At the beginning of your relationship, you’d stay up for hours just talking and, well, doing other stuff. Fast-forward a few years into your marriage and the last time you were up until dawn was because your kid had the flu. And it’s not just that your circumstances have changed—most likely your spouse has too. “Your wants, needs and desires are different now than when you first got together,” explains sex therapist Christopher Ryan Jones, Psy.D. “Each of you has new likes and dislikes, which change over time. Some couples panic when they realize this and think it’s a bad thing when actually this is the perfect opportunity to reconnect and keep the passion and romance alive in the relationship.”
It’s totally normal for your love life to fizzle over time, but just because it happens to most couples doesn’t mean you need to accept the status quo. Instead, take advantage of this lull to bring the spark back to your relationship. Here’s how to spice up your marriage, according to the experts.
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1. Re-create Your Favorite Dates
The go-to advice for keeping your relationship healthy? Make date nights a regular thing again. “Many couples change the dynamics of their relationship once they get married,” says Jones. “The things they did when dating, they no longer do, because subconsciously they feel that effort is no longer needed.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth, he argues. While some things in life may change after marriage, the way you interact with your partner shouldn’t.
So how do you keep things interesting? “Think of your favorite past dates and re-create them,” advises dating expert Maria Sullivan, vice president of Dating.com. No, you don’t have to go back to the exact same college bar where you met, but you can stick with the same idea or sequence of events (e.g., drinks, dinner and then a long walk under the stars) so that you’re reminded of an evening you both have fond memories of. “Not only will you get major brownie points for the romance, but you’ll also automatically ignite the flames you felt during that original date,” says Sullivan.
2. TRY ROLE PLAY
Look, everyone has fantasies (which is a good thing, because the day-to-day can be really stressful or, you know, boring). And a little role play is a great way to escape the routine. Sit down with your partner and brainstorm some ideas (plus talk about boundaries). Then the fun can begin. “Role play shouldn’t just start in the bedroom,” says Jones. “Make an entire production out of it by going and doing things that you and your partner normally wouldn’t do.” Think getting dressed up and meeting at a hotel bar using fake names before making your way to a bedroom upstairs. “Not only will you (hopefully) have great sex at the end of the day, but you may also discover some things that you both like that neither of you would have tried doing otherwise.”
3. SCHEDULE IT IN
Adding “sexy time” to your Google calendar for 9:30 p.m. might not scream romance, but when you have a bajillion things on your to-do list every day, it’s kind of a necessity. “This will help ensure that sex stays a priority and over time will have you looking forward to and getting excited by your scheduled sexy time,” says clinical psychologist Britney Blair, Psy.D., cofounder of Lover. (Just make sure you add it to your personal calendar and not your work one.)
4. Bring Sex Toys into the Bedroom
Sometimes the thing you need to add a little spice to the relationship is a healthy dose of playfulness. And what’s synonymous with play? Toys. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things in the bedroom—including adding some accessories into the mix. Here are five sex toys to get you started.
5. Or Some Erotica
Blair suggests incorporating sexy or exciting stories into your relationship, either in written, visual or audible form. “This is a great way to help you prime your desire,” she says. FYI: Erotica isn’t all 50 Shades of Grey. For quality smut, try The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon or anything by Ann Bannon.
6. Seek Counseling
When the going gets tough, the tough get help. If your relationship has started to feel a little stale lately, there is no stigma or shame in going to therapy. “Couples may come to sex therapy for any number of reasons,” says Jones. “They might feel that they have lost romantic feelings toward one another, or one of the partners may want to explore areas of sexuality that the other partner is not comfortable with.” Another common concern? Mismatched libidos. Therapy can provide a safe space to open up communication to discuss wants and desires.
7. Take a Class Together
Here’s a fun way to get out of a relationship rut: Sign up for a class or activity. Doing something new feels exciting and might even get those competitive juices going, which can be very sexy (your partner looks great in tennis shorts, after all). It doesn’t matter if it’s a cooking class, a kickball team or an intimate yoga class for couples—just try something new together. Even if it’s a total bust, at least you’ll get a good laugh out of it, right?
8. Don’t Wait Until You’re in the Mood
Fact: The spontaneous desire for sex decreases over time. So if you’re in a long-term relationship and waiting until you feel an impromptu urge, well, you could be waiting a while. “Many people only desire sex after they become sexually aroused,” says Blair. “We call this responsive desire, and it is just as valid and fun as spontaneous desire—and to be honest, more common.” Translation? Even if you’re not in the mood, once you get going, you’ll probably start to enjoy yourself.
9. Get Sweaty
“I know I’m not the first doctor to tell you that exercise is important, but I might be the first to tell you that exercise is a proven way to drive up your sexual desire,” says Blair. In fact, one study from the University of Texas showed that after just 20 minutes of exercise, participants reported more interest in sex. There are a few possible reasons for this, like exercise helping to relieve stress (a major desire buster) and also build confidence (which drives up desire). Another factor? “Exercise increases blood to the genitals, which helps with arousal and orgasm.” So there you have it: Challenge your partner to a run—and then race him to the bedroom.
10. Excite the Senses
You want to create a sexy atmosphere…but how do you do that, exactly? Here’s a tip: Break it down by the five senses. Starting with sight, for example, means you want your erotic play space to be inviting to the eye. That might mean decreasing clutter in the bedroom, installing some dim lighting or adding some beautiful bedding. For sound, build a sexy playlist (or find one on Spotify). “Music is a very powerful manipulator that can get people in the mood immediately and enhance the erotic experience,” says Blair. For the sense of smell, you could light a scented candle that you only use when you’re about to have sex. “This can create a conditioned response that builds anticipation when either partner lights that candle.” Continue working your way through the senses and you’ll be ripping each other’s clothes off in no time (or at the very least, you’ll have a tidier bedroom).
11. Don’t Stress
Remember what we said earlier about periods of lesser intimacy being totally normal? “Don’t beat yourself up if your commitment to engaging and enriching your erotic mind falls off your radar from time to time,” says Blair. Instead, pour yourself a glass of wine, play some Barry White and vow to recommit to this important part of your well-being.
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