When the honeymoon phase wears off…how will you know? And what can you do about it?
Research tells us that the honeymoon period is quite real. It tends to last anywhere between 12 to 30 months. Some spouses, who particularly crave novelty, report that their honeymoon phase petered out after as little 6 to 9 months.
When you first start dating, it can be intoxicating. The relationship feels exciting and vibrant, and you’re still unraveling the mystery of each other.
However, eventually, you settle into a gradually more predictable routine. You heard the story before.
After falling in love, the relationship settles down. The person you used to find so exciting slowly becomes a steady and predictable presence in your life.
When the honeymoon phase wears off, Marriage and Family Therapists note that some partners confuse this new sense of calm familiarity with boredom. They think these over-the-top feelings were supposed to last forever. The mystery has faded.
You know that they love Hip-Hop (you hate Hip-Hop) or that they hate to fold their laundry, and have this irritating laugh when they’re drunk.
Welcome to the end of the honeymoon.
Flaws and imperfections become apparent. That may be a shock. “Wow…some of the things that make her happy bore me to tears.” You may squabble over differences.
You suddenly realize…this is an entirely separate person, and they are very different from me. Discovering firsthand, as Dr. Gottman told us, from a long term perspective, 69% of your differences are fundamentally unsolvable.
Here are some things you will notice:
You begin to appreciate that managing differences require cultivating a healthy appreciation for what you both need from each other, and you both are learning to provide it with a clean heart. Trust is built. Routines are established. The punch list of what it takes to be a partner with this person has been provided.
Every day after the honeymoon phase wears off, you make both deposits and withdrawals in your emotional bank accounts. The frantic limerence has calmed down. You’ve acquired the ability to disappoint as well as delight each other. In other words, your relationship is getting real in every sense.
You typically begin to express your individuality without fear or anxiety, expanding your world beyond the bubble of your bond.
New research shows that before you go running into couples therapy, do something together that you’ve never done before.
This new research studied couples who had been together for years.
The results showed that couples who took part in exciting and novel, activities rated their relationship quality as higher than before.
But there was even more benefit. These couples were less hostile to each other and showed more mutual support and acceptance.
The researchers describe the predictable pattern of an intimate relationship:“…when two people first enter a relationship, typically engaging in intense conversations with considerable risk-taking and self-disclosure, they are “expanding their selves” at a rapid rate.
One of the fascinating aspects of this research is the notion of personal expansion. When we fall in love, our sense of self expands.
The researchers claim that when personal “expansion” inevitably slows to a crawl or disappears entirely, the excitement fades.
Once boredom sets in, the “fun deficit” may be blamed on the relationship, perhaps becoming a shared narrative for the noticeable drop in relationship satisfaction.
Recent research also suggests that when the honeymoon phase wears off, playfulness is highly attractive. Couples therapy may help when it focuses on helping the couple to more carefully define what personal expansion means and which specific activities will kick-start the personal expansion process once more.
This study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Aron et al., 2000).
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.