Fellow panelist Aaron Bacue, M.A., ABD, (a communications instructor at James Madison University) shares some of his thoughts on how couples can keep their relationship vibrant, and I springboard off of his thoughts with some concepts about how our brains work with patterns. (This video is ~3 minutes long.)
Aaron talks about the benefits of doing new activities together, as a way of reigniting a sense of shared aliveness. I think part of why experimenting in these ways can be helpful is that it creates opportunities for both parties in the relationship to build some new patterns in their brains. If one or both are experiencing some stagnation relationally, engaging in something new together can partly be a blank slate on which to create a fresh experience of one another.1 The effectiveness of this exercise will be significantly reduced, however, by any distress currently unresolved in the relationship. It can still be worthwhile to do new things together even when there is significant relationship stress present, but the benefits will likely be proportionally reduced.
Another potential benefit of doing new things together is the possibility that both parties can be stretching themselves by stepping into something new. This can be vulnerable, but that is also part of what makes it inherently muscle-building.2 One of the key elements of relationships that flourish is both individuals continuing to foster their own growth.3 The more that each person takes ownership of their own well being and growth, the more that the relationship can be about the enjoyment of who each person is in the present, as well as who they are in the process of becoming.4
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- I say “partly blank slate” because history, even positive history, does have a powerful influence on how we internalize new experiences. The more variables that are new, however, the greater amount of “new space” you have to draw on, so to speak. So for example, if you usually only ever go out together in the evening, and primarily just go to the movies, going out in the evening to someplace new (and not a movie) changes some variables. And going out together in the morning or the middle of the day to someplace new changes even more variables. ↩
- i.e., emotional muscles ↩
- This is something I’ve talked about in a previous post and video: Advice for Newlyweds: Don’t Forget Who You Are. ↩
- This is very much in contrast with the more common model of placing most/all of one’s well being into the hands of your partner, which ultimately just fuels a sense of desperation and powerless as opposed to the strength and peace that comes from taking charge of one’s development. ↩
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