It's no secret that relationships are complicated, just like the emotions they're built on. They're constantly evolving, they go through seasons, and like the tides of an ocean, there's an ebb and flow of love from one person to the other. Even the happiest couples say that being together takes work, and it's impossible to be 100 percent happy 100 percent of the time. At one point or another, you're going to have to put some effort into reconnecting with your partner and reclaiming your bond.
If you feel you and your partner have drifted apart, don't freak out just yet; it doesn't mean you're headed for Splitsville. As a matter of fact, it's totally normal. "Remember that all relationships have closer and less connected times," says Connie Yip, a psychiatric nurse practitioner based in New York City. "Relationships take effort and love matures over time." But the one thing that can pull you through even the driest droughts? "Having a team approach and having each others’ best interests in mind is essential."
If your relationship feels like it's had a romantic rift, read on. Ahead, you'll find expert advice on reigniting the flame between you and your better half. From tips on communicating to awakening those first-date butterflies, you'll be able to reconnect with the one who means the most — for better or for worse.
Figure Out Why You've Drifted Apart In The First Place
Erika Boissiere, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, says that the first step to reconnecting is figuring out why there's a divide. "It's important that couples first have a conversation about why they've drifted apart," she says. "Is it situational (work project, sudden travel, unexpected event) or something separate?" In addition to discovering the source of the problem, she notes, "this conversation, in and of itself, is a way of establishing a connection." Yip adds that "actionable asks" should also be part of this conversation. She gives the example: "'I miss you and want to feel closer. How about we make a date to have dinner together some time soon?'”
Identify & Verbalize Your Love Languages
If you've been with your significant other for awhile, you may think they know your love languages. However, Yip says this can be a source of misunderstanding. "Don’t assume that your partner can read your mind or knows how you feel most loved," she says. "Do you prefer that your partner cooks you dinner, buys you a thoughtful gift, lavishes you with affection, compliments you, or spends quality time with you? Talk about how you each prefer to give and receive love ... which increases your chances of feeling cared about."
Sexologist Stefani Threadgill, PhD, LMFT, and founder of The Sex Therapy Institute, notes that sexual intimacy can help satisfy each others' love languages. "Physical touch is known as one of the five ‘love languages,'" explains Dr. Threadgill. "I like to think in terms of one’s sexual language. Love is to desire as intimacy is to sex." After all, no matter what you and your partner best respond to — whether it be physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, or quality time — they can all be incorporated in the bedroom. She adds, "Connection necessitates a self-awareness of one’s own sexual and love language(s), a vulnerability to express yourself with your partner, and the willingness to see him or her authentically."
Clarify & Negotiate Your Expectations
Another point of miscommunication is when one or both sides aren't straightforward about their expectations. Yip says that couples should be clear about what they expect from each other, but they also have to compromise. "Be prepared to have an active negotiation about what each of you can realistically commit to," she advises. "Choose a small, doable goal, so you set yourself up for success by meeting your goals. For example, if your partner is in meetings all day, it might be hard to exchange texts throughout the day. Maybe a daily morning and/or an after work text is the realistic compromise."
Refrain From Blame
Boisierre points out that when it comes to having a thoughtful conversation, it's not just what you say, but how you say it. That means reframing your words (and your mindset) so your partner doesn't feel like they're getting the brunt of the blame. "Most couples fall into the classic trap of saying 'you' or blaming the other. For example, some might say 'Why don't you take me on dates anymore?' This often fuels an anxious, defensive, and usually unhelpful response from your partner."
Instead, she recommends a change in perspective. "I have my clients use 'I statements,'" she explains. "One could easily say, 'I'm feeling a bit lonely these days, and I'm wanting to be more connected to you.' Or, you could say, 'I miss you, and want to see you more. As hard as it can feel sometimes, try avoiding the word 'you' and ask yourself what is happening for you in this experience."
Focus On Fun
It sounds simple, but it's true: In the midst of our daily stresses and obligations, it's easy to forget to simply have fun with your better half. "If you’ve been feeling distant for awhile, choosing an activity to help you two reconnect could help take the pressure off of relying solely on conversation with one another," says Yip. "Try out a theme park, go to an improv show, go bowling, hold on to one another while you ice skate, check out that museum exhibit, take a class together — the important thing is to create positive experiences together."
Boissiere mentions that a little excitement can also shake couples out of a rut. "Try something completely brand new, but something that you're both interested in," she says. "Our brains crave novelty, and new experiences help fuel a deeper connection." (Perhaps taking a romantic getaway will do the trick!)
Take A Trip Down Memory Lane
When couples settle into a routine — or when things get hectic — it can be easy to put the relationship on the back burner. So when you're looking to discover your old spark, Yip suggests recalling the days when you and your partner first got together. "Remember when you first started dating and you planned fun, interesting, new things to do together?" she asks. "Follow that guiding principle of taking the effort and time to make your plans together."
Another way to relive the butterflies is by revisiting a meaningful place from your relationship. "You could go down memory lane and revisit that restaurant where you first met or go back to the bed and breakfast weekend spot where you celebrated a special occasion," she says. Boissiere adds that looking back may also be the key to rekindling romance. "An easy way to reconnect with your partner is to ask yourself, 'What has worked in the past?' Was it regular dates, a physical activity, or something else?"