Thursday, May 11, 2017 12:12 am
I’m a 40-year-old man who can’t seem to keep a relationship going for more than a year. There’s never bitter fighting or betrayal. I just gradually lose interest. I can’t blame my girlfriends – most of whom are pretty exciting people. I’m the problem, but why? And can I change? – Frustrated
Ever gotten new carpeting? The first month, it’s “No shoes and no drinks whatsoever in the living room!” A few months after that: “Oh, we don’t use glasses anymore. Just splash red wine around and drink right off the rug.”
In the happiness research world, the psychological shift behind this is called “hedonic adaptation” – “hedonic” from the Greek word for pleasure and “adaptation” to describe how we acclimate to new stuff or situations in our lives. They rather quickly stop giving us the buzz (or bite) they did at first, and we get pitched right back to our baseline feeling of well-being (Yeahwhatevsville). Bummer, huh? But there’s an upside. Psychologists Timothy Wilson and Dan Gilbert explain that hedonic adaptation is part of our “psychological immune system,” helping us recover from all the kicks in the teeth and boys’ bathroom swirlies of life.
There’s another possible bummer at work here, per your longing for less wilt-y love. You may be more “sensation-seeking” than most people. Research by psychologist Marvin Zuckerman, who coined the term, finds that this is a personality trait with origins in genes as well as experience, reflected in strong cravings for novel, varied and intense sensations and experiences.
If this is driving you, basically, you want it new, you want it now, and all the better if it’s a little life-threatening. In other words, some benefits of a committed relationship, like deeply knowing another person, may end up being deeply boring to you. Still, part of your problem may be a hopeful approach – simply hoping your relationships don’t die instead of taking steps to prevent that.
Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky finds that three “intentional activities” help keep hedonic adaptation from overtaking a relationship – appreciating, injecting variety, and incorporating surprise. Appreciating simply means regularly reviewing and “savoring” what’s great about your partner and what you have together. (Even better if you also express it to them). Bringing in variety and surprise means filling the relationship with “unexpected moments” and “unpredictable pleasures,” big and small.
Be honest with women about your befizzlement problem. When you find one who’s up for the challenge, get cracking with her on keeping the excitement alive. Be sure to do this both in romantic day-to-day ways and, say, with the perfect romantic weekend for a guy like you – one that starts with the valet at the spa opening the trunk, removing the hood over your head, and cutting the zip ties so you can go take a sauna.
© 2017, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon