When the sizzle starts to fizzle in a long-term relationship, what can we do?
First off, this is arguably a good sign. A deeper step into the relationship which indicates whether you have the staying power, the commitment, and the love there to build something sturdy with your chosen human.
There are, of course, other signposts to check in with yourself around:
- Am I happy (most of the time)?
- Do I feel safe with this person?
- Do I feel like I can be myself with them?
- Are we still open to growing together?
If you are a ‘yes’ to these foundational things, then keep going, honey. You got this. Bumps and humps are normal. Elements like the menstrual cycle, unforeseen life events, mental health challenges, seasons, grief and even, the damn moon can affect how we relate to our beloved.
I want to state that I am by no means a relationship expert. I have had my share of long-term relationships that brought me bountiful lessons, gifts, love and sexual experiences. I still want to acknowledge staying can be hard and is not always the right thing. So, when you check in with your sweet soul on this, maybe ask: are you scared to drop deeper into the mundane, secure parts of love or is your soul truly unsatisfied with this love right now?
There is no one-stop-shop for metaphorical relationship band-aids. What will there be?
Deep, slow, flowing day-in-and-out with a person who you let see you cry tears of joy when you get that dream job and then later that night, cut your toenails. It will be real AF, always. A strong relationship is never a dream, but arguably more beautiful, and hopefully, with strong doses of laughter to get you through the weird bits. Like when you accidentally give your mother-in-law (to be) food poisoning with your terrible undercooked Christmas spread.
Calling in wise love experts
In the lead up to writing this article, I will be honest and admit that I got mad imposter syndrome. How could I write about long-term love? I come out as queer in my early twenties, had a shotgun Covid-19 wedding to the first woman I fell in love with and later, a Covid divorce. What could I possibly bring to the table here? I thought. But as with all things relationship-related, you have to ask your soul: am I just scared to go that deep or is it actually a ‘no’ for me?
I reached out to the most beloved beloveds I know – my grandparents. These lovers have seen each other through wars, deaths, international house moves, childbirths, heart attacks, chemo and, I’m sure, a few secret disagreements I will never be privy to. I figure that surely, they are onto something. There must be a piece there that I am still learning, integrating, and wrapping my heart around understanding. Time to bring in their wisdom.
You and me against the world
When I asked my dad’s mother what advice she could offer, she sent me a photo of a card she bought my grandfather fifty-three years ago when he was having a bad day. It read ‘You and Me Against the World’, and featured two cartoon lovers standing back-to-back. Inside, she’d written a simple message: “This seems to have worked for us”, followed by another message that said, “also, love and care, and compromise sometimes.” True to her free Sagittarian spirit, compromise (sometimes) is a key message, too. We want to feel like we are on the same team as our sweetheart, fighting the world together – not fighting each other and then having to face the world.
Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes let your lover win.
Go out of your way to be kind, and even when you’re tired, keep your heart open.
Next, I called on my maternal grandmother, a fierce but tiny half-Greek woman who has lived a colourful life. Her advice? “Have days where you say yes to everything”. Oh and, “laugh, laugh, laugh”. By that, she meant together.
Days where you try the grilled snail extravaganza for lunch, skinny dip at dusk, dance the flamenco on the street to the busker’s guitar, and open the fancy bottle of wine on a Tuesday night because life is short. And you may not have everything you desire, but you have love. You are loved. Let yourself feel that love, and allow it to flow through each other, your food, the way you play, the way you tell each other stories, both new and old. How you laugh with each other more often than at each other.
Love is all around
I’m cringing at myself before even writing the words, but as the Beatles put it, “Love is all around”. They were absolutely onto something: love is a co-creative force that is maintained through hard work, creativity, compassion, and patience. But no one in the world owns love. Love is a feeling, a vibration, an ongoing experience and an expression of secure relational attachment. Love never fully leaves us, sometimes it is just in hiding. Perhaps, behind something like frustration, jealousy, sadness, feelings of betrayal, or unmet needs.
Learning how to communicate what we want from our relationship through crystal clear, gentle and intentional words is vital in maintaining a healthy and lasting connection. When someone knows us so well, we might think they can read our mind with some kind of telekinesis magic. Unfortunately, it ain’t so.
Talk the talk
Practising asking for what you need in life, desire in the bedroom and expressing any boundaries in both places will ultimately make you feel more secure, heard and keep that lovey-dovey good stuff flowing. Notice your tone and choice of words, avoid berating and opt for what I like to call ‘compliment sandwiches’. That’s where you sandwich the part that might be hard to hear between two things you adore about someone. You might say:
"Darling, I adore your enthusiasm for life so very much. I just want to point out that every time you come over you never ask ‘how my day was’, and that can hurt a bit sometimes. I know you are such a caring person, could you try to keep this in mind for me?"
Making people feel bad or wrong in general is kind of a sucky move. Especially when it comes to keeping the leaves of love on your relationship tree lush, fresh and blooming. And if you occasionally mess it up and lose your marbles, and your beloved catches the fall after a big day that ends in you saying something less than loving, learn to be wrong. Learn to apologise. Learn to make bringing the love back your number one priority.
"Honey, I lost my marbles last night. That was so unfair of me. I’m sorry, you didn’t deserve that. Can I make it up to you by buying you an ice cream and taking you to that jetty where we first made out?"
Practice keeping your heart soft, your gaze loving, your words honest but sweet, your mind open to experimenting with ways of being kind to each other and learn to find the exquisite calmness that can come from the mundane parts of love.