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Keith Welker is a doctoral student and Richard Slatcher is an assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. They are presenting their research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in Austin, Texas. The authors contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed Insights.
From red roses to chocolates, poetry to teddy bears, long walks on the beach to salsa dancing lessons, people often seek out ways to enhance and maintain the excitement and passion in their relationship. And now, they can add something new to the arsenal: becoming friends with another couple.
New research we have conducted suggests that getting to know another couple can counter the decline in passionate love that happens in so many people's relationships over time.
All of the effort people put into their relationships around Valentine's Day or otherwise is for a good reason: A slew of psychological research suggests that passionate love — the feeling of love that swells with excitement, obsession and physiological arousal — declines as a relationship grows with age.
That doesn't mean that passionate love drops to zero. Instead, the decline in passionate love is more gradual. As a relationships blossom over the years, the interaction between romantic partners becomes more routine, familiar and predictable. The majority of things that couples do together move away from engaging activities like going to see movies, eating out and trips to museums to more mundane activities like cleaning the house, grocery shopping and watching Netflix on the couch. On top of that, couples face more potential sources of stress together, like paying the bills and taking care of children later on in their relationships.
If all of this sounds disappointing to you, there is good news. First, research suggests that passionate love remains high over time in some couples. Second, psychologists have found ways to increase passionate love. Having couples do novel, exciting activities together (think roller coaster rides, dancing and singing karaoke together) can boost passionate love.
We wanted to test whether getting to know another couple could be another novel way to keep passionate love alive. After all, like individuals, no relationship is an island. Instead, relationships flourish within a larger network of social relationships.
Prior experiments that we have conducted show that couple friendships have direct benefits, making romantic partners feel closer to teach other. But can they re-ignite feelings of passion as well?
In two studies we are presenting at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology this week in Austin, Texas, we had about 150 couples come into our lab to meet each other, play games together, and do a 45-minute activity that has come to be known as the "Fast Friends" activity. Originally designed by our colleague and collaborator, psychologist Arthur Aron at Stony Brook University, couples took turns answering and asking each other personal questions.
The questions started out with rather basic get-to-know-you topics, such as "What is your idea of a perfect day?" The questions gradually progressed into deeper topics, such as sharing embarrassing life moments and personal problems. This process, referred to by psychologists as "self-disclosure," reveals thoughts, feelings, and facts about yourself to others and has been repeatedly shown to make people become closer.
In our first study, we found that couples that became close with another couple had greater feelings of passionate love toward their own romantic partners, compared to pairs of couples that engaged in non-emotional small talk and couples that did not interact with another couple. In our second study, we found that how much one couple makes another couple feel validated, cared for and understood — what psychologists call "responsiveness" — also predicted increases in passionate love. [Women Prize Men Who Try to Understand Their Emotions ]
Based on this research, we know that simply meeting another couple is not enough to boost passionate love. The interaction needs to involve discussing personal feelings, understanding each other and accepting each other. While more research is necessary to determine why couple friendships are good for a relationship, we think friendly and personal interactions with another couple leaves romantic partners feeling accepted and with a fresh, renewed perspective on each other.
So, if you are in a relationship and looking for a novel way to enhance the love you share with your partner, think about going on a double date, particularly in a setting where you can really get to know another couple well. You might not only have increased feelings of passionate love for your romantic partner, but you also will have made some new friends with whom to share even more experiences. Relationships are more than a connection between the individuals involved — they are nested in a larger landscape of communities, families and friendships.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.