10 ways to enjoy a happier, sexier marriage or long-term relationship, according to experts

Illustration. Getty Images
Illustration. Getty Images
  • The longer you’ve been married (or in a committed relationship), the easier it can be to take each other for granted. 
  • But that doesn't have to be the norm. You can change the narrative by ensuring that the spark isn't just reserved for big occasions. 
  • Here, relationship experts share advice on how to make the honeymoon phase a constant. 

When you and your spouse started dating, their insights were sheer brilliance, their laugh made you melt — sjoe, even their blink seemed revolutionary. It all pointed to a happy marriage, right? 

Fast forward a couple (dozen) years, and you hardly notice their new haircut and can fill in the blanks about their day without even asking. The longer you’ve been together, the easier it can be to take each other for granted — but you already know that. Do you know how to stop that ish ASAP to avoid real trouble down the road, though? 

READ MORE: 'My husband of 20 months was about to serve me with divorce summons but lockdown saved us'  

The key is to show your main squeeze affection beyond the big occasions, holidays or romantic moments (ahem, other people’s weddings). But that doesn’t mean a good morning kiss here or hand hold there. That’s a good start, but affection is — at its core — about respect for the person you’ve chosen to spend your whole life with (ditto for them). 

“Couples want to earn the respect of one another as they are dating and getting to know each other, but also through the years and decades being together,” says Dr Jenni Skyler, a licensed marriage and family therapist, sex therapist, and director of The Intimacy Institute in the U.S.

That won’t just further your partnership, but can actually help you earn your spouse’s desire, she notes. Think about it: It’s tough to get turned on by a pushover, or someone who’s totally checked out. 

That’s just the beginning of your new happily ever after, though.

Here’s how to have a happy marriage, according to relationship experts:  

1. Make deposits in their “emotional piggy bank" 

Your partner deserves to feel adored and appreciated by you every single day — you chose each other, after all, so start acting like it. One to three times each day, do something that makes them feel loved (hint: choose a deed that speaks to them in their Love Language). Some deposits can be small change (walking the dog), while some should be R100-worthy (breakfast in bed). Either way, the more deposits you make, the sooner you’ll fill their bank with warm fuzzies. That helps melt resentment, fuel sexual intimacy and create a long-term habit of mutual generosity, says Skyler. Win x 100. 

2. Prioritise tiny transitional moments

Daily partings and greetings are some of the most important interactions you can have with your partner, according to marriage researcher and therapist Dr John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute. Not only are these opportunities to communicate “you’re important to me, and when you come back, it’s an event” — but they’re also a chance to distinguish together-time from less-fun obligations. Ditch the half-hearted “Love you, bye!” or not-actually-listening “Hi, how was your day?” regurgitations and create actual hello/goodbye rituals (with a hug or kiss, preferably) for real connection. It’s way too easy to feel overlooked without them. 

3. Clean up confrontation cobwebs 

Whenever you’re feeling disconnected, you need a clearing conversation, in which both partners air their feelings and voice any assumptions. “Most couples feel reconnected after catching up on surface-level and deep topics,” Skyler says. Once you verbalise issues (start with “Lately, I’ve been feeling like…”), ask yourself what you might be responsible for.

Then, together, find a way to make it better, restorative justice–style. That means finding a solution, not a punishment that fits the “crime.” Been working through dinner all week? Make a reservation at their fave spot. Said a not-so-nice comment? Write a love letter (yes, a Post-it counts!).

READ MORE: Top tips to get your romantic life back on track post-lockdown, according to a dating coach  

4. Live up to your expectations 

You might not realise how distant you are until your S.O. calls you out on it. But they’re not asking for attention so much as respect — the same thing you sought from them during the early stages of dating. “Earning respect is a lifelong endeavour,” says Skyler. “It’s not something you do once, then abandon.” So check to make sure your actions are worthy of admiration.

And be honest with yourself: Would you choose to be with you, right here and now? If not, start cleaning up your behaviour so you can be the person you’d want. It’ll encourage your partner to do the same — trust.

5. Put the fun back in flirting 

Remember the butterflies you got from that first date banter? They might’ve crawled back into their cocoons as you and your S.O. have traded in your mutual crushes for comfortability. No shame in your Netflix and chill game, but there’s a big diff between cuddling on the couch and passing the remote.

“How we flirt on a daily basis really matters,” says Skyler. “If we flirt with confidence, and not because we want to go to the bedroom every single time, the flirting lets your partner know you desire them.” The key? Say something sexy (confident they’ll be into it, because, ya know, they’re into you), and then retreat. Those quick exchanges keep feeding the “erotic piggy bank,” as Skyler calls it. “Then, when you do get together, you have this overflowing piggy bank that adds to the energy of the intimate moment,” she says.

6. Unstuck yourself 

When your relationship’s in a rut, it can feel nearly impossible to get out. You seem stuck in your ways, and vice versa. Change doesn’t happen overnight, says Skyler, but that doesn’t mean the effort isn’t worth making. Go through your day and find the moments when you tend to operate on autopilot. Then, ask yourself what small changes you can make to be more present for your partner. Eventually, those small, everyday tweaks will add up to a bigger overall change in how you connect with your S.O.

They’ll notice the difference — and fast, says Skyler. 

7. Make ’em feel missed

Your relationship probably started off as “that can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Cup kind of stuff,” but then work, family, life happens. But reigniting that spark doesn’t require a romantic weekend getaway (never a bad idea, tbh). Instead, make an ordinary Tuesday anything but by slipping a cute note in your partner’s bag, suggests Dr Megan Fleming, a relationship and sex therapist.

The note doesn’t have to be NSFW, either — just “something playful or maybe an inside joke,” she explains. The goal? To let your S.O. know you’re thinking of them. “The biggest turn on is being wanted and desired by your partner,” says Fleming. A note — no matter how simple or silly — ultimately says “I miss you” and “I’m looking forward to being with you.” (Not sure what to write? Start with that.) 

8. Bring back the sexting

Real talk: Sex doesn’t start the second those pesky clothes come off. It begins hours, even days before — often with a flirty sext or even a suggestive pic. That’ll turn your partner on faster than they can respond, guaranteed. Sure, you’ve been married since the dawn of time (or what feels like it, anyway), so it’s safe to assume your spouse wants you around… but how much sexier is it to hear them say, text, or show it? 

READ MORE: Sexting has evolved beyond the eggplant emoji, will you be using this form of intimacy during lockdown?

9. Make anything (yes, anything) sexy

“We can’t command ourselves to be aroused any more than we can command ourselves to be sleepy,” says Fleming. So, on days when just about everything has squashed your sexual simmer, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing that would feel good right now?” Maybe that’s a massage from your partner, or just an extra-long hug. Sharing a sweet moment with your spouse now will amp up the intensity when sex does happen. 

10. Explore and expand your bedroom cravings

Most couples develop a “sexual menu” over time, and in terms of variety, it tends to resemble McD’s more than a Chinese buffet. Think of your sex life like a stoplight: You want to live between yellow and green (just outside your comfort zone), but far from red (pain, lack of respect). That could mean adding anything from dirty talk to anal play. Intimacy, not just pleasure, comes from trying something new.

Do you have any additional tips to share? Tell us here.

This article was originally published in Women's Health SA

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