Relationship rev up

Dear Alice,

What would you suggest I do to spice up my relationship with my boyfriend? We are no longer affectionate to each other like we used to be when we just met. Please help me. I am desperate for your advice.

Dear Reader,

As you settle into your relationship, it's pretty common for the initial flames of passion to die down a bit. But even if the flames aren’t a raging bonfire, there would ideally still be some fire burning in the pit and some heat to keep you both warm. When you say you're no longer affectionate with each other, you may find it useful to first ask yourself: What would I like to see change in this relationship? Affection can take many forms and mean many different things. What does this mean for you? For some people, a loss of affection may refer to a change in their actual feelings about their partner or about their relationship. For others, it may refer to a change in loving or caring behavior towards their partner, even if underlying feelings of love and affection remain the same. It may also refer to a decrease in the level of sexual intimacy or the frequency of sexual activity in the relationship. So perhaps you're thinking of one or two of these areas or maybe all of them apply in your situation. Whatever ways you may be thinking of, with some effort from everyone in the relationship, it can heat back up again.

While it's not always easy to identify the feelings you're experiencing, it may be useful to first assess your own feelings for you partner. The flavor of love in a relationship can change over time and this is typical. Over time, the very intense feelings that you first felt when you were falling for your partner can change. The feelings can become deeper, but less all-consuming than in the initial period of the romance. This doesn't mean that all passion and eroticism are gone from the relationship, only that the intense urgency of the previous feelings may be replaced by persistent feelings of love and affection. Some people, in taking stock of their feelings, may find that they their feelings have changed towards their partner, or they feel a strong connection with them, but one that no longer feels sexual. Check your own barometer on your feelings and see what your gauge reads. It may be useful to ask your boyfriend about his feelings. Have the two of you ever communicated about the lack of affection? If not, what might it be like to bring this up with him? See if you can get a sense from him about his feelings, as well.

If the two of you still have feelings for each other and both wish to stay together, talk about what each of you would like to see different in the relationship. Do you find you agree on the changes you’d like to see or that there are some areas of departure? Are there areas where compromise could be made? Here are some possible ways to increase the affection in your relationship:

  • Try carving out more time to spend together. This could include anything you enjoy, such as visiting new places, cooking meals together, or any number of activities.
  • Increase the affectionate touch that you have for each other outside the bedroom as it can increase overall passion. 
  • Designate a date night for you and your boyfriend, which could ensure an opportunity for some time to set a mood that could increase romance and affection.
  • Be open with each other about sex, including your wants, desires, and other emotions connected to sex. You can also try mixing up the type of sex you have to get away from any routine you may have formed. 

By sharing some of these ideas with your boyfriend, you may be closer to reigniting that affection. While talking about it may feel a bit uncomfortable, talking with each other about your needs in the relationship is a good first step in getting those needs met. You could start with mentioning how you can support each other such as, "When you do (insert affectionate action here), I feel loved by you. Can you do that more? Are there ways you'd like me to show you more affection?" Even if you initially change your behavior, it may not mean that you suddenly feel closer to each other. Keep at it for a while, even if it feels like a lot of work. Relationships in real life (unlike relationships in movies), do take work. They're like gardens that require upkeep (or fires that need to be stoked). Healthy relationships need both partners’ attention. Be curious about each other’s needs, willing to think about and share your own, and willing to work together to meet as much of those needs as feels reasonable for each person.

If working this out on your own feels like it still isn’t getting you anywhere, trying couples counseling is another good option. A mental health professional can help you both notice what patterns may be interfering with the intimacy or affection in the relationship and may be able to help you both learn to shift those patterns.

Here’s to reigniting the passion pilot light!

Last updated Jan 25, 2019
Originally published May 24, 1996

Can’t find information on the site about your health concern or issue?