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How to put the spark back in your marriage, according to a dating coach

Relationship need a boost? Matthew Hussey says the biggest mistake you can make is to think: 'I've got my person now. I did it. I won.'
by Margaret O'Malley /
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Matthew Hussey says his professional mission is to help you find love. Though his books and YouTube channel tend to focus on the affairs of the heart of millennial men and women looking for love in an increasingly complicated digital age, the 31-year-old Brit says he likes giving dating and relationship advice simply because it appeals to everyone. "There is literally no one on earth who isn't interested in relationship dynamics, or how to meet someone special. Or if they've already met someone special, how to make that relationship as good as it can be. It's a universal subject," Hussey says.

In fact, Hussey believes the things we want most from our relationship remain the same from the first date to "I do" to binge watching Netflix on a boring Saturday night. We sat down with the love guru to find out what he knows about keeping the spark alive — and how to reignite it.

This interview was edited for clarity.

BETTER: What are we really looking for in a relationship?

Hussey: Phew, big question. I think people don't want be alone. Ultimately, we want to feel connected. We want to feel like there is someone who actually sees us in the world. That's the big thing: to be seen. How many people actually feel seen?

That quote in Avatar: "I see you." There's something really powerful about that. Because when we feel seen, we feel accepted. We feel acknowledged for who we are. And very few times in our life do we feel seen. But we have the potential, the hope of that, in a wonderful relationship.

BETTER: Does that need to be seen change over time?

Hussey: I don't think the idea of being seen changes in its importance. I think it's always true. When relationships start to have problems, it's almost always because we don't feel seen by that person anymore. You can have someone in a 20-year marriage, and they felt more understood by their partner ten years ago than they do today. We assume our partners aren't growing. Our partners are growing. They're changing. They're evolving. The mistake is thinking that they're not.

I can't say I know you this year because I knew you three years ago. I have to be getting to know you all the time. That's what it is to truly see someone. I still need to be curious. Ten years into a marriage I should still be asking you, "What are your goals?" If I assume it's the same stuff from three years ago, then I'm not truly seeing you. So I don't think that urge to be seen changes. But I think we take that for granted if we've been together long enough. Familiarity isn't the same thing as true understanding.

BETTER: How do you keep the fizz from fizzling?

Hussey: People have to understand, and one of my good friends, Esther Perel, talks about this in her book, "Mating in Captivity", there is a big difference between love and desire. Love is something where we're coming together. We're getting closer. We're becoming one.

And when you think about it, early on in a relationship, everything is a gravitational pull towards being close. But desire is the other component we need in a relationship. Desire exists in the space between two people. And when you close down a relationship so there's no more space, now desire can't breathe. So it gets suffocated.

And that happens in long-term relationships. You have a marriage that breaks down often, not because there's a lack of love, but because there's a lack of desire. And so the tricky part is we have to do what seems completely unnatural, which is to sometimes grow ourselves, or do something that helps our partner see us as mysterious again. And it could be something simple. It doesn't have to be taking time away from your partner. It could be your partner's never known you to dance, and tonight you take a salsa class. Just enough for your partner to go, "Huh?" Now all of a sudden your partner's like, "There's something different about you today."

BETTER: What is this "space between" you keep talking about?

Hussey: Love is closeness. Desire is what creates closeness, right? Because the more we desire someone, the more we want to bring them closer. But desire is created in the space between two people. It's the mystery of getting to know someone.

Dating coach Matthew Hussey
Matthew Hussey, dating coach and author of "How to Get the Guy" Angie Myers

Love is "I know you." Desire is "I want to know you." So it's understanding those little mechanisms that make us still mysterious, even to someone that we've known our whole lives. And that's not just true of an intimate relationship. It's true of our brothers, our sisters, our mothers ... our kids.

People in their relationships, they think, "I've got my person now. I did it. I won. Now I'm going to focus on my job." You're an idiot. Because that [relationship] will get average, and it will die if you take that approach. Your relationship has to be a place where there is zero arrogance. No sense of entitlement. Nothing you take for granted. It has to be a place where you completely kill your ego and come every day saying, "How can I be great for you?" And that's something people don't do.

