For those of us in healthy, monogamous relationships, it can be very jarring to develop a crush. These intense, usually passing, infatuations are like siren calls that disrupt our composure and wrest our attention away from our significant others.
That's because crushes are intoxicating, literally. "With new love comes an increase in dopamine and adrenaline and a decrease in serotonin," explains Jess O'Reilly, Astroglide's resident sexologist. "This chemical shift results in feelings of obsession, desire, and idealization."
How could a known, tried-and-true spouse compete with such excitement? It wouldn't be a fair fight. After all, passion tends to fade after two or three years, making crushes and long-term relationships, by definition, irreconcilable.
But what if it were possible to cultivate a crush on our current partner? It sounds a little silly, but by nurturing such feelings, we could simultaneously strengthen our partnerships and guard against the temptation to cheat.
Inspired by this possibility, I decided to ask some therapists and matchmakers to share their ideas on ways to add sparks to an already steady fire.
Recapture the initial attraction.
Why did you fall in love with this person in the first place? If you can remember how you felt way back then, you might be able to get back into that emotional place.
"For me, I always remember my husband, at the end of the aisle, on the day we married," says Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. "Never lose that feeling. It's the sparkle of the relationship that keeps it alive."
Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health expert and family care professional, explains how one pair of clients had recaptured that lost crush feeling: Earlier in their relationship, the husband had impressed his wife with his expert yard work. Yet recently due to office demands, the couple had been hiring others to complete those tasks. Itching to see her husband "get down and dirty, to ignite a spark that was beginning to fade," she told him a white lie—that their usual gardener was unavailable—and asked him to step in. While he worked, she "felt things she hadn't felt in a while and seriously crushed on him."
It can sound ridiculous, but sometimes just going through the motions and recreating old dynamics like this from the past can instantly put you back in that mental state.
But developing those butterfly feelings for your spouse or long-term partner again isn't all about getting back to the past. There also needs to be a sense of difference for passion to thrive, explains Ken Page, psychotherapist, host of the Deeper Dating podcast, and author of Deeper Dating: How To Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy. "In long-term relationships, sameness takes over. In order to maintain comfort, we smooth our rough edges and become more of the person our partner wants us to be."
To grow these gaps, Page recommends trying to "express the parts of ourselves that we have been too timid to reveal, the parts we have ignored, denied, or airbrushed." For instance, O'Reilly suggests talking about topics that "get you riled up," like controversial issues or fantasies. Tease, debate, and watch the sexual tension mount.
Raffi Bilek, couples counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, also recommends "giving each other space to pursue the things that drive you in life, and then stand back and watch your partner. Seeing them shine at the things they do best is a great way to keep the crush going." This is also a great way to raise your individual energy levels, he says—when you're excited about your hobbies, you share that excitement with each other, and the whole relationship gains a new energy from it.
In addition to exploring separate interests, O'Reilly suggests scheduling some separate social plans and not sharing every detail of your day.
"If your lover leaves space for mystery and creates opportunities for new experiences and revelations, you are more likely to crush on them," she says. "The unknown can be attractive, as it leaves space for nervousness, risk, and uncertainty. You might assume that these feelings are bad for a relationship, but if they are underpinned by trust, love, and commitment, they can create excitement, desire, and passion."
Try to view your partner through another person's eyes.
Although you can't idealize your partner (after all, you know they leave their dirty socks on the floor), you can choose to focus on their assets. One really great way to see them in a new, positive light once more is to try to experience your partner around new people and in new situations. This might just allow you to see them how other people see them.
"You see your partner as the person you interact with around the house, but they play multiple roles, and you might find that seeing them in another role allows another side of them to shine through," O'Reilly says. "They might be a follower around the house because you set the tone, but they might be a shark who dominates with ease at work. These new discoveries can reignite your interest and spark feelings of desire."
Seek out novelty and risk together.
Novelty is a key ingredient in crushes, so it's worth infusing newness into your relationship. "The research shows that doing scary and novel things together helps to create that in-love feeling," Page says. He suggests intimacy workshops, mountain-climbing, and volunteer work as a few potential ways to do this. (The latter "deepens the emotional impulse, where we can see the goodness in our partners.")
O'Reilly also urges taking (calculated) risks together, such as venturing to nude beaches. "When you take small risks together or overcome shared challenges, it can deepen intimacy and excitement and recall those crush-like feelings you experienced when you first met," she says.
Make your partner feel special.
Everyone loves to feel appreciated, and yet "couples in long-term relationships often report that they feel taken for granted," says marriage and family therapist Christine Scott-Hudson.
After all, as O'Reilly points out, most people stop flirting with their partners over time—and that affection becomes sorely missed, even if no one ever admits it. A few ways to bring that energy back? O'Reilly suggests laughing and being playful and positive, touching seductively when in public, looking at your partner when they enter a room, and kissing goodbye with the tongue.
Daily love notes can also be a great way to revive the crush factor. "I had been working with a couple who had become more roommates than lovers," Scott-Hudson says. "They were feeling bored and becoming strangers… Leaving these daily love notes brought back earlier crush feelings for this couple. The husband appreciated his wife sharing that she was still attracted to him."
Make an effort.
"Being attracted to your partner is a choice," Page says. "And those crush feelings can absolutely be cultivated."
While feelings for others can be thrilling, Trombetti reminds us that they reside in fantasyland. "Since your crush on your partner is based on reality, it should be bigger than other crushes."
After all, your long-term relationship is the real deal.
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