Much has been said about the four-year itch. For the uninitiated, this refers to the period after marriage where both husbands and wives begin to develop a roving eye (or so the theory goes). There develops according to this trend of thought, a decided propensity for looking for greener relationship pastures. Scientific research already confirms that we humans are creatures of habituation. This simply means that after exposure to a particular stimulus over a period of time, we exhibit a decreased response to the said stimulus.
In psychology, this particular form of learning is called dis-associative learning. This simply means that through repeated exposure, we actually learn how not to respond to the stimulus in question. When we make the connection between this phenomenon and an institution like marriage which is based on longevity and over-exposure, we can begin to see the problem on our hands. In other words, if there is any credence to this theory, the more we are around someone, the more non-stimulated we are by them.
This brings us to the question of the nature of the marriage relationship. If we are to be guided in principle by this philosophy of habituation, then chances are none of our relationships would last as long as an ice-cream in the Caribbean sun. Marriage by its very raison-d’être connotes permanence and repeated exposure in the context of a voluntary and mutual agreement.
When we sign on the dotted line, we more or less agree to wake up next to that other face for the rest of our lives. We in addition make a commitment and at the highest level a covenant to keep all of our sexual eggs in one basket. When we look however today at the number of incidences of infidelity and of divorce, we must begin to question the extent to which our behaviour, may perhaps be shaped by this notion of habituation.
As a proponent of applied psychology, I take particular interest in this concept. If studies prove that adults and infants tend to gaze less at a stimulus the longer it is presented to them, what are the implications for my attempting to appear sexy to my husband after twenty-five years? Is he psychologically bent towards ignoring the body he has seen for so long and directing his gaze elsewhere? Are we human beings helpless cogs in a wheel of behavioural determination against which we have no willpower? Are we really programmed by our human DNA to become sexually bored after four years or so of being together? Can we do anything to turn this situation around in our favour?
The question of whether our adapting to the familiar automatically brings less pleasure is somewhat debatable. As much as science would like to render us human beings as entirely predictable, there is much of our behaviour that still remains a mystery. For example, if habituation is always true why do people become addicted to porn or to food or to anything else for that matter? There is in fact, an entire slew of human behaviour that thrives on and is empowered by repeated exposure.
Just take a look at our current cosmopolitan lifestyles which are defined by our addictions and dependence on a number of media-driven technological gadgets and gizmos. What is it about these inanimate or non-relational things which keep us coming back for more, while the people or institutions that should mean the most to us (our spouses, marriages and families) become expendable entities to be changed with every passing wind?
I think the answer lies in another lofty term called acculturation. We have been cultured into believing that these modern trinkets are things we cannot do without. Our commitment to “things” is sold to us on the basis of how such are essential to our quality of life. At the same time, every new version or upgrade keeps our interests alive. Maybe we can look at these ideas as a means of tricking the brain into not getting bored by the overt familiarity of our relationships.
If we take this at face value, then this may mean that as individuals in a relationship we have to assume responsibility for keeping ourselves fresh and literally “upgraded”. Lest I be misunderstood, this is not meant to absolve our partners from the responsibility of commitment but should act rather, as a vital accompaniment to it.
The following ten tips represent some of the strategies we may use, to actively keep ourselves fresh and interesting to the one who sees us and lives with us daily:
- Preserve a sense of mystery in the relationship by not doing every single thing together; whether man or woman pursue your own interests, bring something back to the relationship that you can discuss with your spouse; something with which he or she is unfamiliar
- Occasionally reinvent yourself; a new wardrobe, a fresh hairstyle, a manicure and pedicure can add some pep to your steps causing you to exude confidence and an irresistible sexiness; having the exact same hairstyle, using the same fragrance or the same method of applying make-up as when you first met spells bore, bore, bore. The same goes for the guys; keeping yourself well-groomed and making sure your wardrobe is current, shows that you understand that your woman is visual too
- Develop a new skill or pursue a new course of study, learn a second language or pursue a new hobby, which confirms that you are all about developing you
- Keep some personal rituals private; intimacy does not mean you have to “do the bathroom business” while having a conversation about the kids or the mortgage
- Keep your date-nights diverse; going out regularly does not mean eating at the same restaurant for five years in a row; introduce each other to new cuisine, remembering that eating together is a terrific way to bond
- Do something spontaneous and adventurous together; (bungee jumping, hiking, paragliding?) something that may reveal a whole new side of you that your partner may be totally unaware of (I remember during my second pregnancy climbing fearlessly down the side of a cliff (at about seven months), with my husband holding me firmly of course, just so that I could get some new rocks for my rock collection)
- Switch up your sex life as regularly as your busy schedule will allow; try sex in a new location, a different position, with new trinkets (lingerie, feathers, candles, music, silk, mirrors), you get my drift
- Agree to fore-go sex for about a week or so or longer if you can handle it (the longer the better for this experiment); practice lots of teasing touching and hot glances during this time with zero sex; come together afterwards for a night of explosive passion guaranteed to wake up the neighbours; this can definitely add some freshness to the routine which sex may have become
- Call your spouse with a surprise suggestion/plan that knocks him or her for six; for example, “your bags are packed and we’re spending the night/weekend at a hotel”, “I’ve arranged baby-sitting and we’re going out tonight”, “I’ve booked a spa day for you just so you could unwind”; being thoughtful or showing that you have your partner’s best interests at heart, is a sure-fire way to inject some needed energy into a flagging relationship
- Travel together as much as possible; being tourists in a foreign location can affect the way you see each other and you get to experience new sights and sounds in a mutually fresh environment