Can the Honeymoon Phase Last Forever?

Can the Honeymoon Phase Last Forever?

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.

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  1. 1

    Interesting article Evan. This is well documented by anthropologist scientist Helen Fisher PHD who’s books and talks are fascinating. This is also why Argov in her “Bitches’ books advises women not to become predictable.
    Recently Evan you had an OP question by a woman deciding between a new exciting guy or the current boyfriend I noted she was at the 1.5-2 year mark so I wondered if her infatuation dopamine high was running low.
    I have experienced keeping chemistry high though.   I was married for 20 years and always had huge sexual chemistry with my ex thoughout that time frame. I travelled a bit independently in my job which I think helped. We also cycled together which on S CA streets is inherently risk taking and dangerous. We did a lot of adventurous activities because we were both active and physical. Anything that you do together that has novelty and some degree risk of taking increases dopamine and is bonding.   
    I also think being physically in good shape is key. A woman (or man)   who is liifting weights or involved in some sort of competitive sport has a higher testosterone level which is likely to ramp up her sex drive.

    1. 1.1

      Kathleen – Unless your husband died – how great did the chemistry stay if he is now your ex? All this stuff about dopamine and risk-taking and testosterone  is more like seeking a high to benefit yourself rather than to  maintain a true an  genuinely caring relationship. It sounds very selfish and secular in my opinion.

      1. 1.1.1

        Why are you harassing this woman under each of her posts?

  2. 2

    Part of the problem, in my view, is that too many of us seek the high, and ride the high, without ever learning how to see the real person behind the “chemistry.” Until it starts to wear off. As I’ve said here before, the times I have had hot, instant chemistry have never led to long term, fulfilling relationships. I tend to think that a fair percentage of marriages that end in divorce were between two people who really never were a good match to begin with, and didn’t learn how to stay somewhat grounded during the early stages of the relationship, and ended up waking up 5, 10, even 20 years later next to someone they didn’t really know, and didn’t really like. And in these cases, it’s not enough to try and spice things up. Staying together may be more socially acceptable, or feel more morally “right,” but who gives a damn about all that if you’re both mostly miserable for years on end as a result.
    Studies like this are a lot more useful for couples that have at least some awareness of their real life partner from the beginning. Where they were able to puncture the haze of passion enough to know some of each others’ weaknesses and flaws. In other words, where the difference between the chemical boost and the flat-line average is less, and the level of mutual understanding )as opposed to fantasy projecting) is greater.
    In some ways, I’m arguing against reliance on novelty. Because a lot of us are addicted to wanting novelty, and it can be used as a substitute – in my view – for learning to love your partner just as they are. At the same time, I totally support the idea that breaking routines, and interjecting elements of surprise are important elements of keeping long term partnerships healthy. It’s just that it shouldn’t be considered a cure all for a struggling or bad relationship. Because even novelty itself wears off over time, especially if   you’re in one of those partnerships where hot passion disappeared into cohabitation between two strangers in conflict.

    1. 2.1

      This was everything in a nutshell. Thank you.

    2. 2.2

      Nathan, your response is really good…the first section describes my divorce to a T.

  3. 3

    Kathleen, you made some really good points about the previous OP question Evan covered and about the book by Argov. I guess my question would be how would you distinguish the difference between the ‘natural shift from passionate love to companionate love for incompatibility and unhappiness’ after the 2 year mark that is natural from a really a true incompatibility in which you married the wrong partner and not because you were coming down from dopamine? I’m looking for the certainty that you have married the right person or you are with the right person in the relationship that is not due to dopamine. I suppose there is no certainty except time and observation of your interaction with your partner.

  4. 4
    Jackie Holness

    Anyone have suggestions about what these new and surprising activities should be? Aside from Netflix, what is there? Just kidding…

    1. 4.1

      The newness wears off even as a child. Think about how many time you buy your kids a new toy that they play with for a short while then toss it to the side.

  5. 5

    Thanks Evan talks about dating for about 2 years before marrying which I think is incredibly wise advice with a basis in neurochemistry! . I think if you survive this time frame of dating and are still deliriously in love its looking good!
    My ex and I commuted 2 hrs each way to see each other every weekend for a year Then we lived together for a year. After I moved in the marriage idea he suggested disappeared. He knew I was getting ready to walk at 2 years because he wasn’t moving forward with marriage . When he knew he was going to loose me he made the decision to do what it took to keep me. I never felt any lull in my bonding to him.  
    There was a study in the news recently that if women had pre marriage anxiety/jitters they were more likely to be divorced in 4 years so listen to your intuition.
    Yes I think with time and observation 2 years may be a milestone time at which point you can make a more accurate assessment

    1. 5.1

      Kathleen – This response seems very one sided and self-centered. It’s as if it’s ALL about you. “He knew I was getting ready to walk.” “I never felt any lull in my bonding to him.” Perhaps some genuine concern for someone else – like your partner’s needs would be indicated.

