It’s a decidedly unromantic thing to hear, but here it is: Relationships take work.
The honeymoon phase, scientists say, lasts about a year, and while it’s not necessarily downhill after that, it’s also not all butterflies and sunshine — unless you deliberately chase after those things.
It’s not as hard as it sounds. Research suggests there’s one key way to maintain the spark: Try new things together.
Much of that research has been spearheaded by Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University. The research was cited in The New York Times.
In 1993, Aron and colleagues published a study that found couples who spent time jointly doing new and exciting activities were more satisfied with their relationships. For the study, the researchers recruited 53 married couples, assessed their relationship quality, and and assigned them to one of three groups.
One group picked new and exciting activities to do together for 90 minutes a week — like going to a play, or hiking, or dancing. Another group spent 90 minutes a week doing pleasant but routine activities together — like going to a movie. The last group wasn’t asked to change anything.
After 10 weeks, the researchers reassessed the couples’ relationship quality and found that those who had tried new and exciting things were the most satisfied.
Aron and another set of colleagues extended those findings in a 2000 study, in which dating and married couples completed either a boring task — walking back and forth — or an exciting one — walking and navigating obstacles while they were Velcroed together.
The researchers measured couples’ relationship satisfaction before and after they completed the task and sure enough, couples who had completed the exciting task showed greater changes in how happy they were with each other.
This isn’t to say that spending more time together is a panacea for a relationship rut. In fact, spending some time apart, with your own friends, can help you build a strong partnership.
But perhaps the greatest takeaway from this research is that feeling bored in a relationship isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, as The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year, boredom can be a sign that you need to make a change — and when you do make that change, your relationship may be more satisfying than ever before.