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How to Prevent Passion Decay

Don't wait until you're bored to add date nights to your relationship.

Key points

  • Passion in relationships is an important goal for many couples.
  • Exciting activities done with the partner (e.g., date nights) can prevent passion decay.
  • Boredom is associated with reduced occurrence and quality of dates, and infrequent dates are associated with passion decay over time.

Passion is commonly defined as intense feelings of longing for a partner (emotionally and sexually). At least in North America, people tend to be happier when their romantic relationships are more passionate. The beginning of relationships is typically characterized by high levels of passion; however, it often starts to decay over time.

Passion in Relationships and the Role of Date Nights

One way to prevent passion decay in established relationships is by engaging in exciting activities with a partner (e.g., date nights, going on a trip together, taking a cooking course, hiking). These exciting, shared activities are associated with increased relationship well-being, sexual desire, and passion.

 Tumisu/Pixabay
Passionate couple
Source: Tumisu/Pixabay

Despite the positive nature of exciting, shared activities, they are sometimes hard to put into practice in established relationships. For instance, there can be logistic (e.g., finances, childcare, work) and coordination (e.g., finding mutually enjoyable activities) challenges.

An additional obstacle is knowing when to engage in exciting activities. Most people don't need nonstop excitement to be happy—so one approach is for people to wait to feel the early signs of boredom before acting on it (i.e., respond when feeling low in the "excitement tank" to achieve optimal levels of passion). However, although people know what they should do when bored (i.e., engage in exciting activities together), they report being less likely to do so when in a rut.

Boredom Affects Date Night Occurrence and Quality

To assess the role of boredom in relationships, we investigated the consequences of boredom for passion in established relationships in a study that tracked community couples on a daily basis over three weeks (along with a three-month follow-up). On days where people scored higher on relational boredom (compared to their usual), there was a lower occurrence of exciting, shared activities (e.g., date nights), and when the activities were engaged in, they were lower in quality. In addition, the lower quality of the dates was associated with decreased passion.

We also found that people who were more bored in their relationships than others reported decreased passion three months later, in part because of a lower occurrence of exciting, shared activities (as assessed over a three-week period). The lower occurrence of these activities might be due in part to people feeling less inclined to engage in exciting date nights if they had a recent experience that was lower in quality.

In other words, just when couples need it most, they might be less likely to engage in date nights, and, when they do, their dates might be lower in quality (e.g., lower feelings of satisfaction, closeness, and enjoyment). The lower quality of the date nights might make the couple less likely to engage in them in the future, contributing to a cycle of further passion decay.

 MR1313/Pixabay
Boredom
Source: MR1313/Pixabay

Why and How Does Boredom Affect Date Nights?

Boredom is a negative emotion associated with a lack of challenge, meaning, and interest. In the context of intimate relationships, being bored in the relationship might feel like a loss of something that once was positive (i.e., they feel as if the spark, fun, and laughter have gone).

Our findings are consistent with the concept of disillusionment wherein people who perceive their relationship to be declining behave in ways that are detrimental for their relationship. For instance, when people feel disillusioned about their relationship, they may feel that there is little point in trying to remedy the situation (e.g., initiate an exciting activity with the partner, such as planning a fun date night).

The disillusionment can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: If a person enters a date night with the expectation that their relationship does not have the same spark as it used to have, it is possible that this will shape their attitude toward the activity. In turn, the partner might see a less enthusiastic response and not enjoy the activity. This, in turn, might confirm the person’s initial belief that their relationship lacks passion and spark, contributing further to disillusionment and, ultimately, passion decay.

Relationship Fundamentals

Passion in established relationships doesn’t "just happen"; it requires maintenance. Plus, there are obstacles to keeping passion alive in the relationship.

Waiting until bored is not an effective strategy given that being bored hinders the activities that can help to reduce it, namely engaging in exciting activities with your partner. Instead of waiting, it is best to be proactive and plan to spend time with your partner doing exciting activities.

If you think your relationship is doomed because you do not like excitement as much as others (e.g., you prefer birdwatching over bungee jumping), don’t fret; the most important thing is that you and your partner find a mutually enjoyable activity that you consider novel and interesting.

References

Harasymchuk, C., Lonn, A., Impett, E. A., & Muise, A. (2022). Relational boredom as an obstacle for engaging in exciting shared activities. Personal Relationships. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12421

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