11 Simple Ways To Spice Up A Stale Marriage

It's no secret that the honeymoon phase of a relationship is nothing more than, well, a phase. All the floral arrangements and chocolate-coated presents that one can expect in the first days of marriage may ultimately fade away into the reality of work, bills, and in some cases, child-rearing. Even the word "honeymoon" itself comes from an old tradition that involved sweetness with an expiration date. Historically, "honeymoon" refers to newlywed Scandinavian couples imbibing fermented honey during the first month of their marriage (one lunar cycle) to increase the chances of conception (via Brides). By the 1500s, the word "honeymoon" was already being used to let lovers know that the sweetness of a new relationship fades over time.

While the honeymoon phase doesn't last forever, it's important to remember that this can be a good thing. The reality is that the end of this lovey-dovey period actually allows couples to evolve together into a new phase. As certified relationship expert Anna Papa told the Chicago Tribune, "Our whole life is about change and learning, and so should be our marriage." Because of this constant evolution, couples need to put effort into their relationships and make sure that their marriages grow deeper, instead of evolving into that dreaded "roommate situation." One way to make sure a relationship takes a positive, new direction is by following some tips on how to spice up a stale marriage.

1. Change up your dates

Date nights are a key part of keeping a romantic relationship on track. After all, couples need to spend time alone with each other in order to connect, and dates give partners the chance to nurture their unique bond.

However, a fixed weekly night out to the same pizza joint might not actually be what the love doctor ordered. Psychology professor Arthur Aron did a study to find out how date night plans impact marriage satisfaction (via the Chicago Tribune). Aron found that couples who went on the same outing repeatedly were less satisfied with their marriages than those who mixed things up. "Doing the same old, same old doesn't do much to change anything [in a marriage]," Aron said.

The good news is that couples can use this advice to spice up a stale marriage. Go on a stroll one week, then bake cookies together the next week. Dianne Grande, Ph.D., expressed how a good date night doesn't have to be costly, but it should help couples do something outside of the norm (via Psychology Today). "It isn't about how much [money] is spent on the event," Grande wrote. "Usually, the challenge for long-term couples is to get out of the routine that they have fallen into."

2. Do something that scares you

Stepping into a spider-web-infested haunted house might not sound romantic, but it's actually a great way to make a marriage more exciting. The reason for this is that humans often confuse the symptoms of fear — i.e., sweaty palms and a rapidly beating heart — with sexual attraction. 

According to a 1974 study by Dutton and Aron (via Scientific American), one group of men was asked to walk across a shaky suspension bridge, while the other group of men was asked to walk across a more stable bridge. Men from both groups were approached by a woman after crossing their respective bridges. Interestingly, the study found that men who crossed the scarier bridge were more likely to ask the woman on a date than men who crossed the sturdier bridge. In other words, doing something frightening can trick our brains into feeling more romantic.

Because of this, couples looking to spice up a stale marriage could benefit by planning a scary date night. Riding a roller coaster, visiting a haunted house, or watching a horror film are all great ways for partners to add a bit of adrenaline into their relationship. Moreover, watching a scary movie with someone can actually make us feel more bonded to that person (via Harvard Business Review). So, instead of setting up a romantic dinner, couples might find that a frightening activity makes them feel closer, both sexually and romantically.

3. Relax together

While doing something scary can add a dash of excitement to a relationship, relaxing together can allow couples to connect physically. However, amongst all the pressures of modern society, it can be challenging for a lot of folks to find the mental space to wind down. Work, commutes, and household tasks can make it a struggle for many couples to relax, which can make it harder to connect emotionally and physically. "My clients frequently tell me that when they begin a sexual experience with their partner, their minds are elsewhere: on their stressful job, the never-ending household chores ... how much precious sleep they expect to lose if they have sex at this late hour," said licensed family and marriage therapist Diane Gleim (via Psychology Today). Put simply, too much stress makes it difficult for couples to enjoy each other.

Learning useful relaxation strategies can help couples find the inner calm to enjoy intimate moments together. Mindfulness techniques might include breathing deeply and meditating (via Psych Central). Interestingly, couples who practice mindfulness don't just get a physical reward; they also experience an emotional boost. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension found that "higher levels of mindfulness are related to higher levels of relationship satisfaction" (via Wilson Lab). In that sense, relaxing together is a fun and stress-free way to spice up a stale marriage. 

