Some relationships die a natural death. After sometime, the euphoria of love fades and a strong feeling of indifference follows. Some may attribute this to boredom while others may blame complacency. But ruling out personal differences, situational complexities, or infidelity, it is quite tough to fathom why and how individuals in seeming perfect relationships can fall out of love.
An established theory from psychology can explain this. Dubbed as the hedonic adaptation, the concept explains that people are naturally predisposed to return to a relatively stable level of emotional state or well-being. To be specific, this concept illustrates a process or mechanism that reduces the affective or emotional impact of events, situations, or stimuli.
Simply put, people have the natural tendency to get used to stimuli that initially had given them a profound sense of well-being or happiness. This is also true for romantic affairs or relationships.
To further demonstrate the concept of hedonic adaption, imagine being in a new relationship. The first one to two years often brings forth profound happiness and excitement. After some time, the euphoric feeling fades because of too much familiarity to routines. Some couples end up being too comfortable with one another while others tend to neglect the importance of sustaining the relationship. This is also true in the case of having a new job or meeting a new set of friends.
In another theory labelled as the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention model, two routes have been identified. Based on the results of the study of Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky, the model specifies two routes by which positive feelings from relationships are eroded over time.
The first involves a bottom-up process in which positive emotions from a relationship naturally declines over time. Essentially, an individual becomes too accustomed to the stimuli coming from the relationship, thus taking his or her partner for granted or considering the entire relationship as common or the new normal—nothing special or nothing magical. The individual then feels indifferent or disinterested toward his or her partner. With the passing of time, feelings fade and the relationship erodes.
The second route involves a top-down process in which an individual increases aspirations for achieving positive life change in order to sustain or improve positive emotions. As an individual becomes more accustomed to the positive stimuli, he or she will begin to seek for novelty or demand more from the stimuli in order to sustain the same level of happiness. In a relationship, the individual would either become too demanding and controlling or seek another person who could bring forth a renewed sense of romance or intimacy. Thus, this is why cheating or infidelity transpires.
Of course, there is a workaround against hedonic adaptation or in other words, a solution to stay in love and maintain a lasting relationship.
In a study by Jordi Quoidbach and Elizabeth W. Dunn that involved determining the satisfaction level from chocolate consumption, they found out that individuals who initially abstained from the sweet treat demonstrated higher level of satisfaction upon consumption than those individuals who did not abstain. In a romantic relationship, this essentially means giving each other space in order for the involved individuals not only to maintain a sense of independence but also to create a healthy and non-intrusive distance. A healthy distance can actually keep intimacy between couples because it creates or sustains the right level of longing or desire. After all, too much of something can be bad.
The study of Sheldon and Lyubomirsky also suggested that rising aspirations often result in lower well-being. In other words, individuals should keep away from being too demanding or overbearing. Expectations always lead to disappointments. In addition, couples should find a way to maximise the positive impacts of their relationship instead of dwelling on shortcomings.
Another two-part study by Sheldon and Yuna L. Ferguson that involved how listening to happy music revealed that happiness or well-being arises from enjoying the moment rather than focusing on end goals, as well as from making positive choices. In the context of a romantic relationship, this means that instead of focusing their energy on long-term goals to include marriage or financial stability, couples should just simply enjoy the moment. The study also reminds that happiness is a choice and thus, if two people are decided to make things work then it is possible for them to achieve a satisfactory relationship. A lasting relationship is a choice.
From the aforementioned discussion, the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention model undeniably provides a guideline for maintaining a lasting relationship. It is actually more of an eye opener because it reinforces the concept of hedonic adaptation and suggests that the euphoria from the initial stages of a relationship is always bound to end. However, the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention model suggests that couples should focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey and that they can always make mental changes leading to new positive experiences in their relationships.
In a nutshell, seeming perfect relationships die a natural death because individuals often lost sight of why they were in that romantic affair in the first place. The secret to lasting relationship involves appreciating the positive stimuli while also working hard toward creating new positive experience. Couples should work day in and day out.
A lasting relationship is not a passive experience. It is not something that just happens. It is not something that can be found. Remember that it is easy to go on dates, feel the euphoria, and eventually fall in love. But sustaining it is another story. Nonetheless, romantic relationship is not about finding the right person but learning to love the person you have found.
Further details of the study of Sheldon and Lyubomirsky are in the article “The challenge of staying happier: Testing the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention model” published in May 2012 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology.
More details of the study of Quoidbach and Dunn are in the article “Give it up: A strategy for combatting hedonic adaptation” published in September 2013 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Further details of the study of Sheldon and Ferguson are in the article “Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies” published in June 2012 in The Journal of Positive Psychology.