There is a rather unfortunate term in psychology—hedonic adaptation—that summarises the state of many long-term relationships. Hedonic adaptation is basically the human tendency to get used to the good things in our lives. Humans have this amazing capacity to maintain a sort of emotional status quo. At the beginning, a new gift, friend, or experience brings us a lot of pleasure and excitement. But then, we quickly grow accustomed to the new thing and it no longer brings us quite the same pleasure it once did.
Well, this same process happens in our romantic relationships. In the beginning, the mere mention of your partner’s name might have brought a goofy grin to your face. Now, you’ve heard their name mentioned so many times that it probably is rare that you find yourself grinning just at hearing it. Seeing your partner walk in the door after work is unlikely to generate heart palpitations like it did the first few months you were together.
But we don’t just stop feeling extra excited each time we see our partner, we also start feeling more annoyed by them. We start to see what our partners are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. And this is when the relationship spark can start to die out.
So how do you combat it? First, you need to be aware that hedonic adaptation exists—just knowing about it is half the battle. It means you will be able to recognise when it’s happening and take the necessary steps to fight it. Second, you need to believe that relationships can improve and thrive with a little work. It doesn’t matter if you and your partner are soulmates. Every. Single. Relationship takes work. Just like a fire, your relationship can’t thrive if it doesn’t get fed when it starts to die out. And finally, you just need a few tips for how to combat hedonic.
If you use only one tool for fighting hedonic adaptation, make it gratitude. Nearly two decades of burgeoning research shows that people who are more grateful for their romantic partners are more satisfied in their relationships, feel closer to each other, are more committed, engage in more thoughtful acts for each other and are less likely to break up.
One way to build intimacy in your relationship is by sharing your thoughts and feelings with each other and then responding to those disclosures in a way that makes you both feel good.
Being selfless instead of selfish isn’t just good for your partner. It’s good for you as well. Why? Because an appreciated partner is an appreciative one!
New and exciting activities can help you fight hedonic adaptation by giving you and your partner a chance to laugh and play together, share experiences, and see each other in a new light, building pleasure and intimacy in your relationship.
This is an excerpt from Dr. Amie Gordon’s Mindsail program “(Re)igniting Your Relationship Spark”. Dr. Amie Gordon, PhD is a social psychologist who researches romantic relationships. For more on keeping the spark alive and to listen to her full program, download the Mindsail app.