“Can I bring the passion back into my relationship?” is a question I hear all the time as a couples therapist. It makes total sense that you would want to know if it could be like when you first met all over again.
Passion, aaaaah. Remember the days when you first met? You’d stare into each others eyes, want to spend every waking moment together and could not keep your hands off each other.
Heady days. The amazing, all consuming feeling of being attracted to another human being.
And the sex – blimey! You never knew you had it in you! Totally orgasmic baby!
Now – Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Where did it go?
Table of Contents
The stages of a relationship
My guess is that you’ve been with your other half for at least 12 – 18 months if you’re asking “Can I bring the passion back into my relationship?” It could just as well be 12 to 18 years.
You, my friend, are in the Power Struggle phase and it’s all perfectly normal.
So, let’s have a look at the stages of a relationship according to Imago Relationship Therapy.
The Relationship Spiral
The Romantic Phase
We enter the Romantic Phase of the relationship when we first meet our partner.
We “fall in love”, high on a heady mix of chemicals released by our body including dopamine and norepinephrine. These two chemicals themselves cause a release of endorphins and enkephalins which are natural narcotics.
You, dude, are off your face on love drugs.
Your brain is working you over as well. In order to understand why, we have to take a brief detour and explain what the “Imago” bit of “Imago Relationship Therapy” is about.
Imago Relationship Therapy states that getting into a primary partner relationship is really about finishing childhood.
In other words, we partner up to heal parts of ourselves that still need sorting out once we have become adult.
It’s not like you think “Hmmm, there were times when I was a kid that my Dad was really remote – I’m going to sort out the stuff that that’s brought up for me by hooking up with that (guy/gal) over there”.
Brains are more subtle than that.
Instead, we unconsciously look for a partner who has both the positive and negative aspects of our caregivers. This will maximise the chance that we can work through and resolve the stuff that it’s too late to sort out with our parents.
Now that may seem like a bit of a stretch to believe, but I’ve seen it in my therapy room and experienced it in my own life too many times for me to dismiss it as a theory. It really seems to be the way things are.
We call the construct – the perfect person with both positive and negative aspects of our caregivers, our Imago – the latin word for image.
“Hang on” I hear you say, “that doesn’t make sense at all”. “If I wanted to sort my shit out from childhood, why wouldn’t I just find someone with all of the good bits and none of the negatives?”
Good question – It’s the difference between you and your partner that allows for the healing. The negative traits offer opportunities for growth and require work to be done. Through the work comes strength and connection.
and we’re back …
To the romantic phase.
In the romantic phase of the relationship we see the positive aspects of our caregivers in our partner.
That “I feel like I’ve known you all my life” is pretty accurate. You are noticing all of the positive parts of your Imago in your partner.
Chances are, that you are also working really hard to be your best self in this stage of your relationship too. You do your hair nice, make sure you don’t smell too bad and even clean your teeth!
You let that close to the bone comment that your partner makes about your best friend go, and you forgive them when they turn up late to your cinema trip – well you only missed the trailers…
And the passion, the passion is hot! Sizzling! You two are on fire sexy pants!
The Power Struggle Phase
The power struggle phase is a cunning little beast. After around 12 – 18 months, it slowly sneaks into your relationship one Friday when you’re out doing the shopping at Tescos.
You start noticing that you can’t really be bothered to make yourself look beautiful before she comes around.
You start to wonder why he doesn’t smell as good as he used to when you first met him.
That great sense of humour he had is now starting to become annoying because he never takes anything you say seriously, and you used to love her amazing planning skills but now you’re not sure you want to be with someone so bossy.
The feel good hormones have waved goodbye and you’re left with the harsh, stark, drug free reality that you have chosen someone thats not perfect and, even worse, DIFFERENT TO YOU!
Where’s the passion? Down the toilet. You have to get up for work tomorrow – no time for all of that sex thing.
I’m even depressing myself as I type this and I am hamming it up a bit, but you get the picture.
The shift of focus
In the Power Struggle phase of the relationship we move from “What can I do for you?” to “What can you do for me?”
We see the negative traits of our partner much more clearly and show our own more readily too.
This is all out of awareness, unconscious and normal. Get that? Not wanting to have sex with your partner every waking moment is NORMAL! You are normal!
At this point you have a few choices.
- Suck it up and get on with it – “all relationships are rubbish anyway”. This leads to a parallel relationship. Two people just living in the same house but not really having all that much interaction – and certainly no passion.
- Find ways to distract yourself from the pain of the loss of the romantic phase – fishing trip anyone? We call these relational exits and they can vary from working longer hours to full blown affairs.
- Leave the relationship – “if you have to work at it, it’s not right”. God I’ve heard that phrase so many times and it’s the exact opposite of what I believe.
