What to Do After Saying "I Do"

Don’t fall prey to the honeymoon effect

Early on, many newly married couples seem to be on cloud nine and live each day together as though they are on their honeymoon. There has been a great deal of research that has been conducted to better understand this stage of relationships and why so many lose that loving feeling. What is clear from research findings is that early in the relationship, your brain’s reward centers work on overdrive, and you are under the influence of both love and lust.  Think of this as the love drug. During this time, butterflies are fluttering around in your stomach and the birds seem to sing just for you. It is also very natural and common during this time to place your relationship partner on a pedestal.  At the same time, there is the tendency to downplay your partners’ faults and see only the best parts of who he or she is. Everything he or she does is soooo cute, lovely, and not at all annoying.

HoneymoonEffectFeatureResearch also shows that holding these ‘positive illusions’ that your partner is all sorts of wonderful helps you feel secure in the relationship (Murray et al., 1999) and more satisfied too (Barelds & Dijkstra, 2011). Early into the marriage, people bask in the glow of these positive illusions.  This brain-on-overdrive-happy-illusion time is called the “honeymoon effect”, where your relationship is like a vacation that you wish would never end. However, like all vacations, the honeymoon cannot last forever, and it is near impossible to keep your partner on that pedestal.

Over the course of the first few years of marriage, an interesting shift happens across couples.  We actually start to see our partners as less agreeable, less open-minded, and more emotionally unstable than we originally did (Watson & Humrichouse, 2006).  Essentially, the pedestal they are on starts to crumble over time. Just think about this for a moment… The person you marry is not the person you see a few years later.  They might seem less cute or lovely, and more flawed. You might be wondering, did he always slurp his soup so obnoxiously?!

maskThe result of our partners coming off their pedestals means that we start to see them up close, with all their flaws exposed. With all that security we felt when we saw them as Mr. or Mrs. Perfect washed away, we might feel like we are seeing someone we do not recognize. All of a sudden, you can’t ignore that your partner picks his or her nose or constantly leaves the toilet seat up. This fall from the pedestal can be unnerving, because you are now face to face with your partner and his or her flaws, who is also face to face with you and all your flaws. If you are not prepared for the end of the honeymoon and the start of the marriage, you will be in trouble because it is this person, flaws and all, who is now standing right next to you ready to walk into the future.

Knowing that we are all prey to the honeymoon effect can help you to prepare for the inevitable truth, which is that your partner is not perfect and neither are you.  The couples who make it out of the honeymoon stage unscathed are those who anticipate this shift and who work together with their partners to define ways to thrive. Ultimately, it is not enough to see your partner in a realistic way, and accept and love who he or she really is, boogers and all. The true hallmark of a lasting relationship is actively working towards building the recipe for longevity.

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