The One Thing All Happy Couples Have In Common

Photographed by Rachelle Manning.
By Dr. Benjamin Le
Although passion tends to fade in long-term relationships, there's one big thing couples can do to keep the flame alive: Continue to share experiences that are new, interesting, and challenging. Maybe your partner loves going to art museums and you decide to tag along, ultimately gaining a new and possibly interesting experience. According to the self-expansion model (see more here), these activities help people grow as individuals. So, if relationships help you enhance yourself, are you likely to feel more love for a partner who initiates new experiences with you?
To test this idea, more than 500 people in relationships (all from a small town in the United States) were recruited by telephone. Participants ranged from 18 to 92 years old, with a median age of nearly 50 years old. Approximately 75% of the participants were married, and the length of their relationships ranged from one day to 65 years, with a median relationship duration of nearly 17 years.

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The participants rated brief statements about different types of love in their relationships, including "attraction and sensual love" (“Your partner and you have the right physical chemistry”) and "obsessive and possessive love" (“Since being with your partner, you find it hard to focus on the routines of life”). In addition, they answered questions about their self-expansion with their partner (e.g., “Being with your partner expands your sense of who you are” and “Your relationship with your partner is the source of new experiences”).

Generally, self-expansion was lower in longer relationships, which makes sense; over time, it’s hard for partners to continuously provide opportunities for personal growth. But, those who reported that their partners did provide avenues for self-expansion tended to also report more attraction and sensual love, as well as more obsessive and possessive love, than those with less self-expanding partners. In short, having a partner who helps you grow as a person may be an important marker of these forms of love in long-term relationships.
While this study doesn’t conclusively show that self-expansion causes relationship quality, there is strong evidence from other studies suggesting it improves relationship quality. So, just because your relationship is long doesn't mean it can't be passionate. By engaging in new, interesting, and challenging activities with your partner, you can have a positive impact on your relationship — even for the long haul.

Next: The "Nice" Gene And Its Effect On Your Relationship

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