When passion and intensity wane in a relationship, it is easy to think there is something wrong with you, your partner, or the relationship. However, the obsessiveness we have in the first year or so of being with someone cannot last – our biology is not wired to live every day of our lives in the fog and sexual frenzy that a new love brings. We would never get anything done, we would not pay enough attention to our children and homosapiens would have died out long ago.
Researchers have found that there are several aspects of human nature that make a relationship feel stale: Negativity bias is a tendency to give more weight to negative than the positive – perhaps you have experienced getting many compliments on something but all you can think of is that one criticism! The negativity bias is also largely biological: the Neanderthal who didn’t keep danger foremost in her brain is more apt to get eaten by a predator. Nowadays, it means your partner’s flaws stick out to you so much more than their wonderful traits. Hedonistic adaption is our tendency to get used to anything, thus the new car that gave you so much pleasure when you first got it becomes just a means to get to work after a few weeks. Biologically, this helps humankind continue to strive, but it also means kissing your spouse doesn’t turn you on like it used to.
Here are some ways to avoid negativity bias and hedonistic adaptation:
Appreciation: Start noticing the little things you like about your partner and verbalizing them to her/him. Not only will it make your partner feel good, but it will also remind you of the reasons you fell in love. Telling your partner how grateful you are for the little things they do and how much you like this and that about them will have an exponential positive effect on your life together. My husband and I spoon for 5 minutes every morning before we get out of bed and tell each other why we love each other so much, and it starts the day off perfectly, but you can compliment your partner at any time during the day, even when doing the dishes.
Variety: Adaptation happens when we repeat the same behaviors, as when every date night is dinner at a restaurant and sex is the same 3 positions. Variety in our thoughts, feelings and behaviors creates a dopamine response in our brain, which makes us feel stimulated and interested. So merely changing things up with each other will make you feel good about your relationship and helps keep that spark alive. Socialize more, switch up what you do on date night -it doesn’t have to be huge, as long as it gets you out of that mind numbing routine.
Novelty: Experiencing new things together, and noticing new things about each other, helps a relationship grow. Research shows that, after a couple has experienced something out of their comfort zone, they feel more bonded. Uncertainty also fuels sexuality. So, suggest an entirely different way to spend your Sunday together. Or, every day for the next week find one thing different about your partner that day. Choose a wider circle of friends to see your partner move in the world in a different way. This will remind you of the complexity and potential of your relationship.
Surprise: Spontaneity brings back the early days of your courtship, when you were not yet into a comfortable routine and everything was exciting. It also lights up the parts of your brain associated with pleasure. So don’t be afraid to create unexpected moments in your relationship – a love note in your partner’s work papers, a surprise gift to your best friend for no reason.
Long term relationships offer so many beautiful rewards, but we must be proactive. You can start now expressing gratitude, and finding ways to insert variety, novelty and surprise into your relationships and you will see the rewards immediately.