In a good relationship we learn from our partner. We’re sparked by their experiences, characteristics, and way of seeing things. And that way we build on our ideas of who we are and how we fit into the world. In research lingo, this is called ‘self-expansion’.
Self-expansion can work wonders when it comes to lighting the flame of passion, according to the latest research. US scientists wanted to understand better just how self-expansion and passionate love change over the course of a relationship and whether there’s a link between the two.
In the study, they dialled up over 500 random adults to ask them questions about their relationship, including how long they’d been with their partner and whether they were still passionately in love. The researchers also wanted to know about self-expansion, so they asked participants if their relationship was the source of new experiences, whether they were still learning things about their partner, and if being with them expanded the participants’ idea of who they were.
Passionate love is an intense mix of feelings. There’s the romantic side where you feel overwhelmingly attracted to a partner and have tons of chemistry with them. Then there’s an obsessive side, which involves totally distracting thoughts and difficulty concentrating on the simplest of tasks.
Romantic love doesn’t seem to change much over the course of a long-term relationship, the study found. Fortunately, that’s not the case for the obsessive side of passion – out of control and at times not exactly pleasant feelings about a partner tend to become less and less common over time.
But the major finding was that self-expansion is closely linked to both sides of passionate love. It’s at its max at the start of a relationship when people have an insatiable appetite for all things partner-related. This rapid intake of what a partner’s about – from their dreams, to their taste in music, to their political opinions – could explain the passion that new couples feel for each other.
As time goes on, people get to know their partner better and there’s simply not as much new information to take in and learn. This may be why self-expansion starts grinding to a halt.
So the scientific conclusion on how to keep the passion in your relationship burning: look for self-expansion experiences. All that means is look for new and exciting things you can do as a couple. Like going somewhere you’ve never been together – even if it’s exploring a new corner of the city you live in or visiting a neighbouring town. Or having sex in a completely new spot.
Sounds like common sense? Well, now you know the science to back it up, you’ve got a good excuse to plan in some self-expanding quality time with your partner!
How have you kept the spark in your relationship? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.