Passion in relationships is often thought of as a strong emotional or sexual connection to one’s partner. While this is often a start to many relationships, sustaining that intense enthusiasm can be difficult over time. In fact, relationships that are based on passion alone often struggle because they do not make room for the reality that our feelings often wax and wane.
Relationships founded on passion alone also tend to struggle with the fact that partners see an idealized version of one another and there is sometimes little room for the variety of feelings both positive and negative that one can feel for someone that they are in a long-term relationship with. Passion-based relationships can also can also struggle with a competitive or tit-for-tat quality that has partners playing for opposites sides rather than working together as a team (Walser and Westrup, 2009).
While having a strong emotional connection to your partner can feel amazing, it can be more helpful to build a sense of connection that is focused more on vitality rather than on raw emotion or sexual chemistry. In this case, vitality refers to a sense of liveliness or active engagement in the relationship (Walser and Westrup, 2009). This level of investment in the relationship can help your bond to stand the natural ups and downs that all relationships face as changes take place and stress comes and goes.
There are some helpful practices that allow you to focus on building a sense of connection and vitality in your relationship (adapted from Walser and Westrup, 2009):
Be mindful of the sound of your relationship. Pay attention not only to what your partner says but to the sounds of laughter, tears or the voice crack of pure excitement.
Appreciate your partner’s physical presence such as the warmth you feel as you sit next to each other on the couch or the calm you feel when experiencing a forehead kiss or touch on the shoulder.
Be thankful for the opportunity to grow old together including the ways in which you each age over time. For example, notice the laugh lines that mark the many smiles and good times that you have shared or even a few extra new pounds from a string of delicious meals shared. Be aware that aging with someone is an honor and a very intimate experience.
Notice the cute things that your partner does. This can take effort because we often attend more to the annoying things than the good ones. Maybe you will start to see things you have missed such as a funny expression or a loving, idiosyncratic gesture.
Take the time to ask your partner about something that he/she finds interesting or important and really listen to the response that is shared both verbally and non-verbally.
Lie next to one another with mindful awareness simply noticing what it feels like to be physically close or hold hands and simply notice the sensations of touching.
Learn about a hobby your partner enjoys and join him/her with sincerity and a curiosity about the joy he/she finds in this activity.
Purchase a small gift that your partner would find meaningful, thoughtful or symbolic. Let your partner understand that you see who he/she is.
Ask what you can do to support or help your partner and follow through. Check back to see how he/she felt about the experience.
Dr. Stephanie Davidson is a licensed, clinical health psychologist and co-founder of the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine specializing in the use of cognitive-behavioral, humanistic and existential approaches to treat patients with a range of medical and mental health challenges. She has a strong interest in acceptance and commitment therapy and other mindfulness-based interventions to heal the body and mind. Her focus is on collaboration with the goal of assisting patients in adjusting to difficult experiences and achieving a greater sense of well-being, balance and peace in their lives.
Walser, R. D. & Westrup, D. (2009). The Mindful Couple: how acceptance and mindfulness can lead to the love you want. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.