The Scoop: When the honeymoon phase ends and a relationship gets real, couples usually need to change their approach to keep their connection strong and exciting. Relationship therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil talked to us about what couples can do to integrate connective moments into their daily routines. She also explored why cuddling is super important and explained her approach to sensitive conversations with a partner. 

The worst kind of conflicts to have with a partner are the tangential ones. Where one thing bubbles up after another, and eventually, the two of you don’t even know what you were fighting about in the first place. 

Conflict is inevitable in relationships. It’s part of their essence. Part of what makes relationships resilient and secure is their ability to address and overcome conflict in a way that serves and protects everyone involved.

Secure conflict can be difficult to achieve in any stage of a relationship. Relationship therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil talked to us about her approach to guiding couples through conflict and why it’s important for couples to make time for novelty, connection, and honesty in their day-to-day lives.

“There has to be romance in a relationship,” Dr. Bonnie said. “Think about the honeymoon phase and all the positive chemical interactions and hormones happening when you first fell in love. Those were there because you were exciting, new, and still finding out things about each other.”

What to do as The Honeymoon Phase Fades

Most relationships have some kind of honeymoon phase. This phase takes place in the weeks and months after you become romantically involved with your partner, as you’re first getting to know them and learning new things about them.

The honeymoon phase is exciting – emotionally, physically, and sexually. Dr. Bonnie said the relationship period is defined by what some call love hormones. 

“After the honeymoon stage, when you get married or move in together, the hormones change, and physical attraction and chemistry can start to go down. One of the biggest problems I see in marriages is keeping the novelty and excitement.”

dr. bonnie eaker weil
Couples can recreate the romantic feelings from the beginning of their relationship through small habits.

In the earlier dating stages, couples may not see each other often, making each meeting feel like a valued occasion. When you move in together, the novelty of spending time together is changed and has to become more intentional.

“We want to recreate the same chemical scenario that we had in the early stages while we’re living together and doing life,” Dr. Bonnie said. “You can’t just do a date night. You have to keep space, novelty, excitement.”

Dr. Bonnie said one of the most intense love hormones is oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone. “When you kiss your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, that feeling of being happy, bonded, and connected is oxytocin,” she said. “You have to rediscover the oxytocin.”

Dr. Bonnie told us that couples can infuse their relationship with that kind of full-body feeling of intimacy by replicating the hormonal circumstances at the beginning of their relationship. “We teach people how not to lose the love feeling, but maintain it,” Dr. Bonnie said. 

Replicating it begins with healthy and open communication, daily acts of connection, and making space for new ideas and experiences in the relationship.

When Challenges Arise, It’s All in How You Handle It

When the honeymoon phase ends and communication and connection begin to suffer, conflict arises more often. Throughout conflict, couples can have difficulty finding the space and emotional capacity for intimate connection, beginning a dangerous cycle.

“Struggling couples can stay together and recreate that chemistry they used to feel,” Dr. Bonnie said. “I talk about it in my book ‘Make Up, Don’t Break Up.’ It’s called Smart Heart skills and dialogue. This approach asks people to put their fears into words.”

We are motivated by our fears, especially in relationships. Dr. Bonnie said all too often, couples aren’t honest with each other about their fears and don’t have the capacity to adequately express them to one another.

healthy communication
Communication flourishes when each partner listens to the worries and desires of the other.

“Most of the time, when people who are married or living together start moving away from each other, it’s because they aren’t talking about their issues– they’re acting them out,” Dr. Bonnie said. “Acting out can be an affair, which is a dysfunctional attempt to stabilize the relationship you’re in. But it’s all about conflict avoidance.”

Smart Heart dialogue puts the real issues on the table. Dr. Bonnie said couples will find that by being honest and vulnerable with one another, these issues may not feel as overwhelming. Instead, they feel manageable.

Different relationships require different boundaries. Even in the most intimate romantic relationships, couples require a little time apart. “Create movement,” Dr. Bonnie said. “We’re not looking for words in a relationship. We’re looking for action and growth.”

Don’t Analyze Your Relationship, Live It

Smart Heart dialogue encourages authenticity in challenging conversations between partners while preventing over-communication. While it’s essential to be honest and open with a partner, Dr. Bonnie said no relationship benefits from analysis.

“Sometimes what I see with patients in therapy is a desire to have constant relationship talks,” Dr. Bonnie said. “I see it happening before and after therapy, and patients just want to unload and have this marathon conversation with their partner about every aspect of their relationship.”

These kinds of conversations are overwhelming for the receiving partner. They contain too much information to handle all at once and often feel more like attacks than attempts to make things right. 

The person giving the relationship talk often experiences many negative feelings, and when their partner doesn’t receive it well, they can feel dismissed or ignored.

connection through mindfulness
Focus on how you can connect with your partner in the present moment.

“Don’t dissect relationships to death,” Dr. Bonnie said. “We talk about it in therapy, so you can’t let those talks seep into the relationship when they don’t have to. Instead, just get connected with each other.”

When relationship talks dominate time with your partner, making time for connection is impossible. Dr. Bonnie encouraged couples to make time to enjoy the activities that connect them the most, even if they’re in a tough patch of their relationship.

Avoiding over-talking your relationship isn’t about avoiding problems. Couples who routinely have open and vulnerable conversations about their fears, worries, and emotions about the relationship can address problems with compassion and swiftness.

This leaves room for exciting and fun connection in the meantime. “This is the best tip, and it’s so easy,” Dr. Bonnie said. “Carve out ten or fifteen minutes in the morning to cuddle with your partner in bed after you wake up. Cuddling brings up the oxytocin. It connects you. People may laugh– but it works.”