If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you most likely know the different stages each couple goes through. In the beginning, you can hardly keep your hands off each other. Then, before you know it, you’re pulling each other’s nose hairs and your daily “pillow talk” now consists of complaining about co-workers. Ah, true intimacy indeed.

That’s not the only change, though. Sooner than later, sexual desire for one another begins to fade and any intimacy you have left is sporadically used and often goes unnoticed by your partner. So, what happened? Did you sacrifice sex and happiness for security and comfort? Or, is something else going on?

What’s the Secret?

Now, we know not all couples go through this. Some of you are lucky enough to have been in relationships that never lacked much of anything in the bedroom (hell, even outside of the bedroom for that matter). However, there are also quite a few who know exactly what we’re talking about and are sobbing into their keyboard as they read this. So, what’s the secret? How do you continue to make your partner feel special and sexy year after year?

Well, according to research, responsiveness is the key. Responsiveness goes above and beyond feeling comfortable with your partner and treating each other nicely, says Gurit Birnbaum of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya in Israel. “Responsiveness is the linchpin of intimacy. When a partner is truly responsive, the relationship feels special and unique … Thus, engaging in sex feels like it’s improving an already valuable relationship.” After studying more than 100 couples over a course of three experiments, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology agrees.

The Experiment

Researchers began by telling the couples that they would be instant-messaging their partners. Unbeknownst to them, however, they were actually receiving standardized replies, either responsive (such as “You must have gone through a very difficult time”) or unresponsive (“Doesn’t sound so bad to me”). The couples would then fill out surveys to measure how responsive they thought their partner was and how much they wanted to have sex with them. The desire didn’t change much amongst men who received more responsive than unresponsive replies, but women thirsted their partners more when they received responsive feedback.

In the second experiment, couples talked about a personal event with their partner. The researchers then asked the couple to act physically intimate with one another. After analyzing each couple’s session and looking for signs of responsiveness and desire, the more couples saw their partner as responsive, the greater their sexual desire (again, stronger among women).

In the final experiment, couples kept a journal for six weeks where they kept track of their levels of sexual desire, as well as their partner’s responsiveness and how special they made them feel. The journals also recorded a collection of other factors like intelligence and attractiveness, traits of which make someone to be considered “desirable.” The research concluded that both men and women felt more special and also rated their partner’s values higher when they perceived their partner to be more responsive.

The Lesson

Basically, the more responsive their partner was, the more they wanted to bone.
Women pay more attention to behavioral cues, like responsiveness, that hint at a partner’s willingness to invest in the relationship. In other words, “Feeling cared for is especially important in determining, not just being correlated with, women’s sexual desire,” says Margaret Clark of Yale University.

So, if you’re looking to get the engine back up and running between you and your partner, you might want to start engaging in more conversation and listen to each other. Prioritize your partner’s needs and wishes just as much, if not slightly more, as your own and seek new experiences to heighten intimacy. Responsiveness might also help against any potential “adventuring outside of the relationship.”