Monday, August 29, 2011

The Background- Why creative "dates" matter in your marriage

I am a research junky.  I love studies, especially studies in psychology that tell us about the way we think and behave.  I was recently struck by a study that concluded that long term relationships are healthier and happier when the members of the couple engage in novel and arousing activities together.  (Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Norman, C. C., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples' Shared Participation in Novel and Arousing Activities and Experienced Relationship Quality. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 78(2), 273-284. for those of you who are similarly nerdy and want to read the original paper yourselves.)

What on earth does that mean?  The original idea makes sense: at the start of your relationship, everything is new.  It's exciting!  You're learning about a new person, one who makes your heart pound.  But as the relationship progresses, you start to get into a routine.  Your heart isn't pounding.  You know everything you need to know about your partner.  Every day is an awful lot like the previous days.  Your relationship is no longer exciting.

Anyone who has studied psych at all has heard about the idea of "optimal level of arousal."  We function best when our lives are exciting, but not too exciting.  Aron et al's premise was that our relationships fall below that optimal level of arousal after we settle into a routine.  But by doing something novel and arousing (or, to put it another way, new and exciting) with our partners, we can increase the level of excitement in our relationships and improve them.  We feel better about our partners when our relationships have a little excitement in them!

So, if everything in your life is crazy right now, you probably are above the optimal level of arousal, and you don't need this.  You need some stability and routine for this season of your life.  Work on that instead.  But, if you're feeling a bit like you're stuck in a rut, or the sparkle has gone out of your love life, you could probably stand to join in the fun.

Here's the plan: every other Sunday, I will post a date idea.  Sometime in the following 2 weeks, you are invited to complete the date.  Comment about you experience below, and we can all compare notes.

The ideas will be fairly general, so you can customize them to your specific situation, but every date is intended to be NOVEL and AROUSING.  That is, NEW and EXCITING.  However you tweak the date ideas, make sure they still meet those criteria.  I'm going to say "new" means you haven't done something together in at least the last 5 years, and "exciting" means at least one of you thinks it sounds like fun.  A lot of my ideas are new variations on common dates, but my intention is for the "twist" to liven things up (for example, we take a lot of walks, but it would be new and exciting for us to take a walk through downtown Moscow).  I'd love to get your suggestions and ideas, too.  A few rules to keep this project as possible as possible...

1. At least 1 date per month will cost less than $1.05.  No date will require spending more than $20.
2. Every date will be possible to complete in 2 hours or less (unless you want it to take longer).
3. You will not need a babysitter for more than 1 date a month.  You can bring your kids with you on most of the dates (if you want).

That's it.  Have fun!