Keeping it New – Long-term Relationships & Brain Chemistry
Photo by Stane
When it comes to comfortable, long-term relationships, we often think that feeling bored with our partner is unavoidable. More than that, many of us have concluded that boredom is just one of those things to be tolerated in exchange for the positives of a long-term partner. Some recent studies of long-term couples have found that boredom may be inevitable, yes, but inescapable? No!
An article this week in the NY Times highlights the need to ‘reinvent the date night’. The studies it describes have shown that asking couples to engage in a new activity that interests them both, when compared to a group of couples asked to engage in a pleasant but familiar activity produces significant differences in their reports of marriage satisfaction.
Why is this? The answer is partly due to brain chemistry. When we engage in a new activity or experience, our brain’s reward systems are activated and happy brain chemicals, norepinephrine & dopamine, are released. These are the same chemicals released in the early stages of a relationship, when excited feelings of new love are being experienced. When you create a scenario that causes these chemicals to be released you are likely to associate this rewarding feeling with your partner.
Not to mention the extra benefits of anyone engaging in a new, novel activity! As we age and our lives become more routine, challenging ourselves to engage in activities we’ve never tried (but have perhaps always wanted to) can be deeply satisfying.
Of course, going sky-diving together is not going to solve complex relationship problems, but it can be a helpful pick-me-up for relationships that have slumped into the boredom of familiarity. Also, couples working through complex problems can use this idea to stay connected in a time when they might be experiencing distance.
So, how to get started?
First, take time to sit down with your partner and brainstorm ideas that you are potentially excited by. You might even email back and forth a developing list of ideas, or sending a feeler out to friends to ask what activities they enjoy. Star those ideas that appeal to you both and pick a date to start! Many new activities can be anxiety-producing and we stop at the planning phase. This is where a partner can be helpful in beginning a new endeavor. Talk to your partner about your anxiety and give each other positive verbal reinforcement about how great it is that you’re both willing to take on this challenge. And remember that the activity does not have to be successful to get a positive rush. When you attend that dance class, or go skiing for the first time, you may not get it ‘right’ but it will still feel good!
Here’s some new date-night ideas from Lawgeek…
- Hiking Sutro Baths + Sunset drinks at the Cliff House
Two fun bits of SF history right next to each other on Ocean Beach. After drinks, wander down to the far end of the sand on most dark nights and join any number of bonfires to warm up and meet new friends.
- Burger Joint + Bad Movie Night
Two great tastes that go great together. Free-range meats and Double Rainbow Milkshakes make “Da Joint” a perfect place for a quick and delicious bite on the way to events in the Mission. The Dark Room’s Bad Movie Night offers hilarious and campy fodder for post-movie discussions over drinks. The best part is that you already know the movie is going to be bad, so no pressure to pick a good one!
- Rock-climbing class at Mission Cliffs, then Mexican
Wanna get hot & sweaty on a date? Well, one way to do it is take a rock-climbing class together at one of the Touchstone Gyms in the Bay Area. I like Mission Cliffs, myself, ’cause its also close to great Mexican food, so you can fill up on greasy goodness afterwards. Los Jarritos is one of my favs, but there are literally dozens within walking distance. One nice thing about rock climbing is that everyone can learn how to do it and can feel like they accomplished something on the date.
More great date-night ideas here!