4. Connect over the small moments

If real life was like a Hollywood movie, romantic connections would be all about candles, roses, and champagne. Luckily, psychologists have found that connection has more to do with the small moments that accumulate throughout the day rather than, say, a fancy dinner. Partners are constantly sending each other signs that they would like to connect (via Gottman Institute). These are called "bids." A bid could be as simple as one person saying: "Look, I see a butterfly in our garden!" Or, a bid could be a more direct request for attention, such as: "Can I have a hug?"

Once a bid has been placed, the partner on the receiving end can choose to either accept or reject it. Accepting a bid could sound like, "Wow! That butterfly is so pretty." Meanwhile, rejecting one might sound like, "Stop asking me for hugs; you're so needy." 

Interestingly, bid acceptance has a huge impact in terms of relationship satisfaction. The frequency of bid acceptance is closely correlated to the divorce rate (via Gottman Institute). In one study, couples who got divorced within six years of getting married only accepted each other's bids about 33% of the time. On the flip side, couples who were still married after six years of marriage accepted each other's bids 86% of the time. Thus, partners can spice up a stale marriage by accepting each other's bids and connecting over the small stuff.

5. Say 'thank you'

"Please" and "thank you" are magic words, but not everybody remembers to say them. Unfortunately, forgetting to use these terms with one's partner is more than a social blunder — it's actually a full-blown relationship mistake. Science shows that when both people in a relationship show gratitude, they are happier together. One research study performed by Prof. Allen Barton at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (via Study Finds) examined the impact of saying "thank you" on couples' relationships. The results found that couples who communicated feelings of gratitude were more likely to feel satisfied in their partnerships. Additionally, they were less likely to consider breaking up in the future. 

This research shows that there are simple ways to incorporate gratitude into daily life. According to social psychologist Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D., expressing gratitude is a great way to keep a relationship alive (via Greater Good Magazine). Gordon advises couples to show thanks as deeply as possible. "My definition of gratitude includes appreciating not just what your partner does, but who they are as a person. You're not just thankful that your partner took out the trash — you're thankful that you have a partner who is thoughtful enough to know you hate taking out the trash," Gordon explained. In that sense, showing gratitude is an expression of love that can easily spice up a marriage, or even save it.

6. Carve out time for active listening

Active listening may not sound particularly sexy, but it's a tried and true method for spicing things up with a romantic partner. The reason is that most humans are not very good listeners, and unfortunately, a lot of romantic relationships suffer the consequences. 

"If we're distracted, the distortion rate goes up to almost 100% immediately," Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., said when explaining why most people lack essential listening skills (via Be Here Now Network). This is because "most of us are running a movie in our minds, projecting reality as we know it or as we fear it, wish it, or remember it," Hendrix elaborated. In other words, passive listening can actually block communication because it prioritizes the listener's thoughts over what the speaker is actually saying.

That's where active listening comes in. Active listening occurs when the listener makes an active effort to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate (via the British Heart Foundation). In a practical sense, this means staying focused on the conversation, maintaining eye contact with the speaker, and resisting the urge to plan one's own response. This might sound like a tall order, but in the end, couples who engage in active listening reap the benefits. According to a 2021 study published in BMC Women's Health, couples who communicate well have lower rates of marital burnout. As a result, active listening can help partners feel engaged in their relationships. 

7. Reignite your sex life

Sex is not the most important part of a relationship, however, physical intimacy can play a major role in cultivating a sense of closeness between partners. "Sex motivates human beings to connect, regardless of gender. ... It's the magnetism that holds partners together long enough for an attachment bond to form," said social psychologist Gurit Birnbaum (via the University of Rochester).

While all of the connectedness of sex may sound appealing in theory, it can be challenging for married couples to bring that into practice. According to Chris Kraft, Ph.D., director of clinical services at the Sex and Gender Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medicine, it's normal for couples to experience a lull in their sex lives (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). "[Over time], couples aren't as intentional about connecting with each other as they were earlier in the relationship," said Kraft.

One way to reignite that spark is by increasing pillow talk before bedtime. A little bit of nighttime chit-chat can go a long way, according to family therapist Dr. Juliana Morris (via Oprah Daily). "Pillow talk is about releasing, allowing vulnerability, and showing up authentically with your partner," said Morris. According to the family therapist, couples could try to give each other compliments before bed or say something like, "It was so hot watching you cut the grass today," which can open the door to both physical and emotional intimacy. 

