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Each week my partner and I go for a walk around the harbour at lunchtime. It’s a way for us to get outside and just catch up, we debrief about work, parenting, life and so forth. This week, out of nowhere he turns to me and says:

“This probably doesn’t come as a shock to you. I’m sure you see this stuff all the time… but, it dawned on me that the reason a lot of affairs start up, particularly in the workplace, is because when people are in a long-term committed relationship, their stories aren’t interesting and exciting anymore. When someone new comes along, it’s the first time they’ve heard the story – not the fifth or tenth; so, you suddenly come across as someone interesting and exciting.”

At first, I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going – seeing as I often tease him about having only a handful of stories that he brings up time and time again. But I was aware that only a week ago one of his teammates had left his wife for a colleague and it had rattled my partner a little. 

This friend looked like he was living the dream, he had a good job, was married with three kids and bought a beautiful home overlooking the water. However, in  reality – he was feeling more and more disconnected from his wife, the words to describe the quality of relationship were like “transactional”, “functional” and “boring”. 

Ouch.

Now, affairs are a rich tapestry of complexity and aren’t based on how often your partner laughs at your same jokes. However, my partner raised an important observation for all relationships.

When it comes to relationships – intimacy, connection, fun and passion need to be cultivated; it’s not a case of set and forget. Bring in the stresses of work, kids and sometimes ailing parents and the relationship slips lower and lower on the priority list. The window of intimacy becomes small and rigid.

Date nights can either be a last second thought, or routine dinner at the local restaurant. 

One couple complained to me the thought of having to book babysitters felt too hard. They were tired from the end of the week and felt it was easier to opt for just hanging out at home again and watching TV.

No variety, no spark.

When it comes to the excitement of new relationships, you’re more likely wanting to explore your partner and their world more. You’ll listen to the stories and respond with shock, awe, and laughter. You listen closely as they tell you tales of their favourite holiday experience in Thailand when they were twenty. You feel cranky when you hear that they were passed over for a new project or promotion. It’s these little moments of turning towards your relationship and your partner that are the breeding ground of trust, compassion, kindness, and generosity. 

In the beginning stages of your relationship, you found yourselves going out, being social, having shared interests or at least trying something new. Now ask yourself “how often do we as a couple spend time together talking, laughing, having fun and trying something new?”

Here are four ways you can cultivate more couple time:

1. Plan Ahead

Figure out how often you want to schedule in some awesome couple time. Weekly, monthly – whatever works for your schedules and access to resources like babysitters. Now block that time out in advance; make sure you both agree to prioritise the time you’ve blocked out.

2. Alphabet Dates

I’ve stolen this idea from my brother and sister in-law to keep things interesting, different and fun. They each have a turn booking in a surprise date according to the letter of the alphabet. They’ve been kayaking on Sydney Harbour, hot air ballooning and apple picking. 

3. Keep the Variety and Appreciation Going

This rolls on from number two, but it is just as important. Studies have shown that what keeps the “spark” alive is variety and appreciation. You’ll be able to keep the variety going if you can keep up with the creativity of the Alphabet Dates. However, the appreciation is also crucial. This can be about the effort your partner has made to organise the date – to just who they are in general. Let them know what it is about them that you like / love.

4. Tell Me More

When it comes to the art of conversation during the couple-time, be present with what your partner is saying and enquire to know more about them. Ask them questions about parts of their lives that they don’t often talk about. 

  • What was your favourite movie growing up?
  • Were you a cat or dog family? 
  • What’s been your biggest regret and / or achievement?

If you want to cultivate more of those magical moments where you truly feel it’s you and your best friend giggling in the pantry, hiding from the kids whilst eating chocolate. Then it’s about taking your relationship off autopilot, turning towards each other and having a look at ways that you can bring back that spark. The sense of joy and fun. Look at your partner again with new eyes. Balance out the transactional and functional part of the relationship with a pinch of irresponsibility – don’t go stealing cars, but maybe play hooky on Wednesday morning and have breakfast together.

If you’d like to hear more on this topic with Julia, click here to listen to episode 94 of the PakMag Parents Podcast.

Julia Nowland

Julia Nowland

Julia Nowland is the founder of Whole Heart Relationships. She specialises in helping parents of young children prioritise their relationship and strengthen their love.