07/27/2012 07:55 EDT | Updated 09/26/2012 05:12 EDT

The Surprising Thing that Spices Up a Long-Term Relationship


When in a relationship, be it long-term dating, live-in or married, multiple dynamics are at play that determine how healthy, fresh and happy it is. We've all heard about the importance of keeping the spice alive in our sex life. And of course the subject winning the award for "Topic Most Beaten to Death" -- work/life balance -- in particular, the lack of time and attention paid to a relationship due to demands we face in all the other roles we play as business owners, professionals, mothers, fathers, coaches, friends, children of an aging parent.

Need I go on?

But here's another all-important relationship challenge that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves -- the Fresh Factor. Your relationship is at risk of going socially stale. Like an open box of Corn Flakes and once-a-week (or less) missionary sex with the lights out, what we think and talk about when we spend time with our partner, can get boring and crusty.

As opposed to lack of attention on our significant other being an issue, the challenge some couples face is too little time spent engaged in activities outside of their relationship. Does your partner have a limited or non-existent social life? Does he work in a job that offers little to talk about at the end of the day? Are his non-working hours dominated by sitting on the couch watching television, or following you room-to-room because your placement of the folded wash cloths in the closet is simply fascinating to him?

Or maybe you and your spouse work together, doing the same work, for the same business, in the same office, talking to the same customers every day? You sit down for dinner at the end of the day and what do you talk about? The same things you did all day long.

Like vitamins, red wine or even water, which in moderation and appropriate amounts are good and even essential for us, excess of the same old thing can make our relationships sick. Heads up. Don't let your relationship suffer a slow and painful demise as a result of samenessness. Yes, I made that up, but you get the point.

Whatever your source of staleness or sameness, there are some simple dos and don'ts to keep it fresh, alive and healthy.

1 - Do schedule time and activities that don't involve your spouse. Go see a movie with a friend. Hike that trail you've heard about. Volunteer for a local charity or event. Find out if your employer is a member of your local Chamber of Commerce and get involved.

2 - Don't arrange his calendar. You are not responsible for your spouse's social life. Let him socialize on his own. If you want to schedule couples night with new people to see if he strikes up a new friendship, fine, but save the planning of play dates for the kids.

3 - Do follow your passions and take time for things you enjoy. What did you love to do before the relationship that you no longer make time for? Writing? Painting? Is there something new you've wanted to learn or try? Then do it! We have a twisted sense these days that being a good partner means living a life of sacrifice. That somehow, when we completely drain ourselves of time and energy, put our needs, wants and passions aside for the sake of someone else that makes us a good partner. WTF? I'll tell you what makes you a good partner: being your happiest self.

4 - Don't feel guilty about doing things without him or her. I'm not suggesting you spend all your non-working hours either away from or paying no attention to your partner, but I am suggesting that your relationship will benefit and be healthier when you expose yourself to people and activities that expand your horizons. Bottom line, focus on changing you, not the other person. "Yeah but, it's not me, it's him." Um, no, sorry. That's not how it works. That's why nothing has changed.

Too often, we think the answer to our woes and frustrations lie in the behavior and habits of someone else changing. You know, the classic case of the "If onlys." "If only he would talk to new people and make friends. If only he would start a hobby."

If only we'd stop putting a happier life dependent on the impossible (changing another person's behaviour), then we'd make real progress.