Understanding why the spark is gone is half the battle
It’s Friday night and the time is right, you want to have some fun, show each other how it’s done, TGIF. But wait, you’re exhausted, the laundry is piling up, the dishes are still sitting there, and you’ve got plans for the weekend (and it’s not to just relax).
Years ago, it wouldn’t have mattered what you needed to do, you and your partner would’ve jumped passionately into each other’s as soon as you got home, and everything else could’ve waited. Instead, you find yourself barely acknowledging your partner because you’re caught up in whatever you’re doing, you give them a peck on the cheek, and you meet up again to either watch a TV show or say goodnight. You still love your partner, but the intensity is gone. The days of constant sex seem forever ago and both of you have noticed it enough to sigh about your new reality, but you’re too tired to really do anything about it.
Let’s call our imaginary couple Shawn and Shelley, and see what their sex-life is like. Another Saturday rolls around and Shelley realizes that she and Shawn haven’t had sex in weeks. That night, she starts kissing Shawn when they get into bed. They are both exhausted but it seems like they should do it. After all, isn’t that what healthy couples do? So, Shawn rolls over on her, intercourse happens in missionary position, and 5-7 minutes later he orgasms. The whole event took place in the dark, not much talking happened, and they immediately go to sleep after. Shelley may or may not have orgasmed, and if they were feeling frisky, maybe they tried one other position and groaned a bit more.
Sound familiar? Sex Therapists call this heteronormative sexuality, and it’s the trap that is a natural response to being with the same partner for a while (also, don’t let it fool you because it can affect homosexual couples too).
“You have to work at it and you have to create new stimuli in your relationship.”
There are at least two factors that lead to this response. One is called habituation, whereby our brain stops responding to the same stimulus as intensely as it once did. This is adaptive, and it’s the same response we have to winter. When winter first strikes, it’s a big deal and it seems really cold at -5 degrees. But if it was -5 in the middle of January, we’d all be jumping for joy and probably wearing T-shirts again.
Our brain is designed to respond more to new information, and as that new information becomes repetitive, our brain doesn’t pay as much attention to it. So, when you’re first dating, a new stimulus in your brain is lighting up and you can’t get enough sex or intimacy with that novel person. But, after enough time, your brain doesn’t respond the same way and that person doesn’t produce the same response.
The other factor, which is related, is well-researched by Dr. Helen Fisher in her book “The Anatomy of Love” (among others) and suggests that the human brain is designed for three stages of love as an evolutionary mechanism. The first stage is lust, driven by testosterone and estrogen, which causes us to be voracious for our partner. The second stage is attraction, driven by adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, which causes us to be love-struck by our partner, the time that we don’t think straight and lose sleep. The third stage is attachment, driven by oxytocin and vasopressin, and leads to a longer-lasting commitment.
Put habituation and the three stages of love together and people are left with the normal effect of heteronormative sexuality. Here’s the thing though – it doesn’t have to be like this. Just because there are factors that contribute to it, it doesn’t mean it’s an inevitability, and it doesn’t mean you can’t change it. If you understand the mechanisms at play here, you are already understanding how to change it.
To prevent habituation, you have to work at it and you have to create new stimuli in your relationship. Just because the person is the same, doesn’t mean that they can’t stimulate you differently. We have five senses to take advantage of here.
What excites you visually? Actually turning the lights on and looking at each other perhaps? Lingerie? Looking into each other’s eyes? What arouses you with touch? Gentle or hard? Where do you like to be touched? Make sure you tell your partner because they can’t read your mind no matter how much you wish they could. What about smells? Do you have a favourite fragrance your partner can wear? Is it better to try after, or in, a shower? Ever think about taste? Do you need your partner to brush their teeth first? Would it help to involve flavours on your partner’s body? You could try fruit or something candy-like. Finally, our sense of hearing is also often overlooked. Do you like to hear dirty-talk? Is it sexy to have some Barry White in the background? Does it turn you on when your partner screams? Tell them.
If you take into account the fact that an attached relationship will likely be challenged by losing that spark, you can take that as an opportunity to make a more meaningful connect with your partner, since that opportunity wouldn’t exist if it was just based on the novelty of a new person. Notice how you would actually have to communicate with your partner about all those five senses? That’s what builds intimacy, knowing your partner, and allowing yourself to be known. Sounds a bit scary doesn’t it? It is, but that’s how you know it’s worth it. If you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone you wouldn’t be right where you are now. That’s fine if you choose, but if you want a spark, you’ll need to soothe yourself as you try something new.
10 Tips To Get That Spark Back
- Know what you like by thinking about it and experimenting on your own with all five senses.
- Tell your partner what you want and ask them what they want.
- Don’t take anything personally – you have to allow your partner the freedom to express themselves – you don’t have to agree, just understand.
- Set your own limits and boundaries and be assertive about them – sometimes a fantasy is better talked about than actually lived.
- Set aside 30 minutes each week to talk about sex and set goals for the week – ie. In the next week I’d like to try having sex after we have a shower together.
- Go easy on yourself and don’t get too upset if the spark is gone – this is normal if you don’t do anything about it.
- Do it differently – nobody gets excited about having bad sex, so don’t do it if it’s because you feel you should.
- Have sex because you want to, and create reasons to want it – ie. Pleasure, connection, etc.
- Intercourse is a very small part of the sexual experience – don’t make it the only part.
- Take the loss of spark as an opportunity to create meaningful and deep bonds with your partner.