Couples who play together stay together

This week’s edition of Psych Wednesdays was written by Amie Gordon and was originally published on Psych Your Mind on January 9, 2012.

To be completely correct, psychological research suggests that couples who play together feel closer, experience more positive emotions, and as a result are happier together, but that doesn’t have the same ring does it?

If boredomis the silent relationship killer, novel and arousing activities seem to be the powerful anecdote. Art Aron and colleagues have found that couples who engage in more novel and arousing activities together are happier in their relationships. And these results aren’t just correlational – Aron actually had couples come into the lab and engage in exciting or mundane tasks. Couples in the exciting condition got strapped together with Velcro and had to crawl their way through an obstacle course while holding a pillow between them. The explanation of the mundane activity might put you to sleep. Couples who got to take part in the Velcro obstacle course reported feeling happier in their relationships than couples who took part in the mundane activity or no activity at all. Why does participation in a novel and arousing obstacle course lead to a happier relationship? 

Participating in novel and arousing activities keeps us from getting bored, and boredom is a relationship killer.

Novel and arousing activities are, well, arousing, which people canmisattribute as attraction to their partner, reigniting that initial spark.

 Engaging in these activities with your partner involves cooperation and provides a shared experience that can bring you closer together.

Engaging in these activities with your partner also helps you extend the pleasure you get out of the activity to your relationship (when thinking about the activity, you’ll also think about doing it with your partner, which will link together excitement and your relationship).

Novel and arousing activities make you feel happier in general, and that happiness is likely to extend to your relationship as well.

Never fear, to reignite that honeymoon spark, you don’t have to set up an obstacle course at home (though that might be a fun Friday night activity!), take sky diving lessons, or going bungee jumping in Zimbabwe. Instead, take a break from the same ol’ same ol’ and try out a new hobby together (glass blowing, anyone?), bike, or hike through an unexplored area near where you live, play tourist in your city, or take a weekend trip to a nearby town.

Sick of being alone together? Researchers have also found that spending time getting close to other couples provides similar benefits in terms of providing couples with a novel activity that helps them feeling happier and closer to their partners.

The bottom line: Make it your New Year’s resolution to start trying more new things together (see Juli’s post for suggestions about how to keep that resolution past February!). Seek out opportunities that are novel, cooperative, arousing, and pleasurable. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how far from home you have to go to find an activity that fits the bill.

Do you find yourself feeling closer to your partner after you do something new and exciting together? What do you think is really driving this effect? What new activities can you resolve to try in 2012? 

The articles:

Aron, A., Norman, C., Aron, E., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (2), 273-284 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.78.2.273

Slatcher, R. (2010). When Harry and Sally met Dick and Jane: Creating closeness between couples Personal Relationships, 17 (2), 279-297 DOI:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01276.x

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