Every relationship starts to fade after a while.
No, it’s not you.
It’s not him, either.
You can blame it on the way our brains are wired to prefer whatever feels new.
In the early days of a relationship, the brain’s reward system works overtime. It floods a lover’s system with chemicals that enhance attraction and connection. The effect has been likened to that of cocaine, and it can be just as addictive.
But, just as addicts become tolerant to their drug of choice, so lovers develop a tolerance for each other. The mere sight of their beloved isn’t enough to arouse intense pleasure anymore. Romantic love has a short shelf life.
Luckily, that’s not the end of the story.
Dr. Helen Fisher, anthropologist at Rutgers University, suggests that a different human drive steps in to keep the lovebird together, leading to happy long-term unions:
Attachment is a different feeling than lust or romantic love, with a different chemical makeup. Studies of monogamous prairie voles suggest that vasopressin and oxytocin are the brain chemicals responsible for bonding that lasts.
A couple can have a strong feeling of attachment, even high relationship satisfaction, but feel little excitement or passion. The romance simply faded away over time.
That loss of romantic love is felt keenly. It’s not easy to look forward to life with a man by your side who’s more of a friend or companion than a lover. You want him to be your best friend, but you also want to feel passionately in love with him. Is that too much to ask?
Dr. Fisher thinks it isn’t.
For her, bringing back the spark in your relationship means something very specific. It doesn’t mean going on date nights. It doesn’t mean wooing one another with flowers and poems.
It means finding new ways to activate the brain’s reward system.
Chemically speaking, there’s only one way for couples to stimulate their brains’ reward system in the same way falling in love did.
Novel and arousing activities, in novel and arousing situations.
In other words, do something new that gets your heart pumping.
Few couples prioritize novelty. One of the great things about being a couple, in fact, is settling down into a comfortable routine. Doing the same thing every weekend. Going the same places on vacation. Reliving the same pleasurable moments, over and over again.
Those routines build attachment, but they don’t spark romance.
If you want to re-create the romance, try rock-climbing, surfing, or another high-adrenaline sport together. Travel somewhere new on vacation. Do something together that creates the illusion of danger, like going through a haunted house or watching a horror film.
You may not have as much fun, but it will be a lot more exciting.
Following Dr. Fisher’s advice requires a switch in how we view long-term relationships.
Usually, we see the benefits of a long-term relationship as comfort, ease, predictability, and stability.
Long-term relationships aren’t as risky as new relationships, and that’s what makes them so valuable. We can depend on one another. Exchanging excitement for safety is a good trade.
So it’s ironic that risk, discomfort, and unpredictability play such a large role in stimulating the brain.
Doing something new is risky. It’s unpredictable. You might not be comfortable.
But if you go through a new experience with your partner, you feel an incredible sense of accomplishment and connection. Afterwards, you feel a glow that’s unmatched. In fact, you might just remember this feeling from before, when you first started dating one another.
It’s crazy but true:
On a neurological level, surviving a short but difficult challenge together creates more of a passionate bond than two weeks lying on a hot beach somewhere.
Does that mean you should cancel the tickets to Hawaii? Of course not. But do something exciting while you’re there. Go horseback riding or snorkeling. Get your blood pumping. Then enjoy your sunbathing and leisurely sunset meals. Your brain will thank you.