Wednesday, April 22, 2009

RE: Reinventing Date Night for Long-Married Couples, and What About the Couple Forced by the Bad Economy to Live in Separate States

It turns out there's a serious crisis in America that requires our expert and undivided attention: People who have been married for a long time run the risk of seeing their relationship go stale. The New York Times tells us about the research, and what long-marrieds can do about "rekindling the romantic love":

The solution? Reinventing date night.

"Date night" is the often one-night-a-week that long-marrieds spend together doing whatever it is that long-marrieds can only stand to do one night a week. "Reinventing" the date night by, as the article suggests, "trying a new restaurant or something a little more unusual or thrilling — like taking an art class or going to an amusement park," can activate the brain's reward system,

flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner. (They are also the brain chemicals involved in drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

Wait a second- I've been a long-married, and presumably living with the person to whom I've been long-married and I suddenly want to stimulate the parts of that partner's brain associated with drug addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder? Isn't life difficult enough?

[But what about this poor couple? The economy's so bad that they can't even live in the same state.

Thanks to the crumbling economy and terrible timing, the Sugdens were trapped in the middle of a move and now have to live hundreds of miles apart from each other, putting their lives and their hopes as a family on hold.

They decided to move from Minnesota to Michigan, for some reason- the husband took a job there- and he moved while she stayed behind to sell the house. That sounds pretty exciting, leaving one long-married behind to sell the old house while the other long-married sets up the new one. I bet their brains are really stimulated now.]

Anyway, back to Reinventing Date Night:

Most studies of love and marriage show that the decline of romantic love over time is inevitable. The butterflies of early romance quickly flutter away and are replaced by familiar, predictable feelings of long-term attachment.

But several experiments show that novelty — simply doing new things together as a couple — may help bring the butterflies back, recreating the chemical surges of early courtship.

The "butterfiles," (i.e., stimulating those parts of the brain associated with drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder [think about this, do you really want to live with a drug addled person who's stalking you?]) can be hatched again, as if from the magic chrysalis that's been laying dormant in your belly? How do they propose we do it?

More recently, Dr. Aron and colleagues have created laboratory experiments to test the effects of novelty on marriage. In one set of experiments, some couples are assigned a mundane task that involves simply walking back and forth across a room. Other couples, however, take part in a more challenging exercise — their wrists and ankles are bound together as they crawl back and forth pushing a ball.

Before and after the exercise, the couples were asked things like, “How bored are you with your current relationship?” The couples who took part in the more challenging and novel activity showed bigger increases in love and satisfaction scores, while couples performing the mundane task showed no meaningful changes.

Wow. The economy really is bad. Tying your wrists and ankles together, and crawling around on the floor while pushing a ball is how they define "reinventing date night." I admit, it sounds kind of kinky. But I have the feeling it would get stale pretty quickly, and then you're right back where you started. Trying to come up with new ways to "reinvent date night." Except, now, you've stimulated those parts of your brain associated with drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, meaning that the next reinvention has to push things even farther. It's only a matter of time before the only way you can get those "butterflies" back is by going on a killing spree.

I never thought I'd see the day that The New York Times would advocate killing sprees, but there it is.

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