Picture: Flickr/Nathan 2009
1) realise a slowdown is normalYou can’t expect it to stay like it was during those first few torrid months. No one can sprint for miles. A downshifting is natural, so don’t let some slowing down make you think there are deeper relationship problems.
…the heightened passion and chemical attraction evident at the beginning of a love affair have been found to fade to neutral in a couple of years, after the love affair turns into a solid, committed relationship or marriage… I would argue even more strongly that our romance with the idea of romance has led us to misunderstand the function, complexity, and typical life course of marriage, leaving us disappointed when our marriages don’t constantly fulfil our longings for passion, satisfaction, intimacy, and permanence.
2) Take time to appreciate what you have
Research shows taking time to feel gratitude can prevent you from taking things for granted.
Several studies support this notion, including one from our very own lab, which revealed that people who persist at appreciating a good turn in their lives are less likely to adapt to it…
Numerous experiments from my own and my colleagues’ laboratories have demonstrated that people who regularly practice appreciation or gratitude— who, for example, “count their blessings” once a week over the course of one to twelve consecutive weeks or pen appreciation letters to people who’ve been kind and meaningful— become reliably happier and healthier, and remain happier for as long as six months after the experiment is over.
What may be stronger than appreciation? Imagining that what you’ve taken for granted is gone:
Another way to truly appreciate and relish our relationship is to imagine subtracting it from our lives. What if we had never been introduced to our husband? In that case, a multitude of good things about our lives today may not have come to pass. When not taken to an extreme (which could leave us feeling undeserving about our lives or anxious about losing everything), this “subtraction” strategy can be even more effective than direct attempts at gratitude.
3) Add some variety
Being kind to your partner is great — but keep finding new and different ways to do it.
As a very simple analogy, consider an experiment that my students and I conducted, in which we instructed our participants to do several acts of kindness each week for a period of 10 weeks. Some were instructed to vary their acts of kindness (e.g., give their pet a special treat one day and make breakfast for their partner the next day), whereas others were instructed to do similar things each time (e.g., make breakfast for their partner again and again). Not surprisingly, the only ones who got happier were those who varied their generosities.
4) Notice the new that’s always been there
Deliberately make an effort to notice things about your partner that you never paid attention to before.
Some researchers propose that injecting novelty requires a direct approach— namely, mustering effort to literally notice new things about your partner. For example, every day next week, charge yourself with detecting one way in which your partner is different that day… Those asked to hunt for novelty ended up liking the activity more and were more likely to repeat it on their own.
Ever been separated from your partner and feel great when you’re reunited? Research shows interruption has powerful effects.
What interruptions are able to accomplish is essentially to disrupt this process of relaxing into our experience and “reset” it to a higher intensity of enjoyment. For example, a break during a massage or a gripping conversation may magnify our anticipation for their resumption and provide us with an opportunity to savour what is still to follow.
6) Do things together that are stimulating
Excitement experienced mutually is powerful.
A leading authority on love, SUNY– Stony Brook professor Art Aron argues that in order to fend off boredom in a marriage, couples should mutually engage in what he calls “expanding” activities— that is, novel activities that are stimulating, yield new experiences, and teach new skills— and challenge each other to grow…
…Whether the couples were only dating or long-married, the ones who did the shared novel activity were more likely than the ones who did the shared neutral activity to agree to statements like “I feel happy when I am doing something to make my partner happy” and “I feel ‘tingling’ and ‘an increased heartbeat’ when I think of my partner” after the activity than before. Even more impressive was the fact that observers who viewed the couples having a conversation about their future plans judged those who had partaken of the exciting activity to show increased positive behaviours toward each other (e.g., greater acceptance and less hostility) after the activity than those who had partaken of the mundane task.
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