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How Romantic Nostalgia Can Improve Your Love Life

Remembering special times together can make a difference in your relationship.

Key points

  • Nostalgia may seem sappy to some people, but research shows that it can improve your romantic life.
  • Romantic nostalgia focuses specifically on past experiences shared with one’s partner.
  • Romantic nostalgia can help maintain and enhance closeness and intimacy. 

“I spent the weekend with my parents,” Aleisha* said. “They were nauseatingly sweet. They kept talking about memories of special moments in their life with each other. It was sweet. But kind of embarrassing. But it’s true that they have a really good relationship. They’ve been together for 35 years, and they’re each other’s best friend. I hope that I can find someone that I can still feel that close to after 35 years.”

Nostalgia can sometimes be a little cringe-worthy, but research tells us there's something to it, especially if you want to remain happily satisfied in a long-term romantic relationship. Here's an example of what I mean:

Debra* told me, “My boyfriend and I had a really nice weekend.” As I often do when clients make a general statement like this one, I asked her if she could be more specific about what made it so nice. “Well,” she said, “I knew you were going to ask that, so I tried to figure it out on my own. But I couldn’t come up with anything special that happened. But what was really nice was that Roberto* (her boyfriend) and I felt especially close all weekend. We didn’t do anything different, I mean, we did our usual errands and hung out with friends, but we just seemed to feel closer. And we had great sex.”

I asked if she could remember when she first noticed that she was feeling closer to Roberto. She said, “Well, we had drinks and dinner with some friends on Friday night, and when we were walking home, we held hands. We do that sometimes, but not always. And then we went home and had this incredible sex. So maybe it was having good sex that set the tone for the rest of the weekend.”

That made sense – good sex can sometimes promote intimacy – but I have found over the years that it’s worthwhile to understand what occurs before a good sexual moment. In part, this is because sex often reflects the state of a relationship as much as it enhances it. If you can understand what made it happen once, you might be able to have more of a say in making it happen again.

So I asked Debra to tell me more about what had happened earlier in the day and evening. She said, “Nothing different from almost every Friday. Roberto and I said goodbye in the morning, went to work, and met up at the restaurant where we were joining our friends. It was a fun night, although it started out a little weirdly. One couple is getting ready to have their second wedding anniversary, and they started being nostalgic about moments in their relationship when they had done something fun, or something silly, or something special. It was a little sappy, but for some reason Roberto started to talk about a trip we had taken a couple of years ago, and suddenly we were laughing about how we had tried to do stand-up paddle boarding and had both fallen off our boards so many times that we’d sat down and just floated on them for an hour.”

I asked if Debra thought that it might be possible that their shared memory had anything to do with their feeling closer to each other for the rest of the weekend. She wasn’t sure. But research would suggest that it might very well have been an important factor. It seems that the small act of remembering experiences you have shared with your romantic partner can deepen your relationship. A recent study tells us that humans have a “fundamental need to belong,” and romantic relationships help us meet that need.

The study, which was published in 2022 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, took a look at “romantic nostalgia,” or nostalgia that focuses specifically on past experiences shared with one’s partner. They wondered what role romantic nostalgia plays in maintaining and enhancing closeness and intimacy.

In a series of studies, the authors found a correlation between romantic nostalgia and greater relationship commitment, satisfaction, and closeness. In their initial study, participants answered a series of questions about their relationship, their sharing of nostalgic memories of the relationship with their partner, and their feelings of commitment, intimacy, and satisfaction in their relationship. While this first set of questions didn’t show that one of these factors caused the other, it did show that couples who practiced romantic nostalgia were closer, more intimate, and more satisfied as partners than were couples who did not.

In the second study, a group of participants, all of whom were in committed romantic relationships, was divided into two equal parts. One half was asked to write for three minutes about a nostalgic experience with their partner – that is, an experience from the past with their partner for which they felt “a sentimental longing.” The other half was asked to write for three minutes about any experience with their current romantic partner. Participants who wrote about nostalgia felt somewhat closer, more satisfied, and more committed to their partners than those who had been asked to write about any experience.

In the third study, participants were again divided into two even groups. One group was asked to think of a song that reminded them of their romantic relationship and made them feel nostalgic about some experience with their partner. The other group was asked to think of any song they liked. The experimenters then played the song each participant chose. In questionnaires they filled out following hearing the song they had chosen, participants who had chosen and listened to a song that reminded them of a nostalgic moment with their loved one tested significantly higher on many of the factors that are indicators of romantic love. Together, these studies seemed to indicate a clear link between romantic nostalgia, commitment, satisfaction, and love in a romantic relationship.

So if your partner suddenly gets nostalgic, don’t fight it. Join it. And if they don't bring these memories up, start a conversation yourself. Sharing fond memories of past times together is a good way to maintain a strong, loving connection.

*Names and identifying info changed for privacy


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