RAF: Forget Sparks, Start an Inferno

This question came to me from an Instagram follower. It may be the one question most frequently asked by couples: how do you keep the spark alive in a long-term relationship? More specifically, the sparks that induce insatiable longing for one another?

Rather than offering a 60 second video of half-assed advice, I really wanted to delve into this one as it impacts so many of us. My suggestions are partial to my experience, what works for me, and therefore may not be universal tools…but I am confident enough to say that if you just venture down this path with me a little ways, and let your imagination wander, perhaps inspiration will meet you there.

Note: This article may seem to target monogamous relationships; however, these suggestions can apply to any relationship structure.

HOW TO KEEP THE SPARK ALIVE

The truth is, as the title suggest, no one wants just the…spark (did you think I was going to say “tip?” It was tempting!). We want fireworks, explosions, a near-death experience because it’s all just too much to handle (okay, that escalated quickly)! The truth is, we want to feel the spark, then be lit up and consumed by the ever-growing warmth of the inferno that lust and love and, well, horniness conjures!

So, for those of you who have been in a relationship for, say, 2 or 4 or 8 or 25 or 56 years, here are just a few suggestions on how to get your loins nice and heated:

Recreation

Recreate your first date (unless it was a total drag!) or think of a time you were consumed with arousal – no, it doesn’t have to be a memory with your partner – and recreate that.

Master J and I recently had a very steamy evening. This night will now (and forever) be known as our Apollo 13 night.

I had never before seen Apollo 13 (I know, I know, I can hear the gasps from here), and they were screening it on TV one evening after work…in English, I must add. This is a rare occasion for us all the way up in the mountains. So, we folded our futon up into a couch, turned it to face our flat screen, cuddled up with wine and a blanket, and started the show. We watched maybe 30 minutes before having, what I can honestly say, was some of the best sex of my life!

So, how is this relevant? The truth is, watching an oldish movie like Apollo 13 in this tiny apartment reminded me of my sexual debut. My [first] boyfriend and I would “watch movies” in his parents basement. The lights would go off, we’d cuddle in nice and close to each other on the couch under a blanket, and hands would wander. Eventually genitals would too.

This unexpected nostalgia brought back that horny, fifteen year old girl, and there was no holding her back.

Moral of the story: take time and think of a moment in your life where you felt the most visceral, and reenact it!


On the other side of this double entendre, literally find a recreational activity; something you both haven’t done before, yet could enjoy together! Take a class, join a club, go to an event, anything that sparks your interests. It’s a great way to see each other in a new environment, bond over something while experiencing a bit of novelty.


Communicate

You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: communication is lubrication! Don’t take this statement lightly. Being able to express yourself to your partner will have a profound effect on the connection between you. Communicating your desires, fears, likes and dislikes, is a vulnerable thing, and if vulnerability is both welcomed and reciprocated, well, that’ll work better than gasoline!

The key though, isn’t just to tell your partner what YOU want, it’s to figure out what they desire, and then fulfilling those desires in the way that makes them feel the most wanted, while simultaneously giving you pleasure. Knowing your are a source of your parnter’s joy and excitement will be psychologically (and perhaps physically) rewarding! Hear me out. Have you ever heard of the book, The Five Love Languages?

In essence, it claims that each of us has a preferred way of receiving love or attention from our significant other. They are:

1. Words of affirmation

2. Gifts

3. Acts of service

4. Quality time

5. Physical touch

The point is to decipher which one (or few) of these makes your partner feel the most valued, the most wanted, the most loved. Once you uncover this, you can begin implementing specific actions or behaviours into your relationship that fulfill this particular preference of theirs. It’s just as critical to understand your own “love language” and express this to your partner.

Communication, however, does go beyond kind words, acts and gifts. It’s critical to check in with each other on a daily basis. See how your partner is doing, if they are happy, if anything has been concerning them about the relationship, or, on the opposite side, if there’s anything they are particularly grateful for. When engaging in these conversations, be an active listener. Repeat back what your partner is saying to you, be genuinely interested, and brainstorm solutions to potential issues or areas that require attention. Always remember, you’re on the same team! Communication is not equal to conflict! On the contrary! Consistent communication keeps the relationship in check, making it very unlikely that conflict will occur since you are in constant dialogue with one another.

Novelty

Human beings are contradicting creatures, for we require both security and variety in order to be happy. But how do both of these things work simultaneously in long-term relationships when they, by nature, contradict one another?

First off, novelty doesn’t have to be in the form of another person (unless you and your partner are into that). It can take the form of many things. Because this is such a huge piece to the puzzle in keeping the spark alive, and the inferno blazing, I’ve inlucded a brief list of ideas below:

