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Relationship Boredom? Here's How to Spice Things Up

Research reveals wholesome strategies to re-stimulate the sizzle.

When the Sizzle Fizzles

Some couples experience fireworks on a first date, followed by a whirlwind romance that gains momentum quickly. The first few weeks of a new relationship might include a steady stream of movies, fancy dinners, rollerblading at the local park, and hours of fascinating conversation.

Fast forward one year—and the schedule has changed. Now-established couples watch Netflix at home to save money, buy groceries once a week instead of eating out, and rather than engage in constant chatter, enjoy each others company relaxing in comfortable silence. Many couples are thrilled to have transitioned from fast-paced to peaceful and embrace a daily routine without the stress and pressure of planning a steady stream of dates.

Other couples, however, once the initial sizzle begins to fizzle, get bored. Not to fear: For those who want to infuse their relationship with energy and excitement, research indicates there are healthy, wholesome ways to spice things back up.

Beating Boredom

First of all, relational boredom does not affect all couples in the same way. Cheryl Harasymchuk et al. (2017) examined the link between shared activities and relational boredom in a piece aptly entitled, “Spicing up the Relationship?”[i] They found inconsistent support for the proposition that relational boredom always results in greater intentions to embark upon “growth-enhancing” (novel) activities.

They did find, however, that when study participants were asked specifically to plan a date, they were more inclined to increase the likelihood of engaging in growth-enhancing novel activities shared with their partner.

Harasymchuk et al. also found that people reported less intention to engage in “security-restorative” (familiar) shared activities when experiencing relational boredom. Why? They suggest that notwithstanding the benefits of enhanced relational security, “it is possible that in certain situations—such as a boring relationship—that increased security, comfort, and familiarity might be detrimental. More broadly, this implies that relational boredom might be associated with feelings of excessive security and diminished growth.”

In a previous study, Cheryl Harasymchuk and Beverley Fehr explored the characteristics of relational boredom in more detail. Acknowledging prior research, they note that boredom is often associated with dissatisfaction. Within relationships, however, there is disagreement as to how boredom should be defined.

In “A Prototype Analysis of Relational Boredom” (2013),[ii] they categorized prototypical versus nonprototypical ratings of relational boredom. Prototypical ratings included “no longer exciting” and “lack of interest in partner,” while nonprototypical ratings included “too similar” and “nothing in common.” In addition to other findings, they found that people are more likely to associate prototypical features with relational boredom.

How Long Will It Take to Spice Up Your Relationship?

How can couples wishing to spice things up counteract boredom? Arthur Aron et al. (2000) explored this issue, studying the impact of couples engaging in novel and arousing activities.[iii] Using a door-to-door survey, laboratory experiments, and a questionnaire in a newspaper, they researched the impact of engaging in novel and arousing activities on perceived relational quality. Results indicated that sharing even a seven-minute new and arousing activity enhanced relationship satisfaction.

Seven minutes? Most couples can squeeze that into their schedule. Actually, most couples can make time for even more. Subsequent research indicates that couples who invest 90 minutes a week might enjoy lasting results.

Kimberley Coulter and John M. Malouff (2013) studied whether consciously engaging in exciting activities together would increase couples' romantic attachment.[iv] They tracked couples who participated in a four-week online intervention that provided ideas for shared exciting activities and encouraged couples to spend 90 minutes a week participating in shared exciting activities.

The result? Couples who engaged in exciting activities together reported significantly higher levels of romantic relationship excitement, relational satisfaction, and positive affect than a control group. This heightened positive effect of the intervention was measurable even four months later.

The authors report that their results indicate that within relationships, increasing excitement produces lasting beneficial effects on both relationship satisfaction and positive affect.

So, if you are ready to take a break from your routine and add some excitement to your relationship, whether you decide to head to the theatre or the tennis court, a new restaurant or the racetrack, there are a variety of ways to infuse your relationship with both sizzle and satisfaction.

References

[i]Harasymchuk, Cheryl, Anika Cloutier, Johanna Peetz, and Janelle Lebreton. “Spicing up the Relationship? The Effects of Relational Boredom on Shared Activities.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 34, no. 6 (2017): 833–54.

[ii]Harasymchuk, Cheryl, and Beverley Fehr. “A Prototype Analysis of Relational Boredom.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 30, no. 5 (2013): 627–46.

[iii]Aron, Arthur, Christina C. Norman, Elaine N. Aron, Colin McKenna, and Richard E. Heyman. “Couples’ Shared Participation in Novel and Arousing Activities and Experienced Relationship Quality.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78, no. 2 (2000): 273–84.

[iv]Coulter, Kimberley, 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 2, no. 1 (2013): 34–44.

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