Exactly What To Do When The Honeymoon Phase Ends In Your Relationship
If your relationship feels staler than day-old movie-theatre popcorn, don't panic. Chances are, you've just reached the end of the honeymoon phase.
Not sure if you've hit that point? When's the last time your partner left their clothes on the floor? How about the last time they forgot to put the dishes in the dishwasher, left the kitchen cabinet wide open, or neglected to put the toilet seat down? If you answered any of those questions with an exact date, time, or maybe even photographic evidence—it's safe to say you've moved past the honeymoon phase.
Better known as "limerence" in the world of science, the honeymoon phase is a temporary euphoric period of the relationship where everything seems and feels perfect. "Not to take the mystery out of of it, but in a neuropsychological way, what's happening in our brains is that we're getting a burst from nature in various forms of hormones and chemicals," says therapist Mary Kay Cocharo.
Marriage and family therapist Dr Lori Schade likens the extended-butterflies period to being on cocaine. "You have more motivation. You have a seeking behaviour. You’ll generally put out more energy. It's drug-like because it’s a very real physical experience," she says.
Cool, so how long does the honeymoon phase last?
According to experts, the honeymoon phase lasts only a maximum of 18 to 24 months...but it can end way sooner. It's different for every relationship.
That doesn't mean the end of the honeymoon phase is a bad thing. "It’s impossible to keep up that kind of level of impressing and going and doing and being involved in each other’s lives that you did during the honeymoon period," says Jane Greer, Marriage and Family Therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness from Ruining My Relationship. Your brain and body can't function off butterflies (a.k.a. adrenaline) forever—at some point, you need to come back down to neutral.
And the really good news? Just because the honeymoon phase has ended doesn't mean that your relationship actually needs to. All it takes is some thoughtful, proactive deeds to keep your connection buzzing strong. Here, the 10 best ways to do exactly that:
1. Prioritise time with each other.
Make sure you’re spending time together that is planned and that both of you can look forward to, Greer says. "Whether that’s every night when you come home after dinner, you sit together for 15 minutes and talk about your day. Or you have a cup of tea together before you go to bed. Or you watch your favourite show together." The key, Greer says, is to "develop a repeated rhythm that remains about the two of you."
2. Throw out your pyjamas.
One of the chemicals that's released during the honeymoon period is oxytocin. "It's called the cuddle hormone," Cocharo says. And it's responsible for creating that strong desire you have toward your partner during the honeymoon phase.
The way to re-create this desire after your infatuation has faded is through physical touch. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, Cocharo says. "So I tell couples to throw away your pyjamas, cuddle up, and let the oxytocin flow." You don't have to turn every naked opportunity into sex...but you can, if you want to.
3. Count your hugs and kisses.
Literally, count them! According to Cocharo, renowned psychological researcher and clinician John Gottman studied the amount of time it takes for oxytocin to be released into the body through physical touch like hugs and kisses.
He clocked it at 20 seconds for hugs and six seconds for a kiss. So the next time you're with your partner, try making those hugs and kisses last a little bit longer. "It’s all about artificially and consciously re-creating that chemical cocktail that you had in the beginning," Cocharo says. "You have to earn that romance, instead of it being handed to you."
4. Unplug from technology.
When you were boo'd up during the honeymoon period, chances are, your phones were nowhere in sight. Your goal now that the butterflies have settled? To get back to that uninterrupted quality time.
That's why Greer recommends "structuring your tech time so that you can enjoy each other’s company." In other words, when you're going out to dinner, have a mutual agreement that neither of you will scroll or text on your phone (ahem, phubbing). Something this simple (and yes, I know, hard!) will encourage truly connected conversations—and omit distractions from interrupting needed bonding time.
5. Plan things in advance that speak to your future.
The mission here is have something to look forward to as a couple. "Do something that solidifies the two of you in your future together," Greer recommends. This could mean planning your next vacation, or driving around a neighbourhood where you might want to buy a house someday. These kinds of activities will remind you both why you got together in the first place: to build a future.
6. Schedule sex if you're having a lot less of it.
Hear me out. A lot of the work that needs to be done to rekindle your relationship comes from a conscious decision to recommit to the romantic behaviours that you naturally had in the beginning, Cocharo says. This includes making sure that you’re staying sexually connected.
If you and your S.O. have been stuck in a sex rut, Cocharo recommends putting sex on the calendar. Pick a time before or after work—or maybe a midday rendezvous (if you're feeling frisky)—and stick to it. "I have couples say, 'Well, scheduling sex isn't very romantic.' And I say, ‘Well, how romantic is it not to have sex?'" Touché, Cocharo, touché.
7. Embrace the regular.
If your complaint is that your relationship feels ordinary, boring, or regular, that you've stopped feeling **that spark**, just think back to your single days. Remember all those useless Tinder swipes and the universally dreaded 'you up?" text message? You're done with that. (Thank g.)
"Adjust your expectations," Schade says, noting that she often tells her clients to check their narrative because sometimes when couples complain about a stale relationship, it's based on the loss of those chemical hormones (which, again, are in your power to bring back).
"Sometimes people don't feel those intense feelings anymore, and so they say, 'Oh, this is over.' And that's not what it means. It means you're moving into a different stage of your relationship," she adds.
Greer agrees: "It’s a new regular that you’re living. And with it comes new benefits and new opportunities, in terms of the way you live your life, the way you share responsibilities, and the way you go through your day. Change your expectations so that regular is not something regular," Greer says.
8. Play games.
I'm not talking about standard cat-and-mouse, who-cares-less games that you may have played in the courting stage of your relationship (or past situationships). I mean actual fun games that help you get to know your partner even better.
"We think we know everything about our partner but we don't," says Schade. "Now there are so many games and couples questions that you can try."
Cocharo recommends John Gottman's Eight Dates: Essential Conversation For A Lifetime of Love. The book will give you eight talking-based date ideas that will help you reconnect as a couple and learn more about each other, through both fun and challenging conversation.
You could also play the old-school 20 Questions or your own version of Never Have I Ever (just don't get upset by your partner's responses).
9. Keep things fresh.
Think back to that lovey-dovey period. Part of what made it so great was that everything felt new, which means you were experiencing high levels of a hormone known as dopamine. According to Cocharo, what stimulates dopamine in the brain is novelty.
Commit to doing something you’ve never done before to re-create that same feeling. "It doesn’t have to be sky diving. It could be having sex in a new room of the house," Cocharo says. "Anything that feels new and different will produce more dopamine." And that's exactly what you want/need.
10. Go to couples therapy.
Sometimes what you really need is an in-person expert to tell you exactly what to do. If the end of your butterfly phase has led to repetitive or worsened arguing or you feel completely disconnected from your partner—or feel resentment building toward them—you may want consider couples therapy.
It doesn't mean your relationship is failing—it means that you're both willing to work toward a stronger, happier bond.