The beginning of a relationship is an exciting time. Sometimes, when you have chemistry with someone, you just know it’s going to be amazing.
But what about a long-term relationship? After a couple has been together for a while, is it possible to keep things exciting? What if a person feels like their partner has a lot in common, but no chemistry survived past the honeymoon phase?
Understanding how these phases of attraction work can help you to navigate your future together.
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Chemistry is a sense of connection and excitement people feel when they meet someone for the first time1. The feeling of connection can be intense, in the case of “love at first sight.” It could also be less sharp, but no less persistent, like when it feels like you’ve known someone your whole life.
You might notice a reaction in your body and your mind if you feel attraction for someone. Warmth, nervousness, and even increased blood flow to your nose, these are all physical reactions. You might notice yourself picking up their mannerisms, a sure sign that you’re feeling the chemistry2.
Chemistry is based on an emotional connection, not just a physical one. You might not have an explosive reaction to someone the very first time you meet. In fact, you might feel like there’s no chemistry on the first date. But first dates are awkward. Give it one or two more meetings to decide how you feel about someone.
Chemistry plays a large part in the initial phases of the relationship. For two individuals to start talking, there needs to be a spark of interest. That interest needs to continue to grow and hold both people’s attention.
Romantic chemistry is important because it helps to define the relationship as different from friendship. Without the spark of attraction, your partner may be your best friend or an amicable roommate.
Partners can stay together without chemistry. Many people feel less magnetically attracted to their partners than at the beginning of the relationship, but that doesn’t have to be the end of a long-term relationship. Friendship can be just as fulfilling as a romantic relationship.
It’s common to see a decline in chemistry in a relationship. The flame of new love can smolder under the demands of everyday life and different personalities. Here are some common signs of a lack of chemistry in a long-term relationship.
This is the sign that most people think of when they think of a couple having no chemistry. A couple may have had powerful sexual feelings at the beginning of the relationship, but somewhere along the line, things change.
You might notice that sex doesn’t feel exciting anymore. Instead of looking forward to sex, it’s just another item on your to-do list. You may not feel attracted to your partner. You probably don’t feel particularly attractive, yourself.
Chemistry is, above all, an emotional connection with someone. Expressing feelings, feeling heard, and being able to understand others is the function of emotions3. When something interrupts that communication, chemistry flags.
New parents tend to experience this sudden change in how they feel about each other. A baby demands round-the-clock attention and energy. The sheer number of changes to their lives can prevent them from even thinking about emotional or physical intimacy4.
If you’ve been disconnected emotionally, you might feel like you and your partner don’t understand each other. You can’t turn to him when you need comfort, and you might forget to let him know about something good in your life.
If there is chemistry in a relationship, both partners like spending time together. When they are apart, they’re looking forward to their next meeting. They are interested in each other’s days, and may even bring gifts home because they thought of each other.
You may have lost the chemistry in your relationship if you wouldn’t give a passing thought to letting your partner know you’re leaving the house. You might feel like he lives an entirely different life than you. You may even grow to like that, because you like keeping your own life separate.
Eventually, the rose-colored glasses of the honeymoon have to come off. As people settle into long-term relationships, they integrate into each other’s lives. Often, there can be expectations or patterns that don’t fit as well as the couple’s initial chemistry suggested.
Quirks you used to think of as cute might now make you feel crazy. You might cringe when you know you have to spend time with him. You might feel like there’s no chemistry, and you can’t imagine why there ever was.
Being attracted to more than one person is not a sign that you and your partner don’t have a spark. But when a couple lacks chemistry, their eyes wander more than they appreciate their own partner.
Are you almost always more attracted to people who aren’t your partner? Do you find yourself craving the excitement of sharing your day with someone else? You might find that your own partner just doesn’t compete anymore.
If you noticed any of the above situations in your relationship, worry not. The chemistry between two people can be rekindled.
These first tips are about building your emotional connection with each other. Having chemistry is more than just being physically attracted. In fact, attraction is more about how you feel with your partner than how physically appealing they are5.
The phrase “nothing about me without me” is a philosophy that is very important here. If there really is no chemistry between the two of you, you don’t know each other as well as you used to. Because of this, you have to ask your partner what they want.
