Intimacy and attraction in long term relationships

Intimacy and Attraction in Long-term Relationships

Do the warmth of intimacy and the infinite glowing sparks of attraction last in a long-term relationship? How do couples keep the fire burning year after year?

In the world of long-term relationships, sustaining attraction and intimacy is akin to an art form, requiring a blend of understanding, effort, and the willingness to evolve together.

Contrary to popular belief, attraction in long-term relationships goes beyond just physical appearance. Yes, it’s true – our initial encounters are often swayed by the allure of physical features, with studies underscoring the significance of facial attractiveness in the early stages of romance​​. But as relationships mature, so do the dimensions of attraction and intimacy.

“Physical intimacy and emotional intimacy both matter and one is not more important than the other…at least not when it comes to having a healthy long-term relationship”​

  • April Eldemire

In fact, there’s been a noticeable shift in the dynamics of long-term relationships, especially among older adults. For instance, divorce rates among 50-70 year-olds have more than doubled since 1990. This trend suggests that many are reevaluating their relationships later in life, seeking new dreams and experiences as they gain financial independence and expect longer lifespans.

What keeps couples entwined with each other? The frequency of their intimate encounters or the depth and quality of their emotional and sexual connection?

Let’s dive deep into the heart of these enduring bonds and explore this topic in-depth. So whether you’re just starting or have spent decades together, this exploration is for you.

 The Evolution of Intimacy and Attraction

Role of Hormones in Intimacy and Attraction:

“The complexities of human relationships and emotions might have roots that run deeper than just our immediate experiences and choices”

Imagine your body is like a high-tech love lab, brewing up all kinds of chemicals. At the heart of this lab are two-star players: oxytocin and dopamine. 

  • Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone,” is like the best friend who always encourages you to hug it out. It’s released during those warm, fuzzy moments and plays an important role in bonding in a relationship
  • Dopamine brings the life of a party in our brain’s reward system and is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. But watch out, too much dopamine and we might get hooked on that loving feeling, kind of like a love junkie.
  • Vasopressin – The Commitment Molecule: Also called the monogamy molecule, it plays an important role in forming a long-term commitment bond, especially in men. This along with oxytocin is responsible for strengthening emotional and physical bonds in couples, enhancing feelings of protectiveness and stability.
  • Stress – Adversity-induced intimacy: When couples go through tough times together, they form a stronger bond as stress can have a positive effect on bonding.
  • Genetic influences:  Wait our DNA plays a role as well? Yes! certain genetic variations can influence how we form bonds and how we respond to our partner’s emotional cues. 

“Our capacity for intimacy and how we experience it can be partly written in our genetic code”

This shows that love and bonding as a complex interplay of hormones, genetics, brain activity, environmental factors, and evolutionary history. It’s not just about the butterflies in your heart; it’s about how all these elements come together to create the deep, lasting connections that we cherish in our intimate relationships.

Transition from Passionate to Compassionate Love:

During the early stages of a relationship, the feelings of attraction and the emotions can be intense and exciting – that’s passionate love for you!

It’s like a rollercoaster of emotions, full of desire and longing

As time goes by, this fiery passion often simmers down into something steadier and deeper – compassionate love. This is the kind of love that’s all about deep affection, comfort, and a strong bond.

Also, contrary to popular belief, time can wear down both passionate and compassionate love. 

But the way this happens isn’t the same for everyone. Some couples might find their passionate love cooling off but their compassionate love growing stronger. Others might see a decrease in both, or different patterns altogether.

The evolution from passionate to compassionate love isn’t a straight line – it’s more like a dance, with its own rhythm and steps for each couple.

How Attraction Changes through Different Life Stages:

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Phase:

The honeymoon phase is in the heart of passionate love. It’s all fireworks and butterflies, fueled by a cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.

“This phase is like a natural high, a celebration of attraction.”

  • Dr. Helen Fisher

But don’t get too comfy, this is just the opening act.

Stage 2:  Welcome to Parenthood – Buckle Up!

“The greatest gift you can give your baby is a happy and strong relationship between the two of you.”

Transitioning into parenthood is like switching from a romantic duet to a family band. It’s hectic, noisy, but oh-so rewarding. Dr. John Gottman reminds us,

 “Keep the romance alive, even when the diapers take center stage.”

  • John Gottman

Couples often experience a shift in their relationship dynamics, with a decrease in time and energy for each other due to parental responsibilities. This stage can test the resilience of the relationship, requiring partners to adapt to new roles and find new ways to maintain intimacy and love in the chaos of parenting.

Stage 3: Midlife Remix: Navigating Career and Personal Growth:

Midlife isn’t a crisis, it’s a remix!

This stage can bring a deeper understanding and appreciation, as well as challenges in aligning evolving aspirations and ensuring mutual growth and fulfillment.

“Midlife is a time when couples can reevaluate their relationship… It’s an opportunity to regrow your love as your lives take on new meanings.”

  • Susan Krauss Whitbourne

It’s like updating your playlist to reflect where you are now – more mature, a bit wiser, and ready for the next chapter.

Stage 4: Golden Years: Embracing Companionship:

“Companionate love may not necessarily be marked by wild passion, but it is a deeper and more enduring connection.”

As we sail into the golden years of your relationship, think of it as settling into a comfy armchair of love.

Couples may experience a resurgence of intimacy, albeit in a more companionate form, characterized by deep affection, shared experiences, and mutual respect.

It’s less about the fireworks and more about the steady, warm glow of a shared life.

 Physical attraction may evolve to appreciate deeper qualities beyond physical appearance.

Stage 5: Aging Together: The Bittersweet Symphony

Aging and health challenges can be tough, but they also bring a unique depth to your relationship. Esther Perel captures it beautifully: 

“In the face of mortality, many couples find a new appreciation for life and the importance of having a loving partner by your side.”

