Strip Scrabble and bubble baths put the spice back into relationships

Published 29 March 2012

Playing “Strip Scrabble” and “spending a solid hour exploring various kissing techniques” are among the  successful strategies that can help couples put the spark back in their relationship, according to a study by psychologists at the University of New England.

The study, which involved more than 100 couples, aimed to test the effectiveness of positive psychology in increasing participants’ levels of excitement with their relationships. The participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 76, were randomly assigned to one of two groups, either participating in an intervention designed to make their relationship more exciting or being placed on a waiting list. Those who participated in the intervention afterwards showed significantly higher levels of excitement and overall satisfaction with their relationships.

“Relationship research has traditionally tended to focus on conflict and negative factors,” according to Kimberley Coulter, the UNE psychology student who undertook the study for her honours thesis. “This study was about looking at the positive factors; at what was going okay but could be improved.

“Excitement is a common characteristic at the beginning of relationships. It’s something most of us experience when we first get together with someone. Unfortunately, research has shown that over time that initial novelty wears off. We wanted to see if we could bring it back.”

The intervention required participants to sit down together and draw up a plan for making their relationship more exciting. It encouraged them to explore new activities together and to be adventurous, spontaneous, playful, passionate and romantic. Suggestions included hour-long kissing sessions, surprising their partner with flowers, taking a bubble bath together and sharing sexual fantasies. Some couples were even advised to play “Strip Scrabble” as a way to turn up the heat on their relationship.

“A number of the participants said the study almost ‘gave them permission’ to try things with their partner they had previously been too shy to try,” Ms Coulter said. “It allowed them to share their fantasies and act them out.”

While not all the suggestions were sexual, “rediscovering their partner as a sexual being” was key to many of the participants achieving greater levels of excitement in their relationship.

“For many of the couples it came down to having gotten in a rut with their sex life,” Ms Coulter said. “Participating in the study helped them overcome that and ‘make things new again’.”

Dr John Malouff, the UNE psychologist who supervised the study, said that a follow-up assessment had shown the effects of the intervention to be  long-lasting.

“People were still reporting increased levels of excitement and satisfaction four months later, which demonstrates a persistent improvement, ” Dr Malouff said. “It just goes to show that a correctly focused effort can go a long way in improving the quality of a romantic relationship.”

The researchers are now planning a new study that will seek to identify other methods for increasing relationship satisfaction.

Media Contact: Kimberley Coulter (0498 002 231) or Dr John Malouff (02 6773 2555).