The honeymoon phase (and what to do when it's over)
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What is the Honeymoon Phase?
The honeymoon phase can be characterized as many different things; infatuation, passionate love, delirious happiness to the point it makes almost no sense. Increased levels of dopamine and cortisol preside in our bodies1, and we experience higher levels of nerve growth factor too2. On average, studies have shown this to last around two and half years into a marriage.
So what’s happening to us in the early stages of our relationships? Well, our dopamine levels during this honeymoon phase are much higher, and are triggered by our loved ones – so not only are we thrilled to see them each time, we also become addicted to the rush it gives us. It’s easy to over-romanticize this.
Cortisol, a ‘stress-buffering hormone’, in itself is not bad for you, but think about why it’s necessary – whether it’s heart palpitations or butterflies in your stomach, your body gets put through the wringer when you’re in love. Physically and emotionally, young, intense love can put your body under strain. Letting everything become settled is both inevitable and much more comfortable – especially internally!
But this can’t last. A New York Times article on the subject states ‘it’s cruel but true: We’re inclined — psychologically and physiologically — to take positive experiences for granted.’ Once the biological fireworks stop, we’re predestined to start taking each other for granted in this way. So while it might be the case that the circumstances of your marriage stay just as wonderful, and you still do just as much for each other, routine sets in and we’re less engaged by it.
Relationship expert Evan Marc Katz gives this firm but fair advice: ‘The same way the thrill of a new car wears off, the thrill of a new relationship wears off, too. We expect it with the car. Yet we think that the thrill of new love should last forever. Think again.’3
What Should I Do After the Honeymoon Phase?
Once the honeymoon phase of your relationship is over, what’s missing is the variety that the human spirit craves. We take the positive things in our lives for granted and start thinking of everything as ‘normal’.
If there’s one secret to keeping your relationship healthy, it lies in finding ways to surprise your partner. Think about it, if the central problem in your relationship is that it has become somewhat routine, you need to find ways to positively disrupt this sense of predictability. That isn’t to say that your partner doesn’t appreciate the things you do for them already – the stability you provide to their lives – but what’s the harm in making the odd romantic gesture now and then? For tips and ideas on how to surprise your partner and break out of the ‘normal’ or ‘routine’ way of living, see our handy slideshow below.
1. Whatever you do, get out of the house!
Go discover (or rediscover) the most beautiful bits of your city. Switch off the TV and go for a walk after dinner. Leave your phones behind. When was the last time you saw the sunset together? It might be a cliché, but we all need a little clichéd romance in our lives from time to time. Being romantic for romance's sake is precisely what you need to reintroduce variety in to your lives.
2. Never Underestimate Breakfast in Bed
This can't be repeated enough: after the honeymoon phase is over, the little things continue to matter. In fact, these small gestures and expressions of our love have the biggest impact on our day-to-day happiness, and if you really want to shake things up and surprise your partner be certain to apply the rule of 'little, and often'. Breakfast in bed is a classic example. How many times in a year would you normally do it for your partner? Not many probably. If you know your partner would love it - even if they wouldn't expect it - then why not?
3. Break Up Their Work Routine
Remember in the early days when you'd squeeze in dates here and there and didn't rely on the fact that you'd see each other back at home? Consider where and when you can catch some quality time together outside of your established routine. Grab lunch or a coffee together when you can - if you can, meet them during their lunch break, and catch up on your mornings and a side of their lives you're not typically privy to.
One caveat: if it's a stressful time at work or they really need to allocate the time elsewhere, then respect this. Double-check with them before you show up out of the blue - don't worry, this is still spontaneous enough to be romantic!
4. Plan Yourselves an Activity Weekend
Frankly any getaway or vacation can inject new life into your relationship. But a surprise trip is something special indeed; the effort that goes into planning is a great way to express how thoughtful you can be. If you're unsure about what you'd like to get up to, think about booking an activity weekend. It's important to keep challenging each other once the honeymoon phase is over - it proves you care. Plus, reconnecting with nature and escaping the stresses of big city life is always a welcome change!
5. If All Else Fails, Renew Your Vows!
Grand romantic gestures aren't off limits either, and mustn't be seen as something of the past. Too often, couples come to the end of the honeymoon phase of their marriage and mistake the feeling of things settling down for a sign that they're no longer compatible. Chances are this isn't the case! Consider reasserting your love and commitment to each other by renewing your wedding vows - what better way to acknowledge the love you still share?
Moving on from the honeymoon phase requires romance
The issue with predictability taking the shine off of the honeymoon phase is not just emotional. Couples often have the same problem with their sex life. Studies have shown that both men and women (women a little more so, in fact) become increasingly less stimulated when shown the same erotic images or fantasies over time, and this is no less true for our partners. If things feel stale in the bedroom, don’t panic – this is normal. Tackle it by introducing more variety into your sex life – this doesn’t mean affairs, or swinging, or any need to look outside of your relationship for stimulation – but exploring new fantasies and positions, and opening up the conversation about how you have sex.
Even when passion begins to mellow, don’t forget how to be romantic. Finding new ways to say ‘I love you’ and break up your daily routine is important. The only way to maintain the vitality in your relationship is to keep surprising and challenging your partner – be pro-active in your relationship, and they’ll never be able to doubt that you still love and cherish them.