Rekindling Passion in Your Marriage – Novelty, Surprise, and Variety
January 21, 2013
— Interpersonal relationship, Intimate relationship, marriage, mental-health, Passion (emotion), relationship, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Tom Muha
By TOM MUHA, For The Capital
The exuberant passion of new love lasts about two years, according to psychologists who research relationships. After that time the intense happiness tends to fade and couples drift into “companionate” love.
For some this shift evolves into a secure connection and deep affection. For others, it is mistakenly perceived as incompatibility or rejection.
Unfortunately, many people become extremely unhappy in their relationship when the passion wanes. They blame their partner rather than understand that this situation is a part of being human. It doesn’t take a scientist to see that maintaining the same level of intensity is difficult when you’ve been getting into bed with the same person night after night for years. When a relationship is new couples are just discovering their partner’s sexual preference, the level of lust and novelty is much greater.
We eventually adapt to any new situation, which leads to our becoming prone to taking the positive parts of our lives for granted. We move into a wonderful new home. We get that long-sought promotion at work. We marry the love of our life. We’re ecstatic — for a time — and then other needs appear or our expectations change. Our attention is drawn to other demands in life. Passion in the relationship deteriorates.
When a person’s sex life gets boring with their spouse, it’s not unusual for them to fantasize about new people in order to get some variety and novelty. But acting on those impulses (which happens more than 50 percent of the time) ends up destroying affection and connection in the marriage.
Instead, couples can regenerate passion by infusing excitement and surprise into their relationship. In a classic study with upper middle class middle aged couples, relationship researchers Arthur Aron and his colleagues asked people to engage in 90 minutes of either an exciting or a pleasurable activity.
Exciting activities involved new and novel experiences that couples had rarely or never tried before such as attending concerts, going skiing or dancing. Pleasurable activities included familiar activities such as seeing old friends or going out to dinner together. At the end of 10 weeks the couples who chose the exciting activities had rekindled the spark in their relationship.
Variety and surprise are powerful tools for maintaining passion. While they may seem similar, they are in fact very different. It’s easier to vary an activity than it is to generate surprise. For example, married couples can vary the restaurant they choose for a date night, but not experience any surprise element during the evening. However, when they were dating their dinners were filled with surprises as they discovered more and more new things about their date.
Surprise provides a potent impact on our psyche. Novel experiences rivet our attention, spark our curiosity and intensify our interest.
Experiences that surprise us are more deeply appreciated and remembered far longer. Uncertainty can enhance our pleasure by firing off dopamine in our brain. Couples are far less likely to take their partner for granted when experiencing the powerful positive emotions that are associated with novelty or surprising acts of kindness.
When your marriage no longer fires you up, considerate it an invitation to find occasions in which you abandon predictability in favor of the unexpected delights of discovery. Do something surprising with your spouse. Find a novel way to bring excitement back into the relationship.
Interesting ideas for bringing novelty into your life include: attending local music performances, checking out improv or standup comedians, attending art exhibitions where you can talk to the artists, going to wine tastings hosted by the actual winemaker and finding festivals that center on a shared interest such as cooking expositions.
Physical activities, especially those that get you out doors, almost always provide a novel experience. Although you may need to wait for warm weather (or take a plane ride south), you could find a beautiful area and take a bike ride through the countryside. Jump on a boat — big or small — and explore an area by water. Or try packing up a picnic lunch to take with you on a hike through a beautiful park.