“Love withers with predictability; its very essence is surprise and amazement. To make love a prisoner of the mundane is to take its passion and lose it forever.”
~ Leo F. Buscaglia
“Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
~ Henny Youngman
If I were going to create a bumper sticker for a good relationship it would be:
“Keep it Fun; Keep it Fresh; Keep it Real.”
Even the most cynical and contemptuous couples soften when I ask them to tell me how they met…
“He was so romantic. Almost every time we met he brought me chocolates or flowers. He surprised me all the time,” the wife would say.
“We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other,” he says. “We couldn’t wait to be alone.”
A wistful look comes over their faces as they speak. They were in love back then. But now:
“She doesn’t even say hello when I come home,” he tells me.
“Flowers? The last time he bought flowers, we were on the way to a funeral,” she says.
It’s a fact: Couples change over time. The passion and intensity of a new relationship fades. If we are lucky it evolves into a compassionate, caring relationship. But for many, the loss of passion in the relationship is a deal breaker. The demise often involves thwarted expectations that, over time, erode the connection. Love that was once flourishing becomes unrequited, resulting in less engagement, simulation, and satisfaction.
But an article by leading researcher Sonia Lyubomirsky and her colleague Katherine Jacobs Bao suggests that it might not have to be that way. In a recent issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology the team looks at ways to slow or stop hedonic adaptation. According to the researchers, hedonic adaptation is the theory that when things are good we get used to it, expect it, and then return to the previous level of satisfaction.
To combat this they outline the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model, which they propose could “slow or prevent hedonic adaptation” when it comes to relationships.
If you bring your wife a rose every Friday, she comes to expect it and it somehow loses value because it has become routine. Then the Friday that you don’t think to bring it — it signals a disappointment. With hedonic adaptation the return to baseline often comes with disgruntlement.
Boredom often is one of the main factors in divorce. To know your partner fully can mean you are in a completely adapted relationship, but you may literally be bored to tears.
Although we all strive to have more positive events in our relationships, there may be repercussions. When good things happen, particularly very good things — such as an engagement, the birth of a child, or moving into a new home — it can cause the aspiration level to rise. Good things become predictable and expected. When that happens, the expectation eats away at satisfaction and eventually we want something new, different, and exciting.
According to the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model, variety and appreciation are the antidotes. If a couple does something different each time they are together there is less likelihood for a routine — with its incapacitating boredom — to set in. Also, appreciation of the positive change in one’s settings through active recognition of these fresh experiences should help stave off adaptation.
Research shows that harvesting more positive emotions, keeping our aspirations in check, and nurturing our ability to appreciate good things in our life are ways we can counterbalance hedonic adaptation.
There are some couples who may naturally do this. They may have a type of resistance to adaptation. One example would be a couple in a long-distance relationship. By default they have variety in their communication (texting, Skyping, phoning), and typically do something special, unique or memorable when they are together. Often the distance and time apart activates the need to keep things interesting. In fact, when long-distance couples get together, the relationship often falls apart. As novelty declines, so does relationship satisfaction.
So what to do if you don’t have the added value of a long-distance relationship? Take a break. The adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” now has some science behind it. Girls’ night out, business trips, and some alone time may be just what are needed. Being apart may provide the reset button for strengthening the bonds of love.
Above all, don’t let it get stale. Surprise your love and your love can be surprisingly good. In the words of Ashley Montagu, “The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”
Resources for making your love last:
Bao, K. (2012). The Course of Well-Being in Romantic Relationships: Predicting Positive Affect in Dating Participants. Psychology, 3, 1091-1099. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.312A161
Jacobs Bao, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). Making it last: Combating hedonic adaptation in romantic relationships. The Journal of Positive Psychology Vol. 8, No. 3, 2013.