter this fate since one in three committed couples is barely having sex.

According to author Andrew G. Marshall, it's possible for couples to rekindle love by building a better understanding of themselves and each other, and ultimately constructing a stronger, more passionate connection. In his landmark book, I Love You, But I'm Not In Love With You, Marshall posits that the two main culprits that destroy Loving Attachment in relationships are neglecting physical intimacy and not accepting each other's differences.

At least one of those differences might be gender based according to Dr. Jennifer Pearlman. She posits that women are natural multi-taskers who have an endless "to-do-list" and they have difficulty setting aside their worries of the day. Pearlman writes, "To be sexual we must think sexually too. Clearing your mental state prior to sex can allow for a more mindful experience."

Did you know that couples can also learn to rewire their brains to experience more emotional and sexual closeness? Author Teresa Atkin advises couples that the human brain, while wonderfully complex, doesn't always work in their best interest so they need to add variety to their sex life in order to experience pleasurable feelings. She writes, "Research shows that we get a healthy shot of dopamine (the feel good hormone) when we are seeking reward, and when there is something new to experience. Also excitement is transferable, so the heightened arousal that follows say, a roller coaster ride, can be used to rev up your sex life."

Here are 6 tips to help you rev up your sexual intimacy and rewire positive connections:

Examine your pattern of relating. These include ways you might be denying your partner or coming on too strong sexually. Avoid criticizing each other and stop the "blame game."
Break the pursuer-distancer pattern. Distancers need to practice initiating sex more often and pursuers need to find ways to tell their partner "you're sexy," while avoiding critique after sex.
Resolve conflicts skillfully. Don't put aside resentments that can destroy your relationship. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships.
Boost up physical affection. According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. Studies show that it's released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones -- lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Allow tension to build. Our brains experience more pleasure when the anticipation of the reward goes on for some time before we get the actual reward. So take your time, share fantasies, change locations and make sex more romantic.
Spend time with your partner on a daily basis. Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure. Have fun courting your partner and practice flirting. Don't forget to cuddle on the couch and surprise your partner with a kiss.

In closing, talking about problems with sexual intimacy can sometimes make things worse. So take action and shake things up. Just because your relationship is going through a dry spell, it doesn't have to mean you are headed for divorce. Practicing what Dr. John Gottman calls emotional attunement while relaxing together can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means "turning toward" one another and showing empathy, rather than "turning away." Even if you're not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.

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