It’s (Not Always) A Wonderful Life

There is a rather unfortunate term in psychology – hedonic adaptation – that summarizes the state of many long-term relationships. Hedonic adaptation is basically the human tendency to get used to the good things in our lives. Humans have this amazing capacity to maintain an emotional status quo. This means that you have some set way of feeling, some sort of set level of happiness that is your baseline. This is great when we experience something bad—time does do a pretty good job of healing wounds. With time we adapt to the bad experience and return to our baseline happiness. But, unfortunately, the same thing happens when we experience something good—for a while we get a boost in happiness but then we adapt to it. At the beginning, a new gift, friend, or experience brings us a lot of pleasure and excitement. But then we quickly grow accustomed to the new thing and it no longer brings us quite the same pleasure it once did.

Hedonic adaptation happens to all of us, and often we don’t even notice that it’s happening. Why don’t you take ten seconds right now to think about something new and exciting that happened to you in the past year? For me, moving to a new house at the beginning of last year felt life-changing. In the first few months after moving, I felt a little thrill of excitement each time I came home. I noticed the nice hardwood floors and the great light each time I walked through the house. I commented to my husband frequently about how nice it was to have a table right in the kitchen. But then hedonic adaptation reared its ugly head and I got used to the house. Within six months I not only didn’t notice the light as much anymore, I even found myself complaining a bit about how there isn’t enough light in the kitchen and how I miss having a backyard.

What does my house have to do with your relationship? Well this same process happens in our romantic relationships. In the beginning, the mere mention of your partner’s name might have brought a goofy grin to your face. Now, you’ve heard their name mentioned so many times that it probably is rare that you find yourself grinning just at hearing it. Seeing your partner walk in the door after work is unlikely to generate heart palpitations like it did the first few months you were together. This isn’t altogether a terrible thing, there is after all a reason we are good at adapting. If people were constantly walking around like they’d just met the love of their life, people would spend a lot less time walking and more time in bed. They’d probably go hungry, jobs wouldn’t get done, and kids wouldn’t get taken care of. We can’t always be love-struck fools. But we also don’t want to adapt as completely as we often do. Because just as with my house, we don’t just stop feeling extra excited each time we see our partner, we also start feeling more annoyed by them. We start to see what our partners are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. We stop appreciating them and start taking them for granted. And this is when the honeymoon phase ends. But, it doesn’t have to. We can outsmart our basic human tendencies and combat hedonic adaptation.

How? First, you need to be aware that hedonic adaptation exists – just knowing about it is half the battle. It means you will be able to recognize when it’s happening and take the necessary steps to fight it. Second, you need to believe that relationships can improve and thrive with a little work. It doesn’t matter if you and your partner are soulmates. Every single relationship takes work. 

Ready to get started? Here are 15 of my most popular posts on helping maintain a high quality relationship.

On Gratitude:

  1. It’s Time to Thank Your Partner for Doing Their “Job”
  2. Is Gratitude the Antidote to Relationship Failure?
  3. 5 “Don’ts” of Practicing Gratitude

On Conflict:

  1. 5 Tips for Avoiding Conflict in Your Relationship
  2. 4 Things You Can’t Do When You Argue With Your Partner
  3. Why (and How) to Be a Better Listener in Your Relationship
  4. 7 Ways to Make Conflict Healthy

Quick Relationship Tips:

  1. Make Your Partner Feel Loved Tonight With A Few Simple Words
  2. 5 Relationship Tips For New Parents
  3. Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Alive
  4. Three Enjoyable Ways to Deepen Your Relationship This Week
  5. 3 Simple Questions to Improve Your Relationship

On Stress Spillover, Maintain Sexual Desire and Hating Your Partner:

  1. 10 Ways to Fight Stress Spillover in Your Relationship
  2. The Secret to Maintaining Sexual Desire
  3. Why everyone hates their partner sometimes


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