After you’ve rolled around together a few thousand times, sex can become rote, which is, to use the technical term, a bummer. People in long-term relationships do all kinds of things to try to keep the passion alive—dressing in costumes, role playing, bringing gizmos and gadgets into the bedroom.
Or they could try just talking, suggests a study titled “Day-to-Day Changes in Intimacy Predict Heightened Relationship Passion, Sexual Occurrence, and Sexual Satisfaction.”
Not any old talking, but the kind of talk that advances intimacy. That is, self-disclosure; telling your partner stuff he or she didn’t know about you. Of course, this only works when your partner responds with warmth and sympathy. And vice versa.
The researchers theorize that one reason passion is so high in budding relationships is because couples are learning about each other, and each sympathetically received self-disclosure causes passion to flare. Over time, however, the revelations slow, the new information dries up, intimacy reaches a plateau, and sex hits the doldrums.
Some researchers consider passion an emotion that is experienced as physiological desire. It’s also a motivational emotion—it motivates you to want to get that fine piece into bed.
That’s all well and good, but genuine emotions are difficult to impossible to conjure out of thin air. Chances are you can’t just look at a partner of, say, 10 years, and elicit passion from nothing new. You need something to trigger the emotion, and this study suggests that self-disclosure leads to intimacy leads to passion. (Although the article points out that this is not a great tactic for a first date. TMI usually is not an aphrodisiac.)
The study was done with 67 heterosexual couples, average age of 27.39 for the men, 25.96 for women, and the average relationship length was 48.6 months. Participants filled out daily diaries individually. Both men and women filled out an average of about 19 daily diaries.
The researchers found a connection between feelings of intimacy and sexual activity and satisfaction with sexual activity. They also found that if one member of a couple felt a boost in intimacy, it boosted passion for both.
…although it may tend to decay over time, passionate love can be fed and kept alive within relationships, where partners actively pursue fresh discoveries about each other and thus fuel continued growth in intimacy.
How to use this in the real world?
Certainly doing new things together is good for relationships. The novelty of something new is close enough to the novelty of a new relationship to bring a little zip to things.
…couples in long-term, and generally satisfying, relationships who take part in novel and arousing activities experience a boost in relationship satisfaction. These novel experiences appear to recreate the relatively rapid intimacy growth present in new relationships, where novel shared experiences are common.
Doing something new together can show you a completely new aspect of your longtime honey. (“Wow, he wasn’t scared at all on that zipline. Who knew he was so brave?”)
Perhaps, too, a certain amount of autonomy can help a relationship because if individuals are out having their own experiences, they each have something new to bring home to the other, providing opportunities for new self-disclosure. (This might just be my take on it though, because I have never been, could never be, part of a joined-at-the-hip couple. The very thought makes me hyperventilate.)
But probably the most important take-home here is that women’s need to talk about feeeeeeelings is not just a way to irritate their menfolk. It is a way of keeping intimacy growing and therefore, increasing passion. So instead of sighing and bracing for subtle torture when they hear the words, “We need to talk,” men in long-term relationships should remind themselves that a good talk might very well lead to other good things.