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SALT LAKE CITY — Most scholars agree that a certain decline of romantic love over a significant period of time is inevitable and foreseeable — read: Relationships can get stale.
The love birds of early romance quickly flutter by us, and through us, and then they molt — or, at least are replaced by something a little more familiar and predictable, like starlings or pigeons.
Studies show that after three years of marriage, many couples start complaining about their relationship being stale and boring. It’s no surprise, then, that most divorces occur within the first three years of marriage, said authors and psychologists Brett and Kay McKay.
"The number one cause for the breakdown in marriages today is the same issue that causes infidelity. Couples aren't prioritizing their marriage," said Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage and family therapist. "People spend time on their careers, their kids, community affairs, hobbies, sports. But they take their spouses for granted. It just doesn't work that way."
What tops most lists of ways to protect a marriage? Set aside time and spend it with your spouse.
An answer to beating the marital blahs and divorce altogether is simple, say the McKays: “Date your (spouse) all over again.”
The science isn’t clear why a select few couples are able to maintain romantic intensity after several years. But neural scientists and therapists alike believe regular injections of novelty and excitement most likely play a role.
Several recent experiments have indicated that novelty — something new or unexpected done together as a couple — may assist in recreating a few tingles.
Suppose a couple married for, say, 15 years takes a Friday to go out and eat a favorite dish at the favorite place and then hit the theatre for a regular action movie. Same, same, same. Though a steady, predictable date night may still be a well-deserved break for many a couple, a date night that refreshes and surprises can do double duty.
Instead of haunting the same establishments and eating from the same menu, couples who wish to rekindle a familiar romance may try creating a new kind of date night date based around new and different activities that they both may enjoy, said Arthur Aron, a professor of social psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
“We don’t really know what’s going on in the brain, but as you trigger and amp up this reward system in the brain that is associated with romantic love, it’s reasonable to suggest that it’s enabling you to feel more romantic love,” said anthropologist Helen E. Fisher of Rutgers, author of several studies on romantic love’s neural basis. “You’re altering your brain chemistry.”
That means you're recreating chemical surges that come with early courtship.
The idea is to try something new and different, something unusual for you. That may be as simple as new food at a new restaurant, or inviting a new couple to dinner and establishing a new friendship. Hiking, biking, live theatre or volunteering to read to children are several examples of taking date night to a different level.
Dating your spouse is clearly key to a healthy relationship. Many couples can take date night’s effects further by planning regular, irregular date nights. Have a date in the afternoon, for example. Enjoy different cuisine. In addition to the regular things done as a couple that are comforting, spice it up with something you haven’t done for awhile or not at all.
“You don’t have to swing from the chandeliers,” Fisher said. “Just go to a new part of a town, take a drive in the country, or better yet, don’t make plans and see what happens to you.”
Cheney writes, often humorously, at davisoncheneymegadad.blogspot.com