What makes love last? Is it possible to keep a relationship strong and vibrant over the long term or are we destined to live out our days in boredom and annoyance after the honeymoon is over?
That is a million-dollar question and researchers have been asking the same question for a very long time.
The beginning of a romantic relationship is often marked by high levels of passion, joy, attraction, excitement, and novelty. We find everything very exciting.
With time, however, these feelings and experiences become less intense, rendering the relationship a great deal less exciting.
This does not only happen in marriage and relationships but in all aspects of our lives.
Let us take the example of travel:
When we travel by air for the very first time, we are impressed if they give us earphones and a drink. It feels luxurious to sit in our seat with the stewardess coming around to check if we need anything and if our seat belts are tied.
After the first few rounds, however, we start eyeing business class. It seems so much more comfortable and luxurious. If we are lucky enough to enjoy business class travel, it feels indulgent at first . . . until we get used to it and then we start dreaming of the joys of first class . . .
Why does this happen?
Are we just really spoilt and entitled human beings or is there more to it?
Psychologists and scientists explain that getting used to the good things (and actually the not so good things) is natural and it is because of a process called Hedonic Adaptation.
Hedonic adaptation simply means that when a good (or bad) thing happens in our lives, it will make us happy or sad for a short amount of time, after which we will return to our normal state of happiness or misery.
This natural tendency of human beings leads us to switch off to the value of the good things in our lives. We fail to appreciate the full value of our health, of the people we love, of our peace, freedom and prosperity, and the very fact that we are alive at all. Our attention only turns to these things when something goes wrong. We learn the value of these things when they’re taken away from us–for example, we begin to appreciate the value of health when we become seriously ill or lose some functionality.
Using the travel example again, Hedonic Adaption means that we begin to take business class travel for granted – until we are bumped off business class on a flight and have to travel coach!
What does this mean for our relationships?
For our marriage relationships, this means that the “honeymoon period” will last for a short time and boredom or dissatisfaction will set in. We sometimes talk about it in a way that “love has faded” or that we have “fallen out of love”.
When we first fall in love we notice and appreciate all the good things that our spouse brings to the relationship. We appreciate that they bring us our first cup of coffee or tea. In time, we begin to take that morning ritual for granted – unless the tea is cold or there is not enough sugar.
What happened? We have start taking each other for granted. We have the “take for granted syndrome”. We begin to expect the good things and take them for granted. We only focus when something is not right.
While this may be the natural progression of a relationship it certainly does not bring us happiness. Maybe this is why there are sooo many jokes about and against marriage. It is almost as people expect to live in misery for the rest of their lives!
This sounds like really bad news, right?
The good news is that this course of events is not inevitable. There are many couples who manage to remain in love and happy over long term so there are ways to counteract this tendency and make sure that the relationship remains happy and satisfying.
Let’s explore one important way to maintain a happy relationship.
This simple practice is so powerful that I often refer to it as the 60 second technique to transform a relationship.
And this technique is the practice of appreciation
What is appreciation?
Appreciation means the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.
Appreciation means to pay attention to something and have a positive feeling associated with that attention.
I appreciate that you are reading this post. (Makes me feel that my efforts are worth it)
I appreciate that friends take the time to answer my texts or calls. (It makes me feel supported)
I appreciate the time that you take to give me feedback. (It makes me feel valued)
I appreciate that my husband comes home in time for dinner. (It makes me feel connected)
And so on . . .
Why does appreciation work?
When we focus our attention to something that is going right in our lives, it allows us to continue to experience that positive thing and the events and emotions that accompany it. It other words, when I appreciate something, I delay the process of Hedonic Adaptation.
Science now recognizes that when we continue to practice appreciation of the things in our lives it can keep things new and fresh and manage increased expectations and feelings of entitlement.
So it turns out that in appreciating our spouses we benefit ourselves. On the other hand, when a person no longer attends to and appreciates his partner, he will essentially stop garnering any positivity or benefiting from having a partner, which is the very definition of adaptation. This is how boredom and taking for granted syndrome sets in and the relationship deteriorates.
Appreciating others is of course very important for the person on the receiving end of the appreciation as well. In order to keep doing our best, human beings need to know that our efforts matter and are appreciated. Even at work, research shows that appreciation or lack of it in an organization is a major predictor whether or not people will stay in the job. When people leave jobs and they are interviewed, they cite lack of appreciation or value for their work as a major reason for quitting. Similarly, in families, when family members feel appreciated, they are much more likely to keep doing positive things for the relationship and for each other.
How do we practice appreciation?
1) Become intentional about focusing on what is right rather than what is wrong. Learn to focus your attention on what is present rather than what is lacking. Train your brain to scan your day for what is going right.
2) Create practices to make it habit. Inspiration wears out. Consider a simple practice can you can ritualize. For example, you can start and end your day with an appreciation, or express it at mealtimes. In order to get the full benefits of appreciation for your relationship, you have to both feel it and express it. To work effectively, it needs to be consistent. You can express appreciation through a note, text, email or spoken word.
3) To develop a culture of appreciation, we can encourage others to appreciate us by receiving compliments more graciously. We can practice simply saying thank you and shut up. We don’t have to give it right back or argue with the appreciation (which makes them feel silly and stupid). This ruins the gift of appreciation and offends the giver!
Latest research suggests that when one person gives a compliment and the other receives it graciously, it raises the serotonin level in both human beings – it physiologically changes the brain of both people for the better. Pretty cool, right?