Prepare to approach this potentially difficult conversation with an open mind. It takes a lot of vulnerability to discuss attraction and connection. If you or your partner have an insecure attachment style, this conversation can be even harder6.
Before starting, you might say the following to each other:
“This might be a hard conversation, but I’m not going to hurt you on purpose. I trust that you also won’t hurt me on purpose, even if my feelings get hurt. We’re a team, and this is to help us feel more connected. I love you.”
Ask your partner how they feel about the relationship. What does he feel is missing? What emotions do they want to feel when you’re together? How long has the relationship felt like there’s no chemistry at all?
Now that you’ve talked, you might want to change everything right away. It would make sense for swift action to fix a lack of chemistry in a long-term relationship. But the reality is that making too many changes at once will keep you from making lasting changes. It’s better to do one thing at a time.
Identify one area in your lives that both of you feel you could make changes in. Pick one small thing for both of you to do or say for a month. This might be reminding each other that you love each other. It could be taking on an errand or chore because you know it will be nice for your partner.
This is a great opportunity to build trust with each other, but there is also a risk of creating more distance. Make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for failure; if there’s something that you think will be an obstacle to the change you’ve committed to, tell your partner.
Studies show that people who are similar in some ways, but not all, have a more intense attraction to one another7. You and your partner may share values, political ideas, or spiritual beliefs. But what about the places where you’re dissimilar?
Curiosity is a component of attraction that extends the desire to pay attention to someone. Couples who are able to maintain their separate identities from each other tend to be more satisfied with their relationships8. This may be because they have more independent experiences to share with one another.
If your partner has a specific interest that you don’t share, ask what they like about that particular thing. How did they get into the hobby? Honest interest in his thoughts and feelings can go a long way to sparking your attraction.
For many people, a lack of chemistry comes from staying in their comfort zone. Doing the same thing every day, with the same people, can make it difficult to feel interested in much of anything.
Disrupting your usual day by doing something out of the box can be a great way to connect with your partner. Seeing your partner in a new light can catch your attention in ways that a “normal” day can’t.
You don’t have to jump out of a plane together (unless you want to!) to have an adventure. Find an activity in your town that you’ve never done together. You might take a painting or dance class. You could try going roller skating, or go to a restaurant where you don’t recognize any of the food. Whatever you do, avoid falling into your usual routine.
One of the things I see in most disconnected couples is that they don’t spend purposeful time with each other. They’re productive, entertained, or relaxed together, but not because they intentionally chose to be.
When people feel emotionally disconnected, they often feel like they’re living completely separate lives. They drift in and out of each other’s orbits. They might be around each other, but they’re not with each other.
The key to setting your intentions together is to prioritize the time you are focused on each other. This means no interruptions, except for emergencies, for at least three minutes. This is the time when you share your emotions about the upcoming day.
A pretty easy way to integrate this into your day is just to breathe together. Place your hand over your partner’s heart, and have them do the same to you. Look into each other’s eyes or touch your foreheads together. Take 3 deep breaths together. You can say I love you, but you don’t have to. Sometimes you feel it, right under your hand.
The beginning of the relationship, when people feel the most intense chemistry, is usually a time when they put the most effort into their appearance. Over time, the effort that could be put into their presentation is often directed to kids, work, and chores.
This can be countered by having a day or night to put in a bit of extra effort.
Wearing an outfit that you feel attractive and comfortable in can boost your self-esteem. It also gives your partner a chance to see you differently than he does every day. The change might inspire him to dress up too, in order to catch your eye like you did his.
The human body is full of nerves to tell us about the world around us. And there are a lot of nerves in our hands. We pay attention to them. And when they’re connected to another person, it can make us feel more intensely connected.
Holding hands is good for your mental and physical health. It helps us feel more secure and pay attention to the positive.
Not feeling seen or appreciated has a significant negative impact on how connected we feel. A common reaction to feeling like our efforts don’t matter to others is to stop putting in any effort. Another possibility is an unpleasant mix of hurt and anger.