BETTER: What are the signs that the space is closing?

Hussey: Any time you're with your partner and you assume that you know everything about them is a dangerous point in the relationship. That's when people get complacent and comfortable.

Every day we should wake up and say, "How do I impress my partner today? How could I be a little less predictable today?" It could be simple stuff.

People get so grandiose in their mind about what they need to do to shake up their relationship. If I call you beautiful, but then today instead of saying beautiful, which I say all the time, I say, "You look hot today," just a change in language can make someone go, "You never call me hot. That's different."

Although you may have said it's forever, nothing is forever unless you actually commit to working on it every day.

But if you have stopped asking the questions, "How do I impress my partner?" or "How do I flirt with my partner today?" now you're in trouble. Because it means you're taking for granted that this relationship is forever. And although you may have said it's forever, nothing is forever unless you actually commit to working on it every day.

BETTER: Do you believe you can fall in love with someone "all over again?"

Hussey: It happens all the time. The saddest part about it is often you see it in moments where damage has already been done, or it's too late. Or after they've broken up. Someone will break up with somebody, and after three months apart they suddenly get enough distance to see the space between them again, and to see them as who they are again, instead of just, "This is my person."

And seeing that person in that light again — snap! — creates that same instinct that they had first time round. If you want someone to see you new again, remember what it was you did at the beginning of the relationship. You probably had hobbies. You probably had things that made you independently you.

It's all about those things that we did in the beginning, and working them into a relationship. The key to an amazing relationship is never stop flirting with your partner. But people do. Proust said the the journey of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes. Too many times in relationships people are seeking a new landscape when what they really need to be doing is seeing with new eyes.

Too many times in relationships people are seeking a new landscape when what they really need to be doing is seeing with new eyes.

BETTER: Why do we stop flirting with our partners?

Hussey: I think people stop flirting with their partner because people are lazy. They're not doing the extra 10 percent that would make their relationship great. I don't have false modesty about this. In every relationship I'm ever in, I never want to be normal. I'm always going to want to give that extra 10 percent. How do I not make it about me? How do I make it about you instead? Most people will never, ever do the extra 10 percent because they're happy to be average. That's okay. But if you do the average amount, you're going to have an average relationship.

BETTER: What are some ways we can use social media and other forms of communication to do 10 percent more?

Hussey: These days we have many different ways of communicating. It's not just verbally, it's through text or many of us are communicating with our partners through social media ... liking a photo they have, or commenting on something.

But no one form of communication is an evil. It's just how we use it. And sometimes people make the mistake of saying, "I'm not a texter so I'm not going to do that. I'm more of a being on the phone person." Well if you're saying that, then you don't really understand the value of being able to ping someone a message during their day. You can shoot someone a message in their day saying, "I cannot get you off my mind right now."

If I text you all the time, write me a letter today. Someone takes the time to write out something in pen, it's going to mean something different. It matters. The intensity is different. Or if you always send flowers, do something else. Figure out a new way to show them appreciation or affection. It's about changing up the modality, and the way that we communicate with someone.

I had a pet hamster when I was ten years old. I used to clean the cage and make it all neat and tidy. One day, my dad had tipped over the hamster wheel. And the hamster was just kind of walking around and staring at the wheel, trying to figure out what had happened. And I was annoyed, because I liked everything in these neat and tidy lines. I looked at my dad and I said, "Why'd you do that?"

He said, "I just wanted to give him something to think about." And it never left me. I had made it the same day every day of this hamster's life. And maybe the wheel being on its side wasn't the best thing ever, but it was still something to think about. And sometimes we have to give our partners something to think about.

Make them think a little. Do something different. Do something out of the ordinary for you. Show them appreciation in a different way. Tip over the wheel and give them a new game to play today. That's how you keep a relationship alive.

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