  • Esther Perel

This stage may involve caregiving, which can bring couples closer together but also present unique stresses. The ability to provide emotional support and maintain a connection despite physical limitations becomes crucial.

 It’s about standing together when the going gets tough and finding beauty in the strength of your bond.

Stage 6: Enduring Love and Legacy:

Finally, as you look back on your journey together, it’s like flipping through a photo album filled with a lifetime of memories. This stage is about cherishing the enduring love that has grown and flourished over time.

So, now that we understand the types of love and how intimacy evolves through a long-term relationship, let’s discuss other aspects that play a role in long-lasting love.

Important aspects for maintaining Intimacy and Attraction in a Long-Term Relationship:

Daily Physical Affection: 

Did you know that just hugging your partner can be magic? 

A daily hug can be a profound affirmation of being ‘home’ in each other’s arms, helping to regulate each other’s nervous systems and enhancing the relationship​​.

  • Silva Neves

It’s like saying, “I’m here with you,” without even speaking a word.

Awareness of Love Languages: 

Understanding your partner’s love language is crucial. This awareness helps in navigating through irritation, frustration, and arguments by understanding your partner’s loving intentions and accepting that they might be different from yours​​.

“Often you will hear your partner’s love language in their complaints”

  • Gary Chapman

According to a survey by the “Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,” couples who understand and speak each other’s love languages find more satisfaction in their relationship!

Team Approach to Life’s Challenges:

Life throws curveballs, right? 

Studies say “Couples who face challenges together, instead of going solo, come out stronger”

Respecting each other’s ways of operating in a crisis and learning from each other can strengthen the relationship during adversities​​. Combine your superpowers.

Arguing Constructively: 

It’s healthy for couples to argue, but knowing how to argue constructively is key. 

Arguments should be assertive yet kind, focusing on listening to each other’s points of view, giving up the need to be right, and brainstorming a resolution together​​.

Relaxed Attitude Towards Sex:

Let’s talk about the bedroom. Don’t stress over those old-school sex myths. 

Every couple’s sex life is unique. The key is open and calm communication. Remember, there’s no normal; as long as it’s consensual, you’re good!

Maintaining Laughter and Lightness:

Who doesn’t love a good laugh?

 Research says couples who laugh together, stay together. Whether it’s a witty joke or a silly pun, laughter adds lightness and fun to your relationship. 

So, keep the jokes coming!

Mutual Respect and Effective Communication: 

Mutual respect is the backbone of any solid relationship. Effective communication is key. 

It’s like being a great diplomat – be firm on the issue but gentle with your partner.

 Your relationship is a no-sarcasm zone!

Dimensions of Intimacy: 

According to authors Ronald Adler and Russell Proctor II, there are four dimensions of intimacy – physical, emotional, intellectual, and shared activities. 

Connect deeply on all these levels with your partner! Go for a walk, have deep chats, or do fun activities together. It’s not just what you do, but how you bond while doing it that counts.

Mutual Assistance and Support:

When the going gets tough, do you have each other’s backs?

Being there for each other in rough times is what makes your bond unbreakable. It’s about feeling stronger together.


Think about it – can you imagine your life without your partner? 

Feeling irreplaceable to each other is what makes your relationship special. It’s all about making time and effort for each other.

Questions for reflection:

Emotional Intimacy:

Understanding and Empathy:

  • Do I truly understand my partner’s feelings and perspectives?
  • How often do I show empathy towards my partner’s experiences and emotions?

Communication and Vulnerability:

  • How comfortable do I feel sharing my deepest fears and insecurities with my partner?
  • Are there topics we avoid discussing? If so, why?

Support and Validation:

  • Do I feel emotionally supported by my partner in times of need?
  • How do I validate my partner’s feelings and experiences?

Physical Intimacy:

Affection and Touch:

  • How often do we express affection through touch, like hugging or holding hands?
  • Do I feel a sense of warmth and closeness when we are physically intimate?

Sexual Connection:

  • Are we both satisfied with our sexual relationship?
  • How comfortable am I discussing our sexual needs and desires with my partner?

Intellectual Intimacy:

Shared Interests and Conversations:

  • Do we have meaningful conversations about topics that interest us both?
  • Are there activities or hobbies we both enjoy and can share together?

Growth and Learning:

  • How often do we learn new things together or encourage each other’s intellectual growth?
  • Do I feel intellectually stimulated and challenged in this relationship?

Recreational Intimacy:

Shared Experiences and Memories:

  • Do we make time for fun and relaxation together?
  • What memorable experiences have we shared that strengthened our bond?

Adventure and Exploration:

  • Are we open to trying new activities or exploring new places together?
  • How do we handle differences in our recreational preferences?

Financial Intimacy:

Financial Goals and Management:

  • How transparent are we with each other about our finances?
  • Do we have shared financial goals, and how do we plan to achieve them?

Spending and Saving Habits:

  • Are our spending habits aligned, or do they cause conflict?
  • How do we negotiate and manage financial disagreements?

Spiritual/Philosophical Intimacy:

Values and Beliefs:

  • Do we respect and support each other’s spiritual or philosophical beliefs?
  • How do our individual beliefs influence our relationship dynamics?

Depth and Meaning:

  • Do we share a sense of purpose or meaning in our lives together?
  • How do our spiritual or philosophical views enrich our relationship?


Sai Subramaniam The digital Hope

Written by Sai Subramaniam

Sai has over 5 years of experience writing about mental health and productivity. He shares his thoughts about love, life, and business in this blog. His goal is to help people become the best version of themselves and is guided by experts in the psychology and mental health field to help educate everyone about lifestyle and productivity

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