Can the Honeymoon Phase Last Forever?

Can the Honeymoon Phase Last Forever?
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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.

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Comments:

  1. 21
    Jenna

    I wanted a boyfriend my whole life and never really had high standards the way many people do (expecting a hot guy, instant chemistry, big bucks, etc.). I had a few when I was younger. But nothing serious for years, and the last 3 years single. I accidentally ended up becoming a serial dater when prospect after prospect ended up not working out or liking me back. Especially in the last year or so, however, I have had the fortune to make a lot of progress on myself and become a significantly more social person who has way more to offer the world. Being single for so long has turned out to be a great gift, leading me to wonderful opportounities, friendships, flings, and good times that I would never have had if I was sitting on some boyfriend’s couch watching Netflix.
    However, because I’ve had such a never-ending series of men in my life by this point (a good mix of on line and real life, platonic and romantic alike, friends with benefits, flings, one date wonders, short term relationships) I find my standards and expectations have gone up quite a bit compared to what they once were. I definitely don’t expect instant “chemistry” or have some detailed checklist or rigid standards, but still, just settling down with the first average Joe who comes along doesn’t seem all that acceptable to me as it once would have. You don’t need a lifetime of passion, or some first date thunderbolt, but a personal connection (one where you can really talk for hours, share a similar sense of humor, and connect on what you want out of life) really is important and should hopefully be enough to carry you past the point when passion fades.

  2. 22
    marymary

    Susan61
    I would caution that the ONLY thing you should be seeking to get out of a first date is confirmation of whether you want to see him again.   Ignore instant chemistry (as far as is humanly possible), control your excitement, don’t start fantasizing, and don’t assume he is a good match.   He is still a stranger.
    I hope you enjoy the second date.    
    I repeat Evan’s sound advice. Don’t have sex with him until he is your boyfriend.
    I consider a five year age difference to be insignficant but you both need to make sure you’re on the same page there.   Beware the man who thinks that all older women just want sex and  a fling (unless that IS all that you want).

  3. 23
    Karmic Equation

    @Susan61

    “I have two glasses of wine and we end up having a make out session in the car.”

    If you went past 2nd base, that might explain his eagerness for date #2. He thinks you’re going to be an easy “kill” — and assumes he’s going to bed you by date 2 or 3.

    NO MAN (with any experience) — on a FIRST DATE — ever thinks a woman is a “great match.” All he’s thinking about is how soon he can get you to bed, especially if you made out with him on date 1. You need to learn to pace yourself if you want a relationship.

    *WOMEN* tend to think “great chemistry” = great match. But, sad to say, men don’t think that way. Men get chemistry every time they make out (even if they DON’T LIKE the woman. There’s a joke from a male comedian, “When sex is good it’s pretty good, when it’s bad it’s still pretty good.” That’s what it’s like for a man. Not so for a woman, so keep your excitement in check.

    So, if you’ve gone past 2nd base already, you’ve already lost a lot of leverage and odds are this guy isn’t gonna see you as LTR material. The only way to perhaps salvage this (not sure if possible) is to only go as far as you’ve gone already AND NO FURTHER until he’s your bf.

    Otherwise, I can guarantee, you’ll be hurt again if he disappears after sex with you.

    You’ve got to “act like you’ve been there before.” Before a man is your bf, NEVER EVER *tell* a man how long you’ve been celibate nor “how much you like him” — REFRAIN from VERBALIZING/saying out loud TO HIM every thought/every feeling/every hope you have. YOu *HAVE TO* keep that stuff away from him. If you can’t keep your excitement to yourself…talk the ears off your BEST FRIENDS.

    You can tell him NON-VERBALLY how excited you are. Smile into his eyes often (but do NOT stare too long, that’s creepy). Flirt like hell, but don’t be forward. Just don’t use WORDS to express your excitement, use body language…but NOT SEX!! And as marymary said, DON’T sleep with him until he’s your bf unless sex is ALL you want. (And it sounds like you want more…)

    Good luck.

  4. 24
    Joe

    @ nathan #15:
    Were any of those first dates activity-based, rather than coffee/drinks/dinner?   I can’t recall where, but I read somewhere that activity-based dates tend to have a higher success rate.

  5. 25
    Susan61

    Thanks all for your great advice.   Of course, I know everything you say is true.   I certainly am not going to have sex on the 2nd date.   In fact, it’s technically the 1st date since last week was our initial meeting after connecting on the online dating site.   And no, sex and a fling is definitely NOT what I want.   We had a lot of fun on our date, we conversed easily and effortlessly, seemed to have a similar sense of humor, etc.   I did feel very attracted to him, he seemed quite attracted to me so the make out session at the end of the night felt natural and I don’t regret it.   Yet I understand that he could construe this as the precursor to sex on the 2nd or 3rd date.
      
    And no,@Karmic Equation – there was no second base, just kissing. Rather passionate kissing and some touching but no touching of erogenous zones.   You are probably right that based on that, he is thinking “how can I get her into bed”.   In fact, he suggested going to his place for dinner (so it is quite obvious that is what he is thinking/hoping) but I suggested we go out somewhere, and we are having dinner at a restaurant.  
      
