If you want to revive your relationship, you need to do more than learn how to fight fair. An important feature of flourishing relationships is that they’re defined by considerable amounts of fun, play, novelty & pleasure. This includes satisfying sex and recreational activities, shared goals and a sense of “we-ness”. Bringing friendship, fun & shared pleasure into your relationship is vital to keeping it alive & well. Make this a priority as soon as possible.
Relationships stay happy only to the extent that you enjoy each other’s company. If you’ve lost the pleasure of being together, this is not only unpleasant. Research on couples shows that it’s dangerous! Gottman & Levenson (1999) found that “drifting apart” is a more common contribution to separation (60%) than intense fighting (40%).
A big factor in you deciding to become a couple was the joint pleasure you shared when you were dating. Positive emotions result from play, fun, humour, exploration, adventure, romance, passion & good sex. Make friendship & fun a high priority. Have pleasurable, conflict-free experiences together, like you had when you were dating.
A two hour weekly date
Your weekly dates should last at least two hours. During this time, don’t discuss any problems or difficult issues. Make a clear agreement that if conflict comes up during date time, that you’ll change the subject & set a separate time to discuss it. This is an essential rule if your goal is to create good times between you. Make sure that you schedule one hour every week for your state of the union meetings. This is an appointment you make with each other to have conversations about problems.
Also important, don’t use your dates to discuss practical issues like renovations or issues about your kids. Even if these topics don’t lead to arguments, this is not a good way to spend your precious alone time. You must make time to reconnect as lovers where novelty & pleasure are the focus. If your main ways of interacting are about managing the household, money, kids & care taking, anything that brings up parenthood & neediness tends to kill the erotic charge, says Esther Perel.
During your dates, talk like you don’t know each other well. Flirt with your partner. Share the details of your daily lives, the successes & good news, what you noticed during the day, the high & low points of your day, share jokes & funny stories. You probably did all of this when you were dating. Also talk about your individual & couple dreams for the future.
Effective couples counselling can teach you the skills to communicate well by asking questions & providing support in the way your partner requires.
The benefits of scheduling
If your relationship is struggling, you’re probably not scheduling pleasurable time together, including time for sex. Scheduling time for fun dates as well as for sex means you’ll get pleasure from the anticipation as well as the planned event. If you believe that spontaneity is necessary for romance, you may need help in letting go of this myth about sex so you can get the benefits which come from scheduling.
Improvement in any area in your relationship, often leads to improvement in others. More fun, hugs, compliments, sex & intimate involvement of all kinds can lead to beneficial changes, not only in your attachment, but in your abilities to fight fair, to understand yourselves more deeply, and to accept & forgive each other (Nielsen, 2018), if that’s a requirement. In some cases forgiveness is not necessary or even possible to move on from a betrayal (Spring, 2012). Acceptance in the hurt party may be enough to heal.
Fun, play, novelty & pleasure
The amount of fun partners have together predicts their overall level of relationship happiness. Fun often involves doing new things. Novelty is closely linked to play, both of which trigger positive emotions because the brain releases opioids, feel-good chemicals, when we’re having fun. Partners who focus on creating emotional safety above novelty & fun often find that boredom & loneliness overtake their relationship. These feelings often result in emotional or sexual affairs, as attempts to compensate for lack of fun, play, novelty & pleasure.
Play is one of seven primary-process emotions in our brains, according to Dr Jaak Panksepp. They are SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC and PLAY. Playing together helps couples rekindle their relationship and explore other forms of emotional intimacy, says Dr. Scott G. Eberle, editor of the American Journal of Play.
What did you enjoy doing when you first met? What new things would you like to do or experience together? What gets in the way of you doing some of those things? Talk about what blocks each of you from turning towards each other. Make a plan to counteract those blocks. Work together as a team on a new project called “Fun, play, novelty & pleasure for us.”
Ideas for fun & novelty
Here is a list of ideas of fun & enjoyable ideas you can share with your partner, adapted from Arthur C. Nielsen:
- Go for a walk or a jog
- Cook together
- Garden together
- Play cards or a board game
- Read a short story or book out loud and discuss it. Alternate who reads
- Go biking, bowling, canoeing, ice skating, or cross-country skiing
- Go dancing
- Attend a public lecture
- Attend a concert, play, or movie
- Explore your city as if you were tourists, and see the sights and museums you’ve never taken time to explore
- Go camping and/or hiking
- Learn or play a sport
- Take a class: cooking, dance, “continuing education,” whatever
- Join or organize a book or movie discussion group
- Join a community theatre group
- Participate in a community service project, like Blue Mountains Community Services
- Participate in a project or group organized by your religious community
- Participate in a political campaign or event
- Learn a language
- Travel—ideally, somewhere new; if possible, to a country where your new language is spoken
- Add your own …..
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Gottman, J.M. & Levenson, R.W (1999) What predicts change in marital interaction over time: A study of alternative models. Family Process, 38, 143-158.
Nielsen, Arthur C. (2018). A roadmap for couple therapy: Integrating systemic, psychodynamic, and behavioral approaches. New York: Routledge.
Spring, J.A. (2012). After the Affair: Healing the pain & rebuilding trust when a partner has been unfaithful. New York: Harper Collins.