      And, if two years is a milestone to make an accurate assessment, then how come so many people get divorced well after the two year mark and why did your twenty-year relationship fail? Let me take a guess. It was you that walked out on him, right?

  6. 6

    This makes sense, especially in light of greener grass syndrome, and the  treatment of good  relationships as disposable if and when they  inevitably start showing some  wear and tear.      

  7. 7

    I,m still waiting for the honeymoon period to BEGIN.  

  8. 8

    Maybe a sport of some kind?    Perhaps ones you don’t have in common?   I think something like that would  bring some wholesome newness  when  dealing with a  stale slump in the relationship.

  9. 9

    It has become difficult to maintain proper perspective on what normal is in this day and age.   Life is not some constant hilarious or over the top event as our entertainment culture has come to believe.   Life is Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and on and on it goes.   We are always chasing this high or that high to feel alive.   Problem is, it’s never enough.

  10. 10

    I have never experienced this waning of passion and interest in my partner after 2 years (or any number of years, for that matter) but I HAVE experienced their waning of interest in ME, which I have found very distressing, creating as it did an imbalance in the levels of passion we felt for each other within the relationship. For me, what I find is the increasing knowledge of my partner and familiar dometic routines   ADD to my desire for them as you then have sexiness plus stability, rather than sexiness coupled with the inevitable anxiety that we often feel in a brand new relationship –   “is it going to last?” Once I feel more secure and that my partner knows me better (but still wants to be with me) I feel more relaxed, more loving and just feel that I blossom in this environment. This just adds to my passion for my partner and my enthusiasm for being with him.

  11. 11

    I feel very insecure about what relationships mean. My mum is always coming to me for relationship advice and has constantly complained about marriage or my dad for years. heh I’m only 23 and I don’t really know what to make of this. It makes me think that relationships suck though.
    The men I’ve dated have lost interest in me and stopped making any effort at all. I really think this is quite cruel and wish they would have ended it rather than lashing out at me. You really have to date someone with a secure attachment style who isn’t emotionally avoidant…then I think it’s easier to cope after the honeymoon phase has gone. You have to deal with the difficult stuff to get close to each other – shouldn’t hide from it. Wish I met men with the same views as me on that.

  12. 12

    Lucy and Helene,
    I am totally feeling both of you as my experiences with men have been very similar <sigh>

  13. 13

    @Nathan2 – You make some excellent points, my dear.   Many people mistake crazy passion for lasting rapport, only to wake up a few years post-wedding with partners they have nothing in common with and don’t particularly like.   Try to jazz that up with rock-climbing expeditions and spontaneous long weekends to Paris but at the end of the day, one is just left with someone who is fundamentally incompatible.
    Even when I was younger, I ran away from the mad chemistry.   I found it exciting but disorienting and it left me unable to view character & temperament, clearly.   However, I’ve learned that men consistently chase that “passion high.”     Now, decades later, the guys I meet expect that any potential girlfriend provide the instant click, rush of adrenaline and thrill of immediate desire.  
    I do think that most movies and music make it seem like this short term, 2-year-max passionate love is the most valuable and worthwhile, and from one perspective, that makes sense.   Who wants to bust a move on the dance floor to a song about a couple who shares housework and notes each other’s emotional cues? : )

  14. 14

    I think it’s all about not taking one another for granted and being complacent. It is so easy to get there and then very hard to dig a hole to get out of there! I guess being mindful as much as possible is the key and remembering to display your affections and do nice things for one another not only on Birthdays, Anniversaries or things like Valentines Day.

  15. 15

    Henriette “Now, decades later, the guys I meet expect that any potential girlfriend provide the instant click, rush of adrenaline and thrill of immediate desire.” Yep, and I’ve gone through plenty of similar experiences with women. I can’t tell you how many first dates I went on where I’d receive a message saying something like “I had a great time! But I didn’t feel enough chemistry.” What constitutes “enough” on a first date, when you know next to nothing about each other? I think too many of us fear settling for no chemistry, and then flip to the opposite end, expecting fireworks and magic from the moment you meet eyes. Pretty crazy in my opinion.

  16. 16

    I’m not looking for that rush anymore because I don’t want to be alone forever, so I want to make more realistic choices,   but any way to overcome the sadness I feel that I might not ever experience that? I’ve got a great guy that’s nice and reliable and realize this is what i should want, but once in a while I feel that I’m missing out on something.

  17. 17

    I completely understand you. I had always longed for a passionate relationship full of chemistry and I got it – and always ended up brokenhearted. So I decided to give a chance to a man who was a little boring for me, but stable and reliable. And guess what happened? After some time of a “routine” relationship which for me – I was single –  felt like after 20 years of marriage, something happened. I can ´t decribe how but over time I stared to feel those sparks with my boring man… That ´s why I would like to join all those people including Evan who are in favour of “stability” against “hot passion”.