    So how do I know when he’s my “boyfriend”…that could take months?   I’m sure there is an Evan posting about this and I’ll try to find it. 🙂

  6. 26
    Kathleen

    Susan 61  
    Its been my experience that when a guy is seriously interested in you he asks to be your boyfriend within weeks not months, sooner not later . Theres no guessing because   he’ll make it enthusiastically clear he wants   you. Ive followed Evans advice and BOOM… everything fell into place without effort of doing anything on my part!        
    Good luck with your date.   

  7. 27
    Karmic Equation

    @Susan61

    “So how do I know when he’s my “boyfriend”…that could take months?”

    What Kathleen #26 said. If he really likes you for YOU (and not just thinking of you as a vessel for sex), he’ll let you know in a few weeks (and Evan says no more than 6-8 wks).

    You need to wait until he’s your bf if you can’t have sex outside a committed relationship.
    you use your toy before dates. Keeps your own amperage down and allows you to stay cool.

    There’s a saying “Women think clearly before sex and men think clearly after.” It behooves you to really evaluate him as a worthy man BEFORE you have sex with him–regardless of whether he’s your bf or not. Please don’t let your attraction blind you to his flaws. Make sure you look for every flaw (be picky…just notice them, don’t actually point them out to him) … and clearly assess each flaw and determine if you can live with them should this become a relationship. If he lacks integrity now, he will lack it in a relationship. Are you ok with that? Is his pushiness to invite you to his apt on date 2 an indication of “playerness” or “desperation” or something else? Figure that out. Also, don’t let YOUR ego or desperation get in the way of the evaluation, e.g., “I am just so different than all the other women he’s ever been with he can’t resist me…” — No. You’re a woman, he’s a man. He’s gonna want sex with a woman who acts like she wants it too. It has little to do with your irresistability. Leave your ego at the door during evaluation.

    Basically, be certain that he’s a “good guy” before you have sex with him. If you don’t KNOW whether he’s a good guy or not, delay sex until you have it figured out. If he’s a bad guy, but you’re still attracted to him, go ahead and have sex with him. Just don’t get into a relationship with him. If he’s a good guy, delaying sex until you know for sure will only increase your value to him. There is no downside to waiting, but there are clearly downsides to rushing into a sexual relationship with a guy you haven’t deemed worthy to have sex with you.

    And just for the record, per Evan, delaying sex until he’s your bf doesn’t mean being a puritan. “Round the bases” but pace yourself. And (per me) stop at 3rd (or 2nd) each time until you’re SURE he’s worthy of you. You are a prize. Don’t give it up to an unworthy man…no matter how sexy he is unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences, such as him disappearing.

    1. 27.1
      JP

      If he’s a good guy, delaying sex until you know for sure will only increase your value to him.

      Most men nowadays, good or otherwise, won’t stay around long if sex is continually delayed, unless they have no other options. And I doubt you’d find that attractive.

  8. 28
    Kathleen

    Karmic #27  
    You are wise indeed Thats a great summary.
    I will add something else too since Susan 61 was concerned about the guy being 5 years younger.  
    The most important quality you can develop in yourself is confidence. I think Evan had a conf call about this so I was thinking about this.   5 years difference is no big deal. My guy now is 10 years younger and the guy before him was 14 years younger and Im 54. If your potential boyfriend sees you are confident and secure he may sense he may have other competitors . His drive to become your boyfriend will be to eliminate competitors and secure you as his own . Your ability to be able to walk away is powerful if he senses you won’t hesitate to do this if he doesn’t treat you like a prize .
      
      

  9. 29
    Susan61

    Thanks y’all.   I hear ya loud and clear!   Funny you mentioned the competition Kathleen, he brought that up in an email today!
    I’m just going to go and have fun and go home with clothing and dignity intact. Despite not sleeping very well (because I am overthinking all of this) I do feel pretty confident and i know I came across that way on our first meeting.  
    And no, I am not interesting in him disappearing so things shall move at a comfortable pace…there will no bases this evening but I don’t see a problem with kissing him again!
      

  10. 30
    Fusee

    Karmic Equation #27: “you use your toy before dates”
      
    Ha ha! Yes, it works great to give oneself a good “O” before going on each date during the non-committed stage… It keeps you self-controlled and… satisfied. I must add that getting another one after the date is sometimes necessary as well ; )
      
    Kathleen #28: “Your ability to be able to walk away is powerful…”
      
    Indeed, true self-control and empowerment is the willingness and ability to walk away from the negotiation table. And it stills holds true down the line, when it’s time to consider marriage. If you take yourself seriously he will be more likely to take you seriously.

