Did you ever find yourself thinking “After I found Mr. or Mrs. Right, I was sure that I would be happy forevermore! Now I wake up and look across the pillow, wondering what in the world I have done to my life. I’m bored. We’re just roommates now.” When this happens, we are often chasing the myth of eternal happiness. We have these ideas about what “should” make us happy. The problem is that we have many false beliefs about that very subject. Science can help us understand what relationship boredom is and how it impacts us.
A central theme in becoming dissatisfied is what social scientists call hedonic adaptation. This is about the fact that humans have the capacity to become habituated to any life change, whether it is positive or negative. Unfortunately for us, this phenomenon occurs most markedly with positive experiences, as noted by Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at University of California Riverside, in her pioneering research on the subject of happiness.
You pine to get hired into a position you deem ideal for your experience and preferences, then you get it. Several months later, you are complaining about the person or supervisor in your department who makes your work difficult to impossible achieve.
You meet the partner of your dreams while at a party with friends, and you both hit it off. You date in the erotic and hypnotic state of new, exciting love, end up having the wedding of your dreams, and two years later–yep, you guessed it–you are questioning your decision because passionate love has become companionate love. Dissatisfaction and boredom creep in to your head and heart.
Even your new car bliss wears off about the time you have stopped washing and waxing it, and the fast food wrappers are piling up in the back seat.
How to Fend Off Relationship Boredom
What do you do when you feel “meh?” There are a few practical strategies to fend off relationship boredom. First, if you are feeling bored and dissatisfied, it is likely that you have ceased to appreciate your partner. The importance of appreciation cannot be overstated. Examine what drew you towards your mate in the first place. What qualities did they bring to your life? Savor your time together. This helps you not take it for granted. Many studies demonstrate the power of gratitude and appreciation.
Second, what if your spouse were to be suddenly taken from you in a terrible accident or through grave illness? Another way to appreciate your partner is to imagine them gone from your life. What if they had never entered your life? What good things that resulted from your union would never have taken place?
Finally, novelty and variety are critical to staving off adaptation. Taking a class together, like dance or learning a foreign language, is one option. Planning a trip to somewhere new is another. Switching up date night from the usual dinner and a movie helps. And that is me and my husband white water rafting in the picture above. Spontaneity–doing something on the spur of the moment–works to decrease boredom. And don’t forget about the element of surprise! It is a potent force. A small but thoughtful card, text or gift is so uplifting. It is the randomness of the act that keeps it fresh. These types of differences actually stimulate dopamine production in your brain which is the pleasure neurotransmitter.
If you want to keep your relationship or your job fresh, let go of the idea that it “should” always be fresh and exciting. Remember that humans are predisposed by evolution to hedonic adaptation. Other wise we would never get anything done as we would continually remain in the hypnotic state of first love! It is up to you to find new ways to keep things interesting.
Resource: The Myths of Happiness
What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t
What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does
By Sonja Lyubomirsky, 2013