Banishing Relationship Ruts


In the midst of checking on your laundry at the laundromat, a sign that reads “Now Open” catches your eye. Your curiosity is peaked. With time to spare before your laundry dries, you walk up the steep carpeted stairs and the floorboards creak in protest on each step. The whirr of the espresso machine, soft murmurs by a happy group in the corner, and the gaze of a friendly face greet you as you find yourself at a cozy café. Somehow you strike up a conversation with this stranger, arrange a meeting, and have met there continuously each Saturday since. Although exciting at first, it eventually this starts to feel like a routine and you wonder why you two never do anything else. Routines are inevitable but ruts are not.

Relationships often develop routines of their own and it is not uncommon for them to fall into ruts. If your relationship feels like it could use a little reinvigorating, consider adopting a new challenge. In an experiment completed at State University of New York, Stony Brook by psychology professor Arthur Aron, couples who faced more difficulty with the task at hand reported that they felt more connected to each other at the end of the experiment than those couples who completed an easier task.

The science indicates that doing new tasks creates excitement, which causes the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine, used in the reward pathway of our brain, trains us to seek out behaviors that make us feel good, and excitement is often one of the sources. Not only that, but taking on new challenges with your partner will increase bonding by linking the feeling of excitement from the activity with your partner, even though the source stems from an exterior source. In this same study, couples who engaged in a new activity 90 minutes each week found themselves to be more fond of each other compared to those on their routine dates.

The next time you both find yourselves absent-mindedly heading towards the café, perhaps consider a change in plans and propose a new route. Who knows what exciting things you’ll find there.

By Kim Liu, SU NEPA