Some relationships die a natural death. After spending some time being together, the euphoria from love fades and a strong feeling of indifference emerges. Complacency and boredom from routines essentially overpower the relationship. Thus, ruling out situational complexities or infidelity, it is tough to understand why and how seemingly perfect couples can fall out of love.
Why and how routines and familiarity can end relationships
An established theory from psychology called hedonic adaptation explains that people are naturally predisposed to gradually return to a relatively stable level of emotional state or well-being as they go through a process or mechanism that reduces the emotional impact from events, situations, or stimuli. In other words, hedonic adaptation explains that people naturally get used to a particular stimuli that gave them positive feelings and emotions. This is also true for romantic affairs or relationships.
To understand further the theory of hedonic adaptation, just imagine being in a new relationship. The first one to two years often brings forth profound happiness and excitement. Note that in the Boon-Holmes Three Developmental Stages of Romantic Relationships, the first stage called the Romantic Love Stage involves an outpouring of positive feelings and idealization of the partner.
However, the euphoria fades after some time because of complacency and too much familiarity to routines. Some couples end up being too comfortable with one another to the point that they neglect the importance of sustaining the relationship.
Another related theory called the hedonic adaptation prevention model based on the study of Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky identified two routes by which positive feelings from the relationship are eroded over time.
The first route involves the bottom-up process in which positive emotions from a relationship naturally declines over time. This is when an individual becomes too accustomed to the positive stimuli coming from the relationship. Over time, this individual thinks that there is nothing special about the relationship and he or she starts taking his or her partner for granted. Feelings and attachment fade and the relationship collapses.
On the other hand, the second route involves a top-down process in which an individual increases aspirations for achieving positive life change to sustain or improve positive emotions. This is when he or she begins to desire for novel stimuli. In a relationship, this individual could become too demanding and controlling or he could look for a new person in his or her life who could bring forth a renewed sense of euphoria from romance and intimacy. This how emotional abuse and infidelity transpires.
The science of sustaining and enriching a lasting relationship
There is a workaround against hedonic adaptation. To be specific, relevant studies have provided models for staying in love and sustaining or enriching a lasting relationship.
In a study by Jordi Quoidbach and Elizabeth W. Dunn that involved determining the satisfaction level from chocolate consumption, they found out that individuals who initially abstained from the sweet treat demonstrated higher level of satisfaction upon consumption than those individuals who did not abstain. In a romantic relationship, this essentially means giving each other space in order for the involved individuals not only to maintain a sense of independence but also to create a healthy and non-intrusive distance. A healthy distance can actually keep intimacy between couples because it creates or sustains the right level of longing or desire. After all, too much of something can be bad.
The aforementioned study from Sheldon and Lyubomirsky also suggested that rising aspirations often result in lower well-being. In other words, individuals should keep away from being too demanding or overbearing. Expectations always lead to disappointments. In addition, couples should find a way to maximize the positive impacts of their relationship instead of dwelling on shortcomings.
Another two-part study by Sheldon and Yuna L. Ferguson revealed that happiness emerges from enjoying the moment rather than focusing on end goals, as well as from making positive choices. In romantic relationships, this means that instead of focusing too much on long-term goals such as marriage or financial stability, coupes should just simply enjoy the moment. This suggests that happiness in a relationship is a daily choice. Couples should be constantly aware that they need to make things work on a day-to-day basis.
Based from the discussion above, the theory of hedonic adaptation prevention provides a model for sustaining and enriching a lasting relationship. It essentially reinforces the theory of hedonic adaptation by suggesting that euphoria from the initial stage of a relationship or any other positive stimuli is always bound to end. However, the theory of hedonic adaptation prevention differs because it suggests that individuals should focus more on enjoying their experience while making mental changes that can lead to new positive experiences.
In a nutshell, seeming perfect relationships die a natural death because involved individuals often lose sight of why they were in that romantic affair in the first place. The secret to lasting relationship involves appreciating the positive stimuli while also working together toward creating new positive experiences. Relationship is about making things work day in and day out.
A lasting relationship is not a passive experience. It is not something that just happens. It is not something that can be found. Remember that it is easy to go on dates, feel the euphoria, and eventually fall in love. But sustaining it is another story. Nonetheless, romantic relationship is not about finding the right person but learning to love the person you have found.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READINGS
- Sheldon, K. M. & Lyubomirsky, S. 2012. “The challenge of staying happier: Testing the hedonic adaptation prevention model.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38(5). DOI: 10.1177/0146167212436400
- Quoidbach, J. & Dunn, E. W. 2013. “Give it up: A strategy for combating hedonic adaptation.” Social Psychological and Personality Science. 4(5): DOI: 10.1177/1948550612473489
- Ferguson, Y. L. & Sheldon, K. M. 2012. “Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental study.” The Journal of Positive Psychology. 8(1): 23-33. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2012.747000