What do you do when the honeymoon is over and "real life" kicks in? How do you keep everything running smoothly with joy, love, and patience? The honeymoon ends. The gifts stop rolling in. The disagreements start. He doesn't clean up his side of the bathroom counter. Everything that once seemed so easy now seems hard and tedious. It happens. The Honeymoon Phase really does end.
The Honeymoon Period is a real phenomenon, but it actually has a scientific name: It’s called limerence. Limerence is the early phase of love, driven primarily by novelty and chemistry. The joy of discovery and the thrill of forming a new relationship are accelerated with the help of bonding hormones like dopamine, adrenaline, and oxytocin. Limerence is the advertiser’s view of love: infatuation, strong sexual attraction, and consequence-less moonlit walks on deserted beaches. It’s the love that just sort of “happens” to you. This is what makes it dangerous.
The problem with the Honeymoon Period is that it ends. At a purely scientific level, limerence lasts only about two years. New becomes normal. Chemistry becomes comfortable. When this happens, the real work of building a relationship becomes apparent, but this is often a shock to the system. Couples that rely too much on inertia and adrenaline in the early days can struggle to make the transition into more mature phases of love, such as attunement, trust, and true intimacy.
The role of chemistry cannot be overstated. Consider oxytocin, one of the most active hormones during limerence. Oxytocin is secreted during orgasm and also during breast-feeding. It’s the hormone most responsible for bonding, but it’s also the hormone of impulsivity and bad judgment. Because of this, couples are more likely to miss some of the red flags that may be present early in a relationship. It’s pretty easy to ignore that your date was rude to the waiter when your brain is telling you that he’s your soul mate. Even if you don’t ignore it, you’ll be quicker to forgive than you will be two years later, when he’s still acting like a son of a gun. (You’ll have to trust me on this one.)
When the hormones wear off and the novelty fades, you realize that mature love isn’t something that just happens to you: It’s something you work toward.
It's science. It happens. But...there are 10 intentional things you can do to help make the transition a little bit more smoothly:
- Go on Date Night once a week. No exceptions.
- Get away for the weekend. At least 4 times per year. Without the kids.
- Speak well of each other. Don't vent to your friends and family about your fights with your spouse.
- Share the chores. Go ahead and plan who is going to do what around the house so there aren't any resentments from unknown expectations.
- Be intentional about quiet time. Give each other a little space each day, even if it's just 15 minutes. Decompress alone for a few minutes after work each day. And be honest when you need some alone time so it doesn't come across harshly.
- Be financially responsible. And be honest with each other about it. Create a budget and stick to it.
- Laugh. A lot. Take your marriage seriously, but find moments to laugh together.
- Accept that neither of you is perfect. No one is. We all will have our bratty moments because we are stressed. Learn to recognize those moments in each other, and don't dwell on them.
- Attend Couples Retreats. Learn strategies on strengthening your marriage, and get to know other couples.
- Communicate. Ask each other, "What do you need more of?" and "What can I do to love you better?" You can't read each others' minds, so be direct in a loving way.
Practice these things, and you'll at least help ease yourselves through the transition out of the Honeymoon Phase.