The basic anatomy of my first date in my most recent relationship includes two basic components: The dress (black lace, long-sleeved, scoop-necked) and the restaurant (Mediterranean, with an inexpensive wine list, mood lighting, and a location a block and a half from my apartment). The reason I remember these details so crisply? Because in times when many are left scratching their heads wondering how to spice up a relationship, my partner and I leaned on history by re-creating that very first date. And based on the fact that at least two of my co-workers have done the same for their respective anniversaries, I’m left believing this nostalgic, old-is-new practice of happy-memory re-creation is a promising one for preserving and also perpetuating some romantic intimacy.
But, why do so many harvest nostalgia for milestones, be it that first-year anniversary, a proposal, or even a random Tuesday night? According to licensed clinical psychologist and relationship therapist Alexandra Solomon, PhD, the research of prolific relationship therapist John Gottman, PhD, of the Gottman Institute, is helpful for understanding why couples tend to glamorize their landmark memories. Dr. Gottman’s research on divorce points to happy couples deriving a sense of meaning through rituals of connection. Whether the couple realizes it or not, these traditions of sorts can help to strengthen a relationship because they can add in meaning or significance. “So that ritual—that kind of intentional marking of the passage of time—helps couples feel connected to each other and connect in the sense that they’re building something together,” Dr. Solomon says.
Re-creating old happy memories really can be a double whammy of warm fuzzies, then, since the practice can be both sweet and strengthening for a relationship. Furthermore, revisiting a physical location you associate with the first blooms of romance can, in effect, feel like taking a time machine to that place in history. In fact, Dr. Solomon says inhaling a familiar scent of hummus and lamb (if you’re me, at a special Mediterranean restaurant, of course) can bring back associations of nervousness, attraction, and novelty. “It’s kind of like recapturing, or touching back in to those early feelings, and as a relationship matures, there are inevitable changes. It’s inevitable that the relationship settles, early attraction transitions to attachment,” she says. “We use those things that harken back to the beginning.”
“That ritual helps couples feel connected to each other and connect in the sense that they’re building something together.” —relationship therapist Alexandra Solomon, PhD
And, re-wearing an outfit from a special night? It’s a form of role play. Dr. Solomon theorizes that since stoking desire in a monogamous long-term relationship is so often about turning yourself on, that particular LBD may allow you to transform into the way you felt—perhaps full of fresh excitement—when you wore it in your memory.
But, even if this act of re-creating old memories has saved you and your partner from ever needing to wonder how to spice up a relationship, do exercise some caution. Fact remains that you may well not be the exact same people you were when you first met and the relationship itself may not be either—but that’s also not necessarily a bad thing. “Relationships are dynamic and alive, and they change,” Dr. Solomon says. “And so you can go back to a previous moment in time, but you go back to it differently than you were before.”
Romantic re-creation as a successful ritual allows us to remember who we were, honor who we are, and admire that we’ve gotten there as a couple. While you probably won’t be able to relive something in the exact conditions as your first time (I’ve explained my very strong feelings about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, right?), you can step into a time machine with your partner to a place where the wine is cheap, the candlelight glows, and you remember the excitable young people who have grown so much together.
Now that you’re clearer on how to spice up a relationship, here are 10 fresh date ideas to bookmark. And beyond going retro with your S.O., here are a few other expert tips for putting spark into your long-term relationship.
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