  • Vacation! I get this one may come as no surprise, but seriously, go somewhere new for an extended period of time and just breeaatthhheee together. Studies show that couples tend to have more sex on vacation. Removing yourself from your regular routine (and stressors, such as work, kids, whatever…) will allow you to reconnect without the distractions of the daily background noise. In order to re-center yourself, downtime is required.
  • Get sensual! When we think about “bringing the spark back,” we tend to imagine wild, animalistic sex. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it isn’t realistic to think that people can go from, say, a major dry spell, to swinging-from-the-chandelier romp sessions. There can be a lot of pressure to reach such a high level of intimacy after an extended period of time without it. My solution for you is to take intercourse off the table completely. In fact, experiment with non-genital touch. When we become aroused, we tend to aim straight for the goods (*cough* men *cough*). The problem with this is premature stimulation, especially for women, can backfire into an orgasm-less, possibly painful, interaction. For men, perhaps the orgasm comes fast, and isn’t as explosive as it could be. So, to remedy this potential crisis before it happens, make the commitment of no sex. Instead, take your time undressing each other, massaging each other’s bodies; kissing and licking places you don’t normally pay attention to. And if you’re a kinkier couple, like Master J and I, incorporate restraints and impact play as a way to build the sensations. And, I hope it goes without saying, take turns giving and receiving.
  • Role play! Next time you get a night out together, choose a designated meeting place and time, drive separately, and play out the evening as if you’re meeting for the first time. To spice things up further, create a new persona; dress differently, have a back story for your character, and see who can seduce who first. If you really want to make it last, don’t give in the first night. Have your characters “exchange” numbers, and set up a “first date.” You’ll be surprised how exciting this can be. And remember, it’s all fun and games, so don’t be too hard on yourself or each other if you break character at some point. Just shake it off and continue your evening.
  • Fantasy Draw! Have you and your partner write your fantasies down on separate pieces of paper. Place each of them in a jar, and alternate pulling one a week. The person who pulls the fantasy is in charge of setting it up. Of course, if either of you pull a fantasy you aren’t particularly comfortable in fulfilling, there is no obligation. Stay within your personal boundaries and the boundaries of the relationship. If you’re unsure about something, talk about it!
    • Miss each other! One of the first things Master J and I connected on was the importance of maintaining independence within the relationship. What we meant by this was, we understand the importance for each of us to maintain relationships we have outside of our own, such as friendships and familial relationships. We also understand the importance of taking time for ourselves (individually), and staying in touch with what matters to us, such as interests and hobbies, regardless if the other partner enjoys them or not. The point here is, make sure you do things with and for yourself, without the presence of your partner. I would even go as far as saying take a weekend trip to your parents’ place alone; or a week trip away with friends. Regardless of what it is you want to do, make that space for each other. What this has done for us – what I think is critical for any relationship – is allowed us to miss one another. Being apart from Master J makes me appreciate his presence more, and the positive influence he has on my life. By being away from him, I am giving myself the opportunity to feel the distance, and long for his return. When we reunite, whether we’ve been apart for two hours or eighty days (yes, we’ve done it!), there are always fireworks.


Distractions

Today the majority of us spend more time interacting with technology than we do each other. I can not stress the importance of creating boundaries around this. Between you and your significant other, determine when and where technology is and isn’t appropriate. For example, Master J and I do not bring any of our devices to the table with us. Meal time is sacred in our household. Of course there are rare exceptions, but we know about them before hand. Such exceptions may be turning the TV on for an important soccer game, or speaking to a family member who is going through a difficult time.

If you’re the type of couple that defines “quality time” as binge watching Netflix series, maybe start allotting an hour for a more interpersonal activity. For example, something as simple as grabbing a bottle of wine (or a pack of beer), sit down and speak to one another about your day or a topic you both enjoy. The other night I found a Q&A game, where Master J and I just asked one another a bunch of random questions on a variety of topics. The questions forced us to give personal answers, which opened doors to other conversations, and the ability to learn new things about each other. The best way to do this is to find a list of questions online, and print them out before hand, that way your devices aren’t involved.

There Are Exceptions

If any one of these things appeal to you, make the commitment to apply it to your relationship this week. Have the conversation with your partner, and if necessary, determine a time and date to carry it out.

In saying all of this, please understand that sometimes we invest our time, energy and emotions in a partnership that simply doesn’t work – be it due to emotional, sexual or other incompatibilities – and no amount of activities or ideas can align the incongruencies. This doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or your partner, it’s just that some people, no matter how hard they try or want it, their personalities clash. Recognizing when this is happening is the first healthy step to moving on (see Breakups & Bad Decisions for guidance on how to do just that).

One thing that most people don’t realize until they have it is that relationships should be easy. When you’re with the right person, the hard work is not what goes on between you, but rather the circumstances that surround you. For example, if you and your partner move into parenthood, you may feel more irritable due to tiredness, and the sudden responsibility for another life. This may cause moments of tension between the two of you; however, it should not diminish the foundation of what you have. You’re a partnership, a team. On the other hand, if being with your partner causes you distress, loneliness, sadness, regardless of how good or rocky external circumstances are, it may be a sign that something deeper is going on.

My point here is that your happiness should never be on the line to keep a relationship together. A healthy relationship means having a partner who wants the best for you, them and the relationship. It isn’t self-seeking. Erotic, emotional or other incompatibilities are a very real phenomena and are perfectly reasonable grounds to terminate a relationship. You are never required to stay with someone who doesn’t fulfill you. If being in the relationship is causing inner turmoil – if your wellbeing is at stake – that is a sure sign that something needs to change.

So, option one: simply apply one (or multiple) of these suggestions to your relationship; or, option two: remove yourself from the partnership and make space for someone more suited to your nature. I promise you, once you find them (or they find you) you’ll look back at this article and think, “this is what she was talking about.” It’s a whole different kind of freedom.

So, tell me, what other things do you and your partner(s) do to keep the fire burning?

Until next time,

Fuck well, friends!