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A recent study has shown that – on average – the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship lasts around 30 months. If you had been thinking your marriage would be safe until the ‘7 year itch’ kicked in, this might come as disappointing news. But no need for despair! While the honeymoon phase might not last forever, it certainly doesn’t mean your love can’t…
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What is the Honeymoon Phase?
The honeymoon phase can be characterized as many different things; infatuation, passionate love, delirious happiness to the point it makes almost no sense. Increased levels of dopamine and cortisol preside in our bodies1, and we experience higher levels of nerve growth factor too2. On average, studies have shown this to last around two and half years into a marriage.
So what’s happening to us in the early stages of our relationships? Well, our dopamine levels during this honeymoon phase are much higher, and are triggered by our loved ones – so not only are we thrilled to see them each time, we also become addicted to the rush it gives us. It’s easy to over-romanticize this.
Cortisol, a ‘stress-buffering hormone’, in itself is not bad for you, but think about why it’s necessary – whether it’s heart palpitations or butterflies in your stomach, your body gets put through the wringer when you’re in love. Physically and emotionally, young love can put your body under strain. Letting everything become settled is both inevitable and much more comfortable – especially internally!
But this can’t last. A New York Times article on the subject states ‘it’s cruel but true: We’re inclined — psychologically and physiologically — to take positive experiences for granted.’ Once the biological fireworks stop, we’re predestined to start taking each other for granted in this way. So while it might be the case that the circumstances of your marriage stay just as wonderful, and you still do just as much for each other, routine sets in and we’re less engaged by it.
Relationship expert Evan Marc Katz gives this firm but fair advice: ‘The same way the thrill of a new car wears off, the thrill of a new relationship wears off, too. We expect it with the car. Yet we think that the thrill of new love should last forever. Think again.’3
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What Should I Do After the Honeymoon Phase?
Once the honeymoon phase of your relationship is over, what’s missing is the variety that the human spirit craves. We take the positive things in our lives for granted and start thinking of everything as ‘normal’.
If there’s one secret to keeping your relationship healthy, it lies in finding ways to surprise your partner. Think about it, if the central problem in your relationship is that it has become somewhat routine, you need to find ways to positively disrupt this sense of predictability. That isn’t to say that your partner doesn’t appreciate the things you do for them already – the stability you provide to their lives – but what’s the harm in making the odd romantic gesture now and then? For tips and ideas on how to surprise your partner and break out of the ‘normal’ or ‘routine’ way of living, see our handy slideshow below.
Couples often have the same problem with their sex life. Studies have shown that both men and women (women a little more so, in fact) become increasingly less stimulated when shown the same erotic images or fantasies over time, and this is no less true for our partners. If things feel stale in the bedroom, don’t panic – this is normal. Tackle it by introducing more variety into your sex life – this doesn’t mean affairs, or swinging, or any need to look outside of your relationship for stimulation – but exploring new fantasies and positions, and opening up the conversation about how you have sex.
Even when passion begins to mellow, don’t forget to be romantic. Finding new ways to say ‘I Love You’ and break up your daily routine is important. The only way to maintain the vitality in your relationship is to keep surprising and challenging your partner – be pro-active in your relationship, and they’ll never be able to doubt that you still love and cherish them.
1Sonja Lyubomirsky, ‘New Love: A Short Shelf Life’, The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/opinion/sunday/new-love-a-short-shelf-life.html)
2Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., ‘What Physiological Changes Can Explain the Honeymoon Phase of a Relationship?’, Scientific American (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-physiological-changes-can-explain-honeymoon-phase-relationship/)
3Evan Mark Katz, ‘Can the Honeymoon Phase Last Forever?’ (http://www.evanmarckatz.com/blog/marriage/can-the-honeymoon-phase-last-forever/)