There are a lot of situations in everyday life where you might be taking your partner for granted. From taking out the trash to picking up your parents at the airport, there are a million little things he does for you. And you know it hurts to not be acknowledged because you notice when you take the time to do something for him and he seems to look right over it.
Luckily, showing your partner that you appreciate them is pretty simple. Look for ways that your partner has done something nice. Maybe it made your day easier or made you smile. Tell him about the impact that thing had on you, and how it made you feel to know he put in the energy.
Many people feel like coming home isn’t something to be excited about. It might be better than work, but it’s not a positive event, even when their true love is waiting for them.
I often give clients the assignment of calling or texting each other when they’re 20 minutes from home. The act of giving the reminder primes the person coming home to look for their partner. Receiving the reminder lets the other person switch mental gears to intentionally welcome their partner home.
When you’re on your way home, give your partner a quick call. Let them know how you’re feeling. Pick something to do when you get home, such as a quick hug, a shower, or a cuddle on the couch. Now that you’re thinking about it, you’ll probably notice an increase in your excitement to make it home.
Being vulnerable is opening up emotionally in a way that gives another person the ability to hurt your feelings. The word vulnerability even comes from the Latin vulnus, which means “wound.”
Connection comes from being emotionally open and honest with each other. There’s no way to do that when one partner is keeping their guard up. That includes avoiding and pretending things are better than they actually are.
Open up to your partner about something that you might feel nervous about sharing. These can be unpleasant things, like your fears for the future or an embarrassing memory. They can also be things that are happy, like your favorite thing about him, or something you’d like to do someday.
If there’s no chemistry left in the relationship, your sex life is probably not the best. Sex requires emotional intimacy, the ability to open up and take comfort in each other. Without working on emotional connection, you won’t make too much progress in this arena.
That being said, there are a lot of things to try if there’s no chemistry in the bedroom.
Lips contain a lot of nerve endings9, and as such, they are very sensitive. This might be one of the reasons babies put everything in their mouth - it’s a great way to get information!
Because our lips are so sensitive, kissing is an intensely intimate act. A quick peck can be a bright moment of attention to each other. A longer make-out session like you’re both 22 again can help both of you feel more in the mood.
Take some time, at least once a week, to kiss one another, with no other expectations. The point is not to have sex, it’s to get familiar with each other again. Without the pressure to go farther, you can both relax and focus on the present moment.
I consider flirting to be a form of foreplay because it is a signal that one partner is looking at the other sexually. Because life can get very busy, this signal is very important to help both parties mentally and emotionally prepare to start making their way to the bedroom.
Compliment your partner’s body. Use words and terms that make them feel attractive. Tell them you like their ass in their jeans, or that you’ve been thinking about their lips all day. These statements help the two of you turn toward each other.
Phones are a huge part of our lives, so it makes sense to use them as a part of your flirting. Sexting, or sending sexy messages, can keep the two of you thinking of each other sexually when you’re not together.
Sexting can be more than sending a peach emoji or a picture of you in a state of undress. Provocative words, a link to a passage of erotica, or even sending a video that turns you on can help you understand each other in the bedroom.
When you’re finally ready to get horizontal with each other, it’s okay to fall back on things you know you like. But with your new spark, why not try something new? Explore emotions and sensations you would be interested in feeling with your partner.
Yes! Chemistry is just one aspect of a romantic relationship. Whether or not you’re interested in getting the spark back, your partnership doesn’t have to end just because your reaction to them entering a room has dulled.
Not necessarily. Emotional attraction actually has more of an influence on chemistry than physical attraction. Someone could be the most beautiful person to ever exist, but if you don’t mesh emotionally, there’s going to be a lack of chemistry.
First dates can be a roller coaster of emotions, and it can be hard to connect with someone the first time you meet. If you share interests and you like this person, you should consider giving them two or three dates to see if there’s a chance for a chemical reaction.
Attraction is complex. Physical attraction is often one of the first things we notice about someone, but emotional connection determines long-term satisfaction. So you have to decide if physical attraction is important to you.
Chemistry is complex, and it can be easy to let the flame die out. This is a common phase in a relationship. But with dedicated effort you can rekindle your emotional and sexual connection with your partner.