People often show up in Dr. Barbara Bartlik’s office ready to bolt from a marriage because they’re bored. “I tell them that changing partners isn’t going to fix the boredom,” says Bartlik, an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “I tell them, ‘Make yourself more exciting instead of blaming your partner. Better yet, see if you can’t find something that you’re both passionate about that you can share.’”
Science has proven that love doesn’t have to die, says Helen Fisher a research professor in the anthropology department at Rutgers University and author of “Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love By Understanding Your Personality Type.”
Fisher used PET scanners to peer into the brains of people who had recently fallen in love and also those of people who said they were still madly in love after two decades of marriage.
Amazingly, Fisher says, the same area of the brain lit up in both groups: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a brain region linked to feelings of reward and satisfaction. The VTA marks an experience as either rewarding or exciting by upping the levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
By sharing novel or exciting experiences with your partner, you’re duplicating some of the brain chemistry that fires up at the beginning of a relationship, Bartlik says.
“If you do something a little scary — like ride a roller coaster — you’ll get a surge of adrenaline,” says Bartlik. “And that will make you feel sexier.”
For those who want to keep love’s fires burning, Fisher has three simple-sounding suggestions: “Marry the right person, have sex with them regularly, and go out and do novel, exciting things with them.
What kinds of activities does Fisher suggest?
“Anything that’s new or interesting — or even slightly dangerous — will help sustain feelings of romantic love,” she says. “And it will certainly kill feelings of boredom. I don’t mean you need to swing from the chandeliers, but a little bit of nude swimming after dark might do the trick.”
For the less adventuresome, Fisher has some tamer suggestions. “You might try riding bicycles with your spouse after dark and stopping for dinner someplace you’ve never been before,” she says. “Or you might take a train without deciding beforehand where you’re going to get off.”