A recent New York Times article told us something we already knew, but don’t like to hear:
Newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years.
Of course, you may have heard that once or twice from me. But the NYT says it a lot better:
“When love is new, we have the rare capacity to experience great happiness while being stuck in traffic or getting our teeth cleaned. We are in the throes of what researchers call passionate love, a state of intense longing, desire and attraction. In time, this love generally morphs into companionate love, a less impassioned blend of deep affection and connection. The reason is that human beings are, as more than a hundred studies show, prone to hedonic adaptation, a measurable and innate capacity to become habituated or inured to most life changes.”
Yep. The same way the thrill of a new car wears off, the thrill of a new relationship wears off, too. We expect it with the car. Yet we think that the thrill of new love should last forever. Think again.
“We’re inclined – psychologically and physiologically – to take positive experiences for granted. We move into a beautiful loft. Marry a wonderful partner. Earn our way to the top of our profession. How thrilling! For a time. Then, as if propelled by autonomic forces, our expectations change, multiply or expand and, as they do, we begin to take the new, improved circumstances for granted.”
You’ve seen this before. You start to criticize the same partner you were blindly in love with before. The partner has probably not changed very much, but your chemical high has worn off and now you’re facing reality. You’re married to a flawed person. And so is he.
“WHY, then, is the natural shift from passionate to companionate love often such a letdown? Because, although we may not realize it, we are biologically hard-wired to crave variety. Variety and novelty affect the brain in much the same way that drugs do – that is, they trigger activity that involves the neurotransmitter dopamine, as do pharmacological highs.”
The same way the thrill of a new car wears off, the thrill of a new relationship wears off, too.
Okay, so if we understand this, we can overcome it, right? We can adjust our expectations to conform with biology and reality. Well, yes and no.
“When married couples reach the two-year mark, many mistake the natural shift from passionate love to companionate love for incompatibility and unhappiness. For many, the possibility that things might be different – more exciting, more satisfying – with someone else proves difficult to resist. Injecting variety and surprise into even the most stable, seasoned relationship is a good hedge against such temptation. Key parties – remember “The Ice Storm”? – aren’t necessarily what the doctor ordered; simpler changes in routine, departures from the expected, go a long way.”
In other words, there are ways to keep a marriage interesting. But you have to choose the “right” ways. It’s not more Netflix. Nor is it the illusion that there’s a better partner for you. Eventually, you’ll reach this static phase with a different person as well. So what CAN you do?
“Couples who engaged in the “exciting” activities reported greater satisfaction in their marriage than those who engaged in “pleasant” or enjoyable activities together…Surprise is a potent force. When something novel occurs, we tend to pay attention, to appreciate the experience or circumstance, and to remember it. We are less likely to take our marriage for granted when it continues to deliver strong emotional reactions in us.”
And there you have it. You may determine that you’d rather trade out a passionate new fling every six months for the rest of your life. But if you want to build something lasting – a family or a relationship that can last a lifetime, it’s incumbent upon you to understand what you’re getting into. Instead of falling into the traps set by biology – because we’re not programmed for monogamy – you have to accept the fact that the intoxicating high does not last for a lifetime. That’s okay, as long as you and your partner are on the same page and are committed to keeping things fun, interesting, and surprising for the rest of your life.
Click here to read the full New York Times article here and share your thoughts below.