8. Try something new together

Trying something new often requires getting out of one's comfort zone. And that can be, well, uncomfortable. Nonetheless, trying new things with one's partner is a great way to add some heat to a stale marriage. Experiencing new adventures together allows you to learn more about yourself but also your partner, according to Bunzeck and Duzel, 2006 (via Psychology Today).

However, just because a couple wants to enjoy new experiences doesn't mean that they should feel pressured to be good at them, according to psychotherapist Gina Simmons Schneider, Ph.D., (via Psychology Today). "This year, my husband and I have taken up tennis. We look ridiculous as we chase balls, windmill our rackets, and sheepishly ask for balls back that we've hit into the next court," Schneider said. In other words, the point of trying a new activity is to strengthen a bond, not to show immediate mastery.

Because of this, couples who are trying to build a stronger marriage should give something new a try. Play a new board game together, sign up for a couple's paddle ball session, or go for a walk somewhere different. If partners are willing to try something that involves physical exercise, they may see even more benefits. According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, couples that work out together can experience higher relationship satisfaction (via Sage Journals).

9. Remember a date from your past

Making new memories is important, but that doesn't mean a couple's old memories should be cast aside. On the contrary, remembering the past is a huge part of being in a romantic relationship. According to Scientific American, people in love tend to have a much better memory than those who aren't. This could explain why so many people can recall the clothes they wore on a date 20 years ago, even though they can't remember the name of their old boss for the life of them. 

Interestingly, the particular sharpness of love-related memories seems to serve an evolutionary purpose. According to a 2022 study at the University of Siegen, couples who had similar memories about how their relationship started out also had better marriage outcomes (via Psychology Today). More specifically, when both partners agreed on both the facts and the emotional aspects of their memories, they had lower chances of getting divorced. As a result, couples looking to spice up a stale marriage might want to reminisce about the past. Partners can grab a hot cup of tea, curl up on the sofa, and discuss some of their favorite memories. According to the study, these conversations can make couples feel closer together. By retelling a piece of their shared history, partners can rekindle the sensation of belonging to each other.

10. Ask each other intimate questions

In 2015, the New York Times published a sensational piece titled "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This." The article explores the list of 36 questions created by New York research psychologist Arthur Aron. When two people sit down and go through the list of questions together, the experience reportedly kindles a romantic connection. And that was the point of the questionnaire. As Aron told Brides, "We set up experiments where we set up people to feel romantic connections." However, the researcher has said he doesn't believe that the questionnaire will necessarily lead to love. "This procedure should deepen the relationship, but it doesn't necessarily make you fall in love," the psychologist said.

Nonetheless, the 36 questions present a fun opportunity for married couples to grow closer together. The reason that the questions work, according to Aron, is that they can foster a sense of compassion. "What we've learned is what matters not so much as self-disclosure but feeling the other person's responsiveness," the researcher explained (via Brides). "You want to know the other person cares about you." Because of this, couples looking to spice up their marriage can grab a blanket, light some candles, and start going through the questions one by one. Partners should listen closely to each other's responses and express as much affection as possible. Maybe they will even fall in love again.

11. Be affectionate

Affection may seem like the cherry on top of an otherwise healthy relationship. After all, a kiss goodbye or a kind pat on the back can feel nice, but it might not seem as important as date nights or smooth communication. Nonetheless, science shows that affection is not as superfluous as some would think. A 2020 study found that receiving non-sexual physical affection increased men's overall relationship satisfaction (via Binghampton University). Meanwhile, the study also found that a failure to receive non-sexual physical affection decreased women's overall relationship satisfaction. Consequently, small gestures like cuddling and hugging have a significant impact on how happy partners are in their marriage. 

One of the reasons for this correlation between affection and marital bliss is that physical touch is so powerful. According to family therapist Amanda Deverich, affection actually has the potential to increase feelings between partners (via North State Parent). "Couples believe affection is simply an inspired by-product of a feeling. ... However, it can be the other way around. Love, connectedness, and caring can be sparked by physical touch," Deverich said. Because of this phenomenon, couples in need of spicing up their marriage can make an effort to be more affectionate. Holding hands, kissing each other's cheeks, or even placing a hand on each other's shoulders are all great ways to bond. These gestures can make couples feel a deeper sense of love and intimate connection.