How Optimism Can Preserve Romance
When rekindling that loving feeling, mindset matters.
Posted Jan 10, 2019
Long, happy marriages foster feelings of contentment and commitment. How do couples get there—and just as importantly, 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 may be easier when you believe you can.
Believing the Best is Yet to Come
Kathleen L. Carswell and Eli J. Finkel, in a paper entitled “Can You Get the Magic Back?”, introduce the concept of a decay theory of passion, defined as belief that once romantic passion declines, it is irreversible.[i] 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 were associated with lower levels of relational commitment and higher interest in pursuing romantic alternatives, these effects were stronger when individuals held strong decay beliefs.
The good news, Carswell and Finkel write, is that “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 Expectations Promote Relational Permanence
Carswell and Finkel note that their results suggest 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, dispelling the notion that lost passion cannot be recovered may help 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 Staying Together
Kimberley Coulter and John M. Malouff found that shared participation in exciting activities spices up relationships.[ii] 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.
The result? 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.
[i]Kathleen L. Carswell and Eli J. Finkel, “Can You Get the Magic Back? The Moderating Effect of Passion Decay Beliefs on Relationship Commitment,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes 2018, Vol. 115, No. 6, 1002–1033.
[ii]Kimberley Coulter and John M. Malouff, “Effects of an Intervention Designed to Enhance Romantic Relationship Excitement: A Randomized-Control Trial”, Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice 2013, Vol. 2, No. 1, 34 – 44.