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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Olivia Petter

How to keep the spark alive in a relationship

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It’s one of the most frequently asked questions by those in long-term relationships: how do you keep the spark alive?

For the uninitiated, the spark is everything. At least in a romantic sense.

It’s flirting over takeaway curry in your pajamas on a Sunday night. It’s laughing at the jokes you’ve heard them tell a thousand times before. It’s coming home from work after a long day and planting a giant snog on each other.

But what happens when the spark starts to fade? It’s an inevitable fate, particularly for couples who have been together for many years.

Don’t lose hope, though, there are many ways to reignite one’s spark, according to relationship psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree. You just need to put in the work, and possibly re-frame your expectations of long-term love.

Spend at least 15 hours of quality time together each week

Many people in long-term relationships focus on forging time for independence, whether it’s through hobbies or socialising.

While this is certainly important when it comes to the longevity of any relationship, as Mason points out, it’s crucial to also remember to make time for one another.

“By spending a sizable amount of quality time together each week, you strengthen and reinforce the relationship,” she explains.

Quality time could be anything from going for a walk together, or sitting down for a meal. Just be sure to keep your phones away; nothing ruins romance quite like a screen.

“There may be couples who can’t bear to spend a huge amount of time together, and their relationship may be more functional than emotionally connected,” Mason adds.

“This advice would not make sense to them. But for those who appreciate the spark and emotional connection, spending quality time together enhances the relationship bonds.”

Practise the five-to-one rule

For every negative interaction, balance it out with five positive ones, says Mason.

“Adopt a mindset of positive affirmation,” she adds. “Remember to tell your partner that you care about them, give them compliments and positive feedback at every opportunity.

“Show your gratitude for the things they do. Allow for celebrations of any successes or personal highlights.”

This is crucial to maintaining the spark because it will reinforce mutual respect and admiration of one another.

“Think of every positive encounter as a deposit, and you want to make as many deposits as possible,” Mason explains.

“Every negative encounter is a withdrawal. You want to have far more ‘social currency’ deposited to mitigate for any withdrawals. The greater the amount of positive deposits, the easier it becomes to overcome relational difficulties.”

Plan for fun

This one sounds simple because it is. There’s a lot of bad press surrounding organised fun, but in long-term relationships, it’s essential.

Not just because both of you will inevitably have busy lives with many commitments spanning both professional and personal lives, but because it’s all too easy to forget that, among of the domestic tediousness that comes with long-term love, you can still have a good time with your partner.

“As time goes on, the relationship gets taken for granted and there is a tendency to forget to nurture the fun and intimacy,” explains Mason.

“Make it a habit to spend time together where you engage in activities that are not sedate. This can also extend to the sex life, where if couples initially work at having sex regularly it (ironically) can become spontaneous.”

Manage your expectations

A major area in relationship psychology is looking at how we need to manage our expectations from love, says Mason.

The trouble is that after years of social conditioning and rom-coms, our perception of romance is somewhat warped and, well, unrealistic.

This can not only hinder our love lives, but mean we’re all too quick to give up on relationships when we feel like the honeymoon period has gone. However, when it comes to long-term love, that’s often when the real relationship begins, says Mason.

“You have to want to elevate your partner and ‘invest’ in the relationship,” she explains.

“For example, many couples argue about who did what when and who’s turn it is to do something. The arguments evolve around the idea that relationships are and must be ‘50/50’.

“This is unhelpful and keeps people thinking in terms of losses and gains. Unintentionally your partner becomes somebody you have to argue with, rather than a source of warmth, relaxation, and fun.”

Don’t let the small things build up

It’s not necessarily the big disagreements that erode a relationship, it’s the numerous smaller negative ones that do, says Mason.

“It’s the minor annoyances, like not taking the rubbish out, or consistently forgetting to replace the loo roll that don’t get mentioned.”

While these might seem insignificant, they often point to a larger disagreement or conflict within the relationship.

“It’s the snarky comments, the eye rolls, the huffs and sighs, the put-downs that don’t get talked about,” says Mason.

“Insidiously these small annoyances that don’t get mentioned or talked about, but build up over time and fester as resentment.”

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