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Is Being Creative the Key to Romantic Passion?

New research looks at the role of creativity in sustaining romantic passion.

Passion is one great force that releases creativity, because if you're passionate about something, you're more willing to take risks. —Yo-Yo Ma

Is there a link between creativity and romantic passion? A new research article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that there is.

Written by Kathleen L. Carswell and Eli J. Finkel of Northwestern University and Madoka Kumashiro Goldsmiths of the University of London, the article presents the results of three research studies examining whether being creative helps bolster long-term romantic relationships.

As the authors point out, what we call romantic passion can go by many names, including romantic yearning, attraction, desire, or eros. Not surprisingly, numerous research studies have demonstrated the role that romantic passion plays in long-term relationships and personal well-being. Certainly, the importance we place on romantic passion helps explain the popularity of romance novels, love songs, poetry, movies, television programs, etc.

Still, for all that we value this kind of passion, it's important to note just how fragile it can be. Though marriage is typically viewed as being a lifelong commitment, just about every major theory explaining romantic passion acknowledges that it typically peaks early in most relationships and slowly decreases with time.

But not always. One recent study reported that, among couples in relationships of at least 10 years in duration, 40 percent reported still being “very intensely in love." In that same study, researchers complemented these self-reports with functional MRI results showing that long-term couples reporting a high degree of passion showed heightened activation in the same brain regions as people in the early stages of a passionate relationship.

In exploring those factors that can keep a romantic relationship alive, researchers have identified different possible candidates. These include relationship factors such as maintaining regular intimacy, being focused on positive relationship experiences, being mutually responsive to partnership needs, and the belief that sexual satisfaction can be attained through hard work and effort.

In their own research however, Carswell, Finkel, and Goldsmiths decided to focus on another factor entirely: creativity. Usually defined as the ability to imagine and produce something original and unexpected, yet still appropriate and useful, creativity has been the focus of countless research studies. But, along with the role that creativity can play in emotional well-being and life satisfaction, creativity may also be important in fostering new relationships.

Certainly, studies looking at mate selection demonstrate that highly creative individuals are better able to attract potential mates and form strong emotional bonds that can grow with time. But there has been relatively little research up to now looking at the value of creativity in keeping passion alive in established relationships.

For example, creativity may be associated with the ability to see a partner through "rose-colored glasses" and see a partner more favorably than that partner might view himself or herself. These "positive partner illusions" have been strongly linked by researchers to more positive relationship outcomes overall. Not only do these illusions mean overlooking a partner's shortcomings, but can also make the partner feel more attractive and content with the relationships. Also, since creativity involves being able to engage in creative activities (little-c creativity), being high in creativity allows people in relationships to avoid falling into set routines that might lead to boredom and dissatisfaction.

The first of the three studies carried out by Carswell and her co-researchers involved an online survey conducted through Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform. A total of 510 participants, (66 percent female), all of whom were in a committed relationship, completed questionnaires including the Creative Personality Scale and the Creative Behavior scale measuring personality traits and behaviors linked to creativity. Participants also completed different measures of passionate love including items such as, "Sometimes I feel I can’t control my thoughts; they are obsessively on [my partner]” and “I want [my partner] physically, emotionally, mentally" (the computerized inventory inserted the partner's name directly rather than generic terms such as "my partner"). Participants also completed items rating their relationship in terms of sexual desire and overall partner satisfaction.

The second study involved in-person assessments of 139 couples in a laboratory setting. Each participant was asked to rate his or her partner on twenty-six traits such as creativity and attractiveness. They were also asked to rate themselves on the same traits as a measure of positive illusions relative to partner self-ratings.

For the third study, the researchers built on the results of the first two studies using a nine-month longitudinal design to measure how creativity affected passion over time. One hundred and twenty people in stable relationships were tested at three-month intervals with questionnaires measuring romantic passion and creativity. During the final session, participants attending with their partners were given a "physical intimacy task" which involved them being left alone in private for seven minutes. Prior to being left alone, they were told by researchers to engage in "as little or as much physical intimacy as you’d like (within reason)." In reality, the couple was secretly videotaped and the extent of their physical intimacy was rated by experimenters.

Across all three studies, having a more creative personality was strongly associated with maintaining relationship passion over time. Not only did this research show a strong correlation between creativity and passion, overall, but also reflected the importance of positive partner illusions in keeping romantic passion from declining. Highly creative people reporting strong passion over time were far more likely to rate their partners more highly in terms of physical attractiveness and overall appeal that the partners rated themselves. Measures of creativity also predicted greater passion during the brief physical intimacy task carried out nine months later in the third study.

Though these findings do reflect the importance of creativity in maintaining relationship passion (something that has been previously overlooked by researchers), Carswell and her co-authors acknowledge significant limitations in their research. First of all, most of their participants were young people who had only been in committed relationships for little more than a year (average relationship length was 2.45 years) so these results may not be as useful in predicting what may occur with more long-term relationships.

Still, despite such limitations, this research does provide a more optimistic outlook for long-term couples seeking to to preserve the "spark" in their relationship. Even though previous studies suggested that romantic passion fades with time, more recent studies are showing different ways to sustain passion over time.

Along with relationship-based strategies such as engaging in novel activities with one’s partner and being responsive to a partner's needs, the role that creativity can play in preserving passion needs to be better understood. It's also important to recognize how positive partner illusions can be in maintaining relationships. While this study looked at physical attractiveness alone, positive illusions may extend to a broad range of different personality traits and qualities as well.

Along with the positive role that creativity can play in relationships, creative people are generally more open to new experiences and can have greater passion in non-romantic aspects of life, including work, maintaining friendships, and hobbies.

Unfortunately, people often regard creativity as being something you are born with rather rather a skill that can be developed. In reality though, people can learn to become more creative and reap the benefits of a more creative outlook on life in various ways. In fact, according to Eileen Waltz, one of the authors of the 2016 book, Building Your Creativity: Tools For Having Ideas and Bringing Them to Be, it is possible to get into the creativity "habit" by being patient and priming your brain for creative thinking. Granted, it takes time—but what worthwhile goal doesn't?

So, cultivate your creativity and learn how to apply that creativity to the relationships in your life that matter. It may be the key to rediscovering the passion you thought was lost.


Creativity and romantic passion.

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Carswell, Kathleen L.,Finkel, Eli J.,Kumashiro, Madoka. Creativity and romantic passion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 116(6), Jun 2019, 919-941

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