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- Rachel Sussman is a relationship expert and marriage counselor in New York City.
- She says many couples she sees are worried about the decline – or disappearance – of passion in their relationship.
- Sussman says it takes effort and creativity to rekindle that passion. Research-backed strategies include trying something new and laughing together.
“Were we really put on this earth to have a monogamous sex life for 50 years and have passion the entire time for our partner?” says Rachel Sussman. “I don’t think so.”
Sussman is a relationship expert and marriage counselor in New York City, and she doesn’t beat around the bush when she talks about passion – and its inevitable decline – in long-term relationships.
It comes down to human history, she says. “When the human species was created, people weren’t mating for 50, 60 years.”
Chalk it up to an evolutionary mismatch, increasing stress, or something else: Some therapists and researchers alike have observed that romantic passion does seem to fade like clockwork. One 2003 study of married couples, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests it takes, on average, two years after wedding day. Sussman mentioned it takes about 18 months after a couple starts dating.
So when couples come to see Sussman complaining about the lack of passion in their relationship, she wants them to know: This is normal.
People are worried “that something’s wrong with them,” she told me. They think “maybe something’s wrong with the couple; maybe something’s wrong with them individually.”
Chances are, there’s not. The “problem,” if there is one, is the couple’s approach to the presence or absence of passion.
“People think, ‘Oh, it should just be there,'” Sussman said. “No! It shouldn’t just be there. You have to create it.”
One passion-creation strategy Sussman recommends is scheduling sex – like, on the calendar. It’s a tip that Bat Sheva Marcus, the sexual dysfunction specialist and clinical director of The Medical Center For Female Sexuality, has also shared with Business Insider. A sex schedule can be especially helpful, Sussman said, if the couple is busy, or has young kids, or if one person goes to bed earlier than the other.
You may just have to be patient while you try to rekindle the passion in your relationship
A 2013 paper published in the Journal of Positive Psychology focuses on countering “hedonic adaptation” in romantic relationships, i.e. gradually getting accustomed to your partner and your relationship until the passion and satisfaction you felt initially wears off.
The authors – Katherine Jacobs Bao and Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California, Riverside review several techniques for keeping things fresh. One is making an effort to try new things.
Psychologist Arthur Aron has led multiple studies that find doing something new and exciting – as opposed to routine – can lead to greater relationship satisfaction. Think dancing or hiking, instead of seeing a movie (assuming you go dancing and hiking less often than you see movies).
One of my favorite insights from the Bao and Lyubomirsky paper is that “people can mistake surges in adrenaline for sexual attraction.” The authors cite a well-known 1974 study, published in the journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that found men who crossed a shaky bridge were more likely to call up an attractive research assistant (she’d given out her phone number) than men who crossed a more stable bridge.
In other words: It’s OK – and sometimes even advisable – to trick yourself into feeling passionate.
Another possibility, based on a 2015 study published in the journal Personal Relationships, is to find opportunities to laugh together.
All that said, one way to supplement your efforts to recreate passion in a long-term relationship is simply to do what Lyubomirsky calls “taking the long view.” In a 2012 New York Times op-ed, she wrote: “Research shows that marital happiness reaches one of its highest peaks during the period after offspring have moved out of the family home.”
If you’ve just gotten married, that day may be a long way away. The point isn’t necessarily to wait until you have kids and shove them out – it’s to be patient. Lyuobomirsky wrote in The Times: “A marriage is likely to change shape multiple times over the course of its lifetime; it must be continually rebuilt if it is to thrive.”