The start of a relationship is always exciting. You’re getting to know someone new from scratch. There’s so much to learn about them that every day is exciting. You feel butterflies in your stomach every time you receive a notification, when you’re on your way to meet them, and when they reach out to grab your hand. You’re in the honeymoon phase. But sadly, that’s exactly what it is — a phase.
At least that’s what it’s like for a lot of people. The passion in a relationship often has a bell-shaped curve. The curve goes up as you get to like them more and more; then it peaks, and then it curves back down again. The goal is to stay at the peak. Well, what if you can?
According to psychologists, there are a few things you can do to preserve that honeymoon feeling and keep the fire alive in your relationship.
Above All, Adopt the Right Perspective
At the outset, it’s important to clarify that in order for any relationship to prosper, you need to make your relationship a priority. It’s easy to take family and even friends for granted; especially the good ones. You feel the bond is strong that you’ll be able to pick things up where you left off, no matter how much time goes by. Well, this isn’t exactly true.
Say you’ve worked out for some time; your fitness levels are up, you’re strong, you’re more flexible, you have a lot of stamina…you might start to become complacent, you take a week off, then a month, then maybe two months. You think there’s nothing to worry about; you’re in better shape than ever; you can afford to take time off. You don’t feel a big difference in your day-to-day. But when you get back to the gym, you realize — you’ve lost it.
“If you want to be in great shape, you have to work out regularly. If you want to keep a great relationship, you have to work at it.” — Robert Puff Ph.D
It’s the same with relationships. Just as you would make time to exercise, you need to make time to work on your relationship. Here are 3 things you can do to make a start.
1. Do Something New and Different to Bring the Excitement Back
As time goes on, it’s nice that you become increasingly comfortable in your relationship. It’s easy to lounge around in sweats all day and cozy up to binge shows on Netflix all evening. And this is great; it’s important to be comfortable with your partner. But, making an effort every once in a while can reap great rewards.
A 10-week study that compared couples who engaged in “pleasant” activities vs. “exciting” activities, showed that:
“Those who had undertaken the “exciting date nights” showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction than the “pleasant” date night group.” — Tara Parker-Pope
When you first start to date, the excitement comes from the unknown; from all the things you have yet to find out about your partner. So naturally, it can be difficult to derive excitement from your partner alone — you know them so well, that their behavior becomes more predictable.
American psychologist Arthur Miller explained in his “bridge study”, that when we feel a particular emotion, we associate that emotion with the person we’re with, even if they’re not the cause. So doing something exciting with your partner can have the same honeymoon-phase effect you felt when you started dating. You can watch a video of the experiment here.
Now I’m not suggesting you swim with great whites, or feel the need to go skydiving every weekend. According to psychology professor, Arthur Aron, all you need to do is something ‘new’ and ‘different’ to what you typically do. But make sure you do it together.
The reason this works is because new experiences activate the brain’s reward system by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine; the same brain circuits that are ignited during the early days of your relationship — the ‘honeymoon phase’.
So whether you join a dance class, an art class, or you go white-water rafting; plan activities into your week that will bring back the excitement you felt in the beginning of your relationship.
2. Act Like You’re on Your First Date
Going on a first date requires effort. Every time you meet a stranger, you have the opportunity to present yourself in your best light. You want to make a good impression. To an extent, you’re managing the other person’s impression of you (psychologists term this ‘Impression Management Behavior’), and this requires effort.
So you might assume that most people would prefer to have a conversation with their partner or a friend. That way, they don’t need to make an effort. But actually, new research suggests that we enjoy talking to new people more than we think. The results showed that participants in the study had less fun talking with their partners than they had anticipated, but more fun talking to complete strangers than they had imagined.
The team conducted a follow-up study in an attempt to explain why. The participants were asked to make a conscious effort with their partner, and this time, they rated their level of enjoyment with their partners much higher.It turns out that our level of enjoyment is dependent on the amount of effort we put in.
An important take-away from this study is that when it comes to predicting how much fun we’ll have with our partners, we tend to forget how lazy we tend to be. It really is a case of ‘reap what you sow’; the more effort you put in, the more enjoyment you’ll get out. So make every date your first date.
3. Dig a Little Deeper
Couples who regularly engage in emotional, personal conversations are happier in their relationships than those who don’t.
“In studies of marriages of various lengths, couples with a high degree of intimacy between the husband and wife — that is, couples who shared their innermost thoughts — were 62 percent more likely to describe their marriage as happy.” — Pallen in 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships
Not only do these sorts of conversations promote empathy and intimacy, but a study conducted by psychologist Matthias Mehl and his team suggests a strong correlation between having deep conversations and levels of happiness. In their study, the happiest person had twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third the amount of small talk, as the unhappiest person. And the happier each of you are individually, the happier the relationship is likely to be.
So it’s not just about the quantity of time you spend with your partner; it’s about the quality of time. Instead of reverting into daily small-talk, come up with at least one question a day that will make your partner reflect. Think of something they won’t have an immediate answer to.
If you’re running short of ideas, try these 36 questions; they’re part of an experiment designed by psychologist Arthur Aron that has helped to boost intimacy between thousands of strangers. His questionnaire has resulted in friendships, romance, and even marriage!
You can expect highs and lows in every relationship. The bell shape I described above is a simplification; it’s not a smooth curve. There are bumps along the road.
But it’s true that the longer the curve falls downhill, the steeper the climb back up will be. So if a long-term, loving relationship is what you’re looking for, don’t get lazy — work to preserve that momentum. Remember –
1. Do something new and different to bring the excitement back
2. Act like you’re on your first date
3. Dig a little deeper