Full disclaimer. I'm single. So I shouldn't exactly be doling out relationship advice. Then again, maybe I should be, because I have an objective distance from the subject. Luckily, Jane E. Brody, the Personal Health columnist for The New York Times has some advice to share in an article called "That Loving Feeling Takes a Lot of Work." Sounds like a downer, especially for lazy people who don't like to work. But, according to Brody, the work is doable and could save many a relationship and marriage.
We have all heard that passion doesn't last forever. As Brody puts it,
"the feelings that prompt people to forget all their troubles and fly down the street with wings on their feet — does not last very long, and cannot if lovers are ever to get anything done."
That's true. I mean, who hasn't blown off some chore or perhaps major responsibility because at that very moment they don't see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind? What surprised me was that the non-passionate love part doesn't die out, per se, but becomes insufficient to sustain a happy relationship. Studies show that "the happiness boost that occurs with marriage lasts only about two years, after which people revert to their former levels of happiness — or unhappiness."
Who knew? And why is that?
The natural human tendency to become "habituated" to positive circumstances — to get so used to things that make us feel good that they no longer do — can be the death knell of marital happiness. Psychologists call it "hedonic adaptation": things that thrill us tend to be short-lived.
In other words, we start taking a good thing for granted. It's like tolerance for an addictive substance. I'm about to share something with you, readers. I'm addicted to coffee. When I started drinking coffee it gave me a jolt. It really made me feel something. Now, that same amount just makes me feel not totally exhausted. If I want that jolt, I need to increase my intake of coffee. Luckily, you can add jolts of happiness into your relationship without ruining your stomach lining.
Enter Sonya Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of "The Myths of Happiness," who offers steps for you to fight against the habituation that destroys relationships.
Here are the steps:
- Appreciation: remind yourself of what you appreciate about your partner. (If you can't figure out what you appreciate about your partner, s/he's probably not the one for you anyway.)
- Variety: try to spice up the relationship by doing new things. Keep your relationship"fresh, meaningful and positive." (I'm not sure what exactly that means or how to do that, but you'll figure it out.)
- Support your partner's values, goals and dreams: Brody gives the example of supporting her husband whose "passion lay in writing for the musical theater. When his day job moved to a different city, I suggested that rather than looking for a new one, he pursue his dream. It never became monetarily rewarding, but his vocation fulfilled him and thrilled me. He left a legacy of marvelous lyrics for more than a dozen shows." (Hopefully, this works with non-musical theater based dreams as well.)
- Nonsexual physical touch: Lyubomirsky encourages "increasing the amount of physical contact in your relationship by a set amount each week....Introducing more (nonsexual) touching and affection on a daily basis will go a long way in rekindling the warmth and tenderness." (But do it gradually, or else you'll literally never stop touching your partner. And then you won't have any time for sex.)
- Nice words: Brody writes that, "Dr. Lyubomirsky reports that happily married couples average five positive verbal and emotional expressions toward one another for every negative expression, but 'very unhappy couples display ratios of less than one to one'." (So tell your partner 1. Good morning. 2. I love you. 3. You look nice today. 4. Your penis looks nice today and then 5. give his penis a nonsexual squeeze. Then you can tell your partner "go fuck yourself" in good conscience.)
- Journaling: keep a journal of the good interactions and the bad interactions between you and your partner. Try to increase the ratio of good to bad interactions. (If you don't succeed in creating more positive interactions, you can always transition from diary writing to fiction writing.)
That Loving Feeling Takes a Lot of Work [NYT]
image via Strawberry Mood/Shutterstock