  18. 18

    I always get confused when I hear “when married couples reach the 2 year mark”.
    Doesn’t matter how long these couples have been dating and or living together?? The “2 year mark”  in a  marriage is going to be quite different for a couple that were in a 4 or 6yr relationship than say a couple that dated for a year and didn’t live together etc… I dunno I think there’s a lot of variables to consider when thinking about passion wearing off. A friend of mine just got married for the first time Wednesday to a woman he’s been dating for 5 yrs. He’s 48. He didn’t seem that excited about it but I’m sure she was….LOL

  19. 19

    This is an interesting and relevant topic for me at the moment.   I have experienced both types of relationships, and my longest relationship to date was not based on instant chemistry.   I felt a mild attraction to this man (who I met online, and it did grow but in retrospect, I should have ended that relationship after 6 months…for valid reasons…and I stayed for 4.5 years.   I had been trying to figure out a way to extricate myself from this relationship (we had been living together for the last year, at his house…but I knew I had to leave) and I met another man who was very different from my ex.    He also did not have the fateful personality flaws that my ex had (anger management, control and always having to be “right” issues).   The physical chemistry with new man, was, for me, off the charts.
    That blew up after a few months, and another go around about 9 months later was an exact “rinse and repeat”.   He dumped me both times.   We met though a shared avocation that I refused to give up just because of him and that was four years ago, we still work together.   Since then, I had a “one nighter” with an old flame about 3 years ago that was really unsatisfying and depressing.    Accepting that casual sex is not an option, I’ve just been living life in a virtual nunnery, not actively pursuing any dates/men, thinking I’ll just get over this and see if something happens with someone else organically.   It took a LONG time and a lot of work to get over the last guy since I kept having to see him and clearly, this hindered my prospects at least for the first year (hope kept springing eternal that he would want me back – yeah, I know…futile and dumb.)
    Well, as many of us over 40 (in my case, now over 50!) these chance meetings with potentially compatible mates happen less and less with age.   My day job is mostly working from home so zilch there.   I just could not get up my mojo to do internet dating and put my photo for the world to see (I’m a performer and it just felt icky).   I finally went back online and met two guys, one I liked and he liked me for about 2 weeks but was going through a divorce, like a WEEK after we met, bad timing. The other one I felt absolutely no interest in.   Ugh, I was tired and no one online interested me.
    Dated rarely, despite being a performer and guys occasionally expressing interest in me, hitting on me…no one did it for me.   The available men I was meeting were frankly, undesirable.   A 10 years younger guy I met in the corner bar pursued me and it was flattering but I just felt no attraction to him.    I worked on acceptance and living life in the moment, enjoying my freedom as a single woman yet having just turned 50, realizing that time was not on my side.   Adopting a Buddhist philosophy of detachment and realizing my life was getting shorter and could end truthfully, at any moment, I really began to accept that the idea of a passionate romance that led to a long term relationship might be off the table.   I felt at peace with that, strangely.
    Fast forward to late 2012.   A few of my friends in their late 40’s and early 50’s are meeting men online.   Quality men.   I decide to jump back in yet I do not post a photo, I create a stealth profile and send an email to this guy I found, who seemed quite interesting.   I send him to another site where there are photos posted.   We have our first date last week.
    Instant chemistry.   We both feel it.   We meet at a bar and three hours go by effortlessly.   There are no awkward pauses and he is shocked when he looks at his watch.   I have two glasses of wine and we end up having a make out session in the car.   I haven’t felt this tingly feeling in years.   Date #2 is this week and I’m trying to just let go and relax but I will admit there is some anxiety about being able to properly negotiate these early stages of dating.   I know sleeping with him too soon would be a mistake.   Yet, after 4 years of celibacy, and being 51, this aspect of it is going to be a challenge.   He’s also 5.5 years younger…which concerns me.  
    So after 4 years of pretty much nothing in the romance department, at 51 I find myself in the throes of physical chemistry with a man who, so far, on paper and in person, is a really great match.   Yet, based on my past experience, and others who posted above, these heart-fluttering romances often end badly.   In closing of this very long yet therapeutic post, wish me luck on date #2.       😉

  20. 20

    Susan, I wish you good luck. In my opinion, it isn ´t good to rush into sex. It ´s better to take some time to get to know yout man even though you ´ ´ ve been celibate for long and can ´t wait to be with him. Like Evan says, time will test him and if you have sex some time later than you would now want to, you ´ll feel safer knowing that he wants you as a person, not just the pleasure you give him. Please think about it and don ´t make an unnecessary mistake.

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