Long, happy marriages foster feelings of contentment and commitment.
How do couples get there. More importantly over time, how do they stay there?
Research reveals that long-term satisfaction is fueled by current relational optimism. That might sound easy during the honeymoon. But what about 10 years later?
If passion is lagging in your marriage, can you absolutely recapture the magic. But here is the catch: according to research, it is much easier when you believe you can.
Believe the Best is Yet to Come
Kathleen L. Carswell and Eli J. Finkel, in "Can You Get the Magic Back?" (from 2018) introduce the concept of a decay theory of passion, defined as belief that once romantic passion declines, that it is irreversible. They investigate how holding this belief impacts the passion people have for their partner, in an attempt to predict relational commitment and pursuit of romantic alternatives.
They found that although lower levels of passion are associated with lower levels of relational commitment and higher interest in pursuing romantic alternatives, these effects are stronger when individuals hold strong decay beliefs.
Here is the good news. Carswell and Finkel suggest, "changing one’s beliefs surrounding the nature of romantic passion may be an important, but previously overlooked, means for preventing one from prematurely abandoning an otherwise satisfying relationship."
Realistic Beliefs Promote Relational Permanence
Carswell and Finkel note that their results provide a potential method of reducing infidelity. They observe that among people who are experiencing a low level of passion in their current relationship, both real and imagined pursuit of relational alternatives appears to be moderated indirectly by decay beliefs — "through moderation of the effect of passion on relationship commitment."
Accordingly, they note that dispelling the notion that lost passion cannot be recovered may prevent partners from straying.
This is important, because apparently, decay beliefs are not only threatening to a relationship once the bloom is off the rose. Carswell and Finkel note that decay beliefs regarding relational passion are likely to decrease relational commitment even when a couple is experiencing an “average” level of passion.
This in turn could adversely impact confidence in the future of the relationship, which might decrease relational investment. To the contrary, taking the time to invest in relational quality will help secure a healthy future. One way some couples do this is through participating in enjoyable, shared activities.
Playing Together So You Can Stay Together
Kimberley Coulter and John M. Malouff found that shared participation in exciting activities spices up relationships. Applying the positive-psychology paradigm to romantic relationships, the authors implemented a four-week online intervention designed specifically to increase the level of romantic-relationship excitement.
Participating couples were presented with ideas for exciting activities they could engage in together for 90 minutes a week. Although they were required to come up with the activities themselves, they were given a number of resources to assist in identifying activities ranging from the adventurous, playful, interesting, and spontaneous, to ones that were novel and challenging.
Couples participating in exciting activities together had "significantly higher levels of romantic-relationship excitement, positive affect, and relationship satisfaction at postintervention." Even better, the results appeared to last. Four months later, this group continued to have higher scores than at the baseline.
The authors note that their findings are consistent with “learning, broaden-and-build, and self-expansion theories,” and show that relationship excitement can indeed be enhanced through online intervention, and that increased excitement promotes relational satisfaction.
But don´t worry, you and your partner do not have to be adrenaline junkies or thrill seekers to benefit from time together. Good old-fashioned talking has done wonders to revive relationships, as has just listening.
The key is identifying activities both partners are comfortable pursuing.
Meeting of the Minds and Hearts
Couples seeking to improve their relationships should agree on the rules of engagement. From the foreign to the familiar, whether reading or racecar driving, shared activities designed to spice up a relationship should incorporate the goal of long term commitment.
Couples who pair shared activity with a mindset of stability and optimism are on their way to enjoying a healthy, satisfying, self-fulfilling prophecy.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
A version of this article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 3,00 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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