Habituation is both a common and major contributor to the decline of romantic feelings in a loving relationship. It is defined as a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations. It occurs when two individuals fall in love and spend more and more time together. This may mean seeing each other daily, moving in together or getting married. In many ways it can be seen as a natural and inevitable part of a new relationship. If we fall in love, we naturally want to spend more time with our partner, and it thus appears that habituation and its effects on the intensity of our passion is unavoidable.
Habituation is caused by consistent repetition. It could mean eating the same thing for breakfast every day, or always wearing the same clothes to bed, or telling the same stories about friends, family or co-workers over and over, or watching the same TV shows each week, or ordering the same food at the same restaurant every time you eat out, or never eating out, or always having sex in the same position or the same day of the week, or becoming highly predictable in any way of thinking, talking, acting or emoting. Predictability is the natural result of habituation and predictability, in a loving relationship, usually produces boredom. Boredom, in a very real sense, is the opposite of romantic love. The more we become bored with our partner, the more quickly the intensity and frequency of our passion dissipates. Sadly, the great majority of couples succumb, without question or challenge, to this unfortunate situation. Then habituation wins the day and the couple loses its mystery and magic.
Habituation, however, is not inevitable and does not need to define the future years of a couple. It has an antidote that has the power to save or revive the joys of romantic love…if it is properly applied. The antidote is fourfold. It is a combination of spontaneity, gratefulness, mystery and savoring. Couples who value the wonderfully intimate, joy filled and often ecstatic experience of romantic love can learn to include and integrate each of these powerful ingredients into their relationship. Even a small effort usually has meaningful results and a large effort can create a renewal that is astounding.
To get an accurate idea of spontaneity think of being natural, informal, irreverent, unpredictable, impromptu, extemporaneous, and without constraint. When one is spontaneous, she or he has a sense of flow and surprise and even joy. Spontaneity is often contagious and invites others, especially our lover, to let go of formalities and be their more authentic selves.
Gratefulness, in this context, means to focus so clearly on what is positive and wonderful about one’s partner that one feels full of gratefulness that they are alive and in one’s life. We usually feel grateful for our lover when we consciously remember why we fell in love. The cultivation of gratefulness in a relationship can revive one’s ability to enjoy being with one’s lover. Noticing what we are grateful for and voicing it to our lover and to others will compound our sense of thankfulness for their love and very being.
Savoring means to relish, to enjoy and to appreciate something or someone, especially our lover. It is closely related to being grateful and can be used in conjunction with it. To savor requires what might be called mindfulness, a choice to pay real and full attention to what we are doing and/or feeling at any given moment. To savor our lover means that we stop our minds and busyness and allow our hearts to soak in his or her beauty. This usually produces an intense experience of excitement and appreciation of our partner.
Mystery is by definition a bit more difficult to define. However, it implies that each partner is not fully known or understood by the other. Mystery disappears when we imagine or assume we know all there is to know about our lover. Mystery appears when we realize that our lover is complex and not completely predictable or knowable. Mystery has a quality of surprise and a sense that there is always something more to this person we love.
When we combine all four of these qualities and practice them regularly, habituation shrinks and romantic love blossoms. Initially, it may take some effort to attend to and develop each one. Learning new behavior can be difficult but the health and vigor of your romance will more than repay any awkwardness that occurs at the start. Then, with practice, each of these qualities will become a blessing to you and your lover and you will become an inspiration to everyone who knows you.