- Work this shit out and RECOMMIT!
Given the first three options in the list above suck, let’s talk about recommitment.
This is where you get stuck in and commit to the relationship you have. At this point you are moving away from the autopilot behaviour of an unconscious relationship.
I think there’s something crucial in this step. It’s where you say:
Even though I may feel uncomfortable, I will do things to bring me closer to my partner and benefit our relationship. I will do this because I love them and I’m willing to pull my finger out and create the relationship that I want rather than expecting it to magically fall into my lap.
That, my friend, is a big, big step. Well done!
It leads to …
Doing the work
Your job is to be the safest partner possible. You stretch into discomfort and look after your other half.
You can use Imago Dialogue to discuss things that are getting in the way of connection and tell your partner every day about the ways you appreciate them.
You create a zero negative environment and focus on the things you love about your partner rather than moaning about the things that piss you off.
Energy follows attention.
And passion – well you have to create that. You have to do the work to bring it into your relationship.
How to bring back the passion in your relationship
Be realistic. What do you mean by passion? Do you mean you have a strong desire to have sex with your partner like you did in the Romantic phase?
It does not matter who you partner up with, eventually your mad attraction to your other half will decrease because the dopamine that your brain is releasing will slowly tail off.
From a biological perspective this makes sense. Your job is to mate – the romantic stage of the relationship helps you do this with vigour!
This is not sustainable long term, so no matter how hot your other half is, you will have to move from unconscious to conscious ways of relating to maintain the vavavoom!
If by passion you mean feeling a particular way then this can leave you stuck too. Feelings are transient. They come and they go. Basing your life decisions on your current feelings is a very bad idea because your feelings shift so often it’s impossible to maintain any kind of direction.
Passion will be there as you closely connect with your partner, but you have to do the rest of the stuff in this list to allow it to appear.
Talk about sex. Studies show that couples who talk about sex have far more of it. Read Hot Monogamy by Pat Love .
In this book Pat Love (yes that is her real name) gives you a structured way of talking about sex – very much based on the Imago Dialogue process.
Plan your sex. We all life busy lives these days. When you are in the power struggle phase of the relationship you are more likely to want to sleep than shag.
It may seem very unsexy, but allocating a time for sex can be a really effective way to make sure you have it.
Not feeling sexy at the allotted time? Get on with it! Often, in order to feel like sex you have to start the process, your body and brain will catch up!
Foreplay is all day. What you do during the day will influence how safe and connected your partner feels to you.
If you’re attentive, considerate and loving you are going to be a much safer partner to have sex with than if you are a bit of a bitch giving your other half grief. That ain’t sexy! Be nice!
Dialogue. This is the most important one for me. Using a structured way of talking, like the Imago Dialogue process, allows you to find out what’s going on in your partners world and gives them an opportunity to hear what’s going on in yours.
It’s a safe way of being with each other and the safety allows closeness and connection.
Read “Getting The Love You Want” to learn how to do it or come work with me (see below).
Taking the struggle out of the relationship frees up time to connect and play with each other. Sounds far more fun, eh?
The other stages
As you do the work and increase the level of safety and connection in your relationship you may experience an awakening. A feeling of true closeness to your partner.
This leads to a deeper, more meaningful love we call Real love. The romantic phase of the relationship is not really about loving the other, you don’t even know the other well enough to love them! What you’re loving is how awesome you feel high on those drugs your body is secreting. Dopamine rocks!
Real love is about seeing your partner for who they are. Accepting them warts and all. Understanding and valuing that they are different from you.
Working together in the relationship you can both heal and grow. You can make space for your partner and let them be your best teacher and closest ally.
The small print
The bad news is that the relationship spiral above is just that, a spiral. We don’t stay in Real love, we cycle around, moving through the other stages.
You will find yourself back in the Power Struggle, but this time know what to do when you’re there and move through it quicker.
You are not always going to feel passionate about your partner either. Passion is a feeling and it will come and go just like every other feeling we have.
Sometimes, rather than get all passionate, you are going to want to sit around in your pants and watch Star Trek Discovery on Netflix – (or is that just me?)
It’s ok to not be a sex monster all the time, we all need days off, just get the balance right.
You will have to constantly work at your relationship to make it close and connected. The more you do the work, the easier it gets and the closer you will feel to your beloved!
Read The Book
If you’re going to read one book about relationships make it “Getting The Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.
This book will explain the theory clearly and give you exercises you can do to improve your relationship.
Do The Work
There are two ways you can do the work with me. Firstly, you can come and do the “Getting The Love You Want” workshop with me over a weekend.
Here myself and my partner Joanna (who is also a therapist) will take you through the theory of why we get stuck in relationships and give you ways to get yourself unstuck (including how to bring the passion back). Click here to read more and book on.