  11. 31
    Jamie Bardwell

    I couldn’t agree more that the driver that keeps relationships fresh and exciting is through keeping things varied and novel.  
    Studies show that our brains release a higher amount of dopamine (the pleasure chemical) when we anticipate pleasure, rather than experiencing the actual thing that gives us that high.  
    Take christmas for example, the build up is generally perceived as more psychologically rewarding than the actual day itself.  
    In terms of how this can benefit your dating life and relationships. Keep things fresh and spontaneous e.g go to places you wouldn’t normally go to and break the habit. Rather than going on a date that consists of a meal and cinema trip (which for the most part, becomes intrinsically boring), tell your partner you’ve got a surprise for them (a day trip/weekend away – whatever) and don’t tell them exactly where or what you’re doing.  
    This way, you’re inviting the unknown and embracing it. You’re likely to find that both you and your partner will cherish these moments much more, reinforcing and rekindling the moments that drove you together in the first place!  

  12. 32
    Susan61

    Date two went really well.   Got an email the next morning that he had a lot of fun.   We’ve emailed back and forth since then a bit, initiated by him.   So no third date set up yet but it’s a busy time of year.   I’m resisting the urge to try to see him before he leaves town over the holidays for a week but I absolutely know I need to just do nothing but mirror.     He is probably still dating/meeting other people from the online site and I just have to try go do the same but I really am not interested right now…
      
    Prepared for any and all possible outcomes but I really want to see this guy again.   Date two felt really, really good….the early stages are rather anxiety provoking though!

  13. 33
    susan

    There are plenty of stories of couples still ”madly in love” and brimming with chemistry after 10, 15 or more years. I know several of these couples. All would say that there was a strong chemistry right from the start BUT it was seriously underpinned with compatibility on a mental/social/intellectual level too.
    I have tried both ways – crazy mad chemistry but little else, and going the route of the sensible potentially long-term compatible as the primary driver. I’d have to agree with my friends – it’s the magic combination that makes for success. And so, to answer, can the honeymoon last forever, I would say (and let’s remember I am post-coupled (20 year relationship) and recently repartnered), YES absolutely I beleive in that.

  14. 34
    Kathleen

    Susan #   33  
    I agree with you that the combo of chemistry and compatibility is magic and the honeymoon can last forever  
    For the more scientific amongst us, Helen Fisher PHD has studied and documented imaging proof in brain scans of couples in very long term relationships who are “in love”

  15. 35
    Mark

    Interesting post. The short answer to the question is no the honeymoon period cannot last forever. I saw an interesting graph of the deterioration in passion between couples after marriage – bottoming out after 7 years. The 7 year itch isnt a random number after all!

  16. 36
    Kathleen

    Mark 35  
    I disagree with your short answer
    It lasted for me for 20 years I had very strong physical chemistry throughout that time with my now ex.  
    I think it can depend on the brain chemistry driver of the individual. Im a high dopamine type. ( others may be more driven by testosterone, seratonin or estrogen)  
      Read the scientific research by Helen Fisher or listen to her TED talks.   She says the infatuation stage lasts 1.5-2 years and disputes the 7 year itch based on her research.  
    ” The honeymoon period” is a loose term and it depends how you define that
      
      
      

  17. 37
    seriously

    what happens when the honeymoon is where it all came crashing down, when the courtship was in the stars but as soon as you hit commitment everything went to the birds, and trying to get back to the pre-honeymoon ays just does not work. It doesn’t take 2 years if not knowing who you have is the result of deception, idealization   or mental illness.  

  18. 38
    Dina Strange

    It’s very strange for me but i’ve never experienced loss of interest in my partner after 2 years.

    But maybe because i am a self-learner with insatiable appetite at teaching whatever new information i learned to my partner – my partner becomes like something i can teach and communicate with. Like an infinite well of information, he is something to explore.

    Perhaps that makes me difficult to date, i don’t know.  

  19. 39
    JennLee

    I do not believe that the “Honeymoon Phase” can last forever, but I do feel that if the couple is proactive in cultivating their relationship that the feelings associated with the Honeymoon Phase can last forever. I believe that if a woman continues to seek the approval and affection of her man, that she can still take his breath away many many years after the Honeymoon. In the same way, a man can do the same thing. I do believe that if a man values me enough, I will still feel my heart do flip flops when I look at him, many years after we become a couple.

  20. 40
    Max

    After 4 years of marriage and a child, I can’t say that the “honeymoon” phase disappears completely. Yes, it’s not “new” anymore and yes, there have been ups and downs. The thing is, we aren’t just a couple, we are also best friends. We never hide anything from each other and although we have different lives out of the house, we have similar hobbies and interest and even if our appearance seem lazy compared to before, we love each other more than we ever did. We went through rough times and got out stronger than ever. The honeymoon phase and the newness may be gone but, after you get passed that and realize all the sacrifices, the pain and the happy times, the events that bonded us, you realize just how much you’ve been through together and that the person you found…there is no one else like him/her. If you get past the honeymoon phase and dedicate a life to someone, after some perseverence and patience, true love takes over and it is, to me, even better than the honeymoon phase. Absolute honesty and absolute dedication and focus on both your professional life and your love life, it eventually flows. I can’t explain it, but true love after the honeymoon phase is the absolute best kind of love. Sex is better than it’s ever been, our communication is top notch and free of any secrets, we both have separate friend circles but we have no problem being together and having a good fun time. It just so happens we were perfect for each other, and even after the honeymoon phase passed, my wife still gives me butterflies but in a more significant way. 🙂

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