4 Ways To Bring Passion Back Into A Relationship
After 30 years of researching what works in helping couples revive their relationships, including sex, I simply can't just buy into the idea that adding new things to your sex life is the secret to reviving a relationship. The lists of strange sex toys, suggestions for rough sex (obviously choking gets exciting—the fear of death arouses almost everybody!), and scenarios for role-play are endless. But ultimately, we all know that there are really only so many ways to "do it." The constant seeking for novelty has to fail. Instead, here are a few surprising but surefire ways to rekindle intimacy and bring passion back into a relationship or marriage:
1. Focus on the emotional connection.
When it comes to bringing passion back into a relationship, part of the problem is that we haven't understood passion very well to begin with. Most of us attempt to rekindle passion in our relationships on the wrong level—on the surface. But there's a reason we have the instinctual impulse to label sex as "making love": Passion involves emotional connection in addition to erotic play.
Let's take a close look at the definition of passion for a moment, as it may change the way we approach passionate love. The word passion comes from the Latin, passio-, "to suffer." Even disregarding the implications of "suffering," one thing is clear: Passion necessarily involves intense emotional engagement.
Yet so many couples lose sight of this. Once in a couple's therapy session, my client Sam explained, "I guess I got used to turning off my emotions and just going through the moves in bed with Linda. I wasn't really there with her. Sex was just a set of steps leading to an orgasm. It was a dance, but there was no music, no emotion."
Sam and Linda's predicament pretty aptly sums up why passion can quickly become diminished in a relationship: There is a dance with no music. The motions happen, but there isn't any joy to inspire and guide them. The key to bringing the passion back into a relationship is finding ways to increase emotional connection, including the emotional sexual connection.
2. Tune into the emotional music that's already there.
This means slowing down and listening for the signals coming from your partner. As Sam said in our last session, "It's kind of like we start with the question 'Where are you?' when we are in bed." From there, they each pay attention to the "vibes" coming from one another in a different way.
The specific emotion here is "longing." Science is clear: Humans can just copulate for the sake of sensation, but mostly mating is wired into our need for loving connection. That's why Sam explained to Linda, "I don't just want an orgasm. I want to feel desired, longed for." The thrill here comes from the risk of opening up to each other, showing need and longing and then the joy of finding the other person is there, there, there. When we face rejection with a lover and then find our way back to them again, this risk and relief is part of the thrill of what people call "make-up sex."
Of course, the other word that stands out here is play. To experience play with someone, we need a certain safety so that we can let go and be absorbed in the moment. It's hard to watch your back and really get caught up in pleasurable sensation at the same time. Safe emotional connection also frees us up space so that we are able to reveal our sexual needs and desires to our lover. The result? Feeling desired, having our desires met, and more passion!
3. Share with each other. A lot.
Did you know that sharing is a great springboard into passionate sex?
One of Sam and Linda's former problems in their sex life was actually an emotional problem: sharing. He explained, "Confiding in Linda was something that I used to avoid at all costs." A huge aspect of having passionate sex is honesty, trust, and general emotional openness. When we close off to our partners emotionally, we bring this "closed" energy into the bedroom, and needless to say, it doesn't lead to sparks flying. Now, Sam and Linda are in a different place. He explained, "When we share deeper stuff, it takes sex to a whole new level."
Of course, it's easy to lose touch with the importance of being deeply honest with our partners, especially over time. And it's even easier to forget that there is a profound connection between honesty and passionate sex. But the good news is that we can recall this fact whenever we are ready to make the changes necessary to revive the passion in our relationships. We can literally choose to fall into passionate love again and again by reprioritizing open and honest communication. Maybe this is why those who report that most thrilling sex are not the one-night-stand aficionados but long-term lovers.
4. Pay total attention to the mating dance.
Passion is work; there's no doubt about it. And perhaps ironically, honoring the importance of "play" itself actually requires quite a bit of work. But of course, the definition of "work" here doesn't mean it's unpleasant or rote. It implies allowing yourself to become fully engaged and tuned into an activity. Paying attention to your needs, to your lover's needs, and communicating them is work. And this work is 100% essential for a passionate sex life.
Most animals who mate and stay together engage in a mating dance. Once, I watched two swans mirror each other's movements, dip their heads in turn and in rhythm, slowly entwine their necks, and sway away and toward each other. It was a perfect, coordinated, totally synchronized dance. The swans were oblivious to me coming nearer and nearer because they only had eyes for each other.
Basically, passion comes when we give our attention totally to sex (hint, turn your cellphone off) and truly tune into the mating dance. When we get distracted by a focus on performance—how we look to our observing ego—we never reach this level of presence. Linda, for instance, explained to me, "I thought I was bored in bed with Sam. But I was just busy worrying about being sexy and seething about our fights. Now I realize that I just wasn't paying attention!"
All this reminded me of a moment when I was learning Argentine Tango. One night, I danced with a new and very experienced partner. He suddenly stopped in the middle of the crowded floor and said, "What are you doing?" "Dancing," I replied. "No," he explained, "You are off in your head, figuring out the steps and grading how good they are. You are not with me, and you are not feeling the rhythm of this music. You don't have to prove how good you are to me. Just stay with me, tune in, and let the feeling move you—let my signals move you. The dance is not the steps. It's how we are together."
In other words, my dancing partner explained the essence of truly passionate love to me. Don't just hear the music in your relationship. Listen to it. Honor it. And, of course, dance your heart out to it!
Sue Johnson, M.A., EdD, is a clinical psychologist, author of the bestselling book Hold Me Tight, and the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT), a popular form of couples therapy with effectiveness demonstrated in over 30 years of peer-reviewed clinical research. She is also the founder of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy and has trained thousands of therapists around the world.
Johnson is a Distinguished Research Professor at Alliant University in San Diego, California, as well as a Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology at the University of Ottawa. She has received a variety of awards acknowledging her development of EFT and her significant contribution to the field of couple and family therapy and adult attachment, including being named Psychologist of the Year by the American Psychological Association in 2016. She has a doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of British Columbia.