Early on, relationships are easy. Everything is new and exciting. You go on dates, take trips, spend time together and intentionally cultivate experiences that allow your relationship to grow. But attaining ‘happily ever after’ is a lot trickier.
Somewhere along the way, life happens.
One study on married couples in their 30s and 40s found that their marital quality declined over the course of a year, in terms of love, passion, satisfaction, intimacy and commitment. Too often, people shrug their shoulders and convince themselves this is just how it goes. Switching to relationship autopilot feels justifiable when you’re short on time, low on energy and must focus on other priorities like careers and kids.
This is when doubt can creep in and tempt you to hit the reset button.
But maybe you’re being too hard on a perfectly good relationship. Every couple experiences ups and downs, and even the very best relationships take effort.
Rather than getting out, it’s time to get to work. Whether your relationship is already stuck in a rut, or you’re trying to avoid ending up in one, most people need to focus more on what happens between “I do” and “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” As a relationship scientist, I suggest the following four psychology research-based strategies to kickoff your relationship maintenance plan.
1. Use boredom as a pivot point
No one raises their hand and says, “Sign me up for a boring relationship.” But boredom serves a purpose. Like your phone indicating your battery is low, boredom is an early warning system that your relationship needs a recharge.
At different times, all relationships experience boredom. Psychology researcher Cheryl Harasymchuk and colleagues have explored how people react. For example, to turn things around when you’re bored, do you fall back on things that are familiar and make you feel self-assured, like taking a walk around the neighborhood? Or do you choose growth-enhancing activities – like going for a hike on a new trail in an unfamiliar park – to mix things up?
It turns out that study participants preferred growth-enhancing activities when they were bored, and when given a chance to plan a date, they incorporated more novelty into those outings. Rather than resigning yourself to boredom’s inevitability – “This is just how relationships are” – use boredom as a call to action.