New Love: A Short Shelf Life

Fruit有時會抱怨我不夠愛她,這篇New York Times文章原本是拿來和她研究,後來想想就全翻譯出來,大家共勉之。

New Love: A Short Shelf Life

IN fairy tales, marriages last happily ever after. Science, however, tells us that wedded bliss has but a limited shelf life.


American and European researchers tracked 1,761 people who got married and stayed married over the course of 15 years. The findings were clear: newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years. Then the special joy wears off and they are back where they started, at least in terms of happiness. The findings, from a 2003 study, have been confirmed by several recent studies.


The good news for the holiday season when families gather in various configurations is that if couples get past that two-year slump and hang on — for another couple of decades — they may well recover the excitement of the honeymoon period 18 to 20 years later, when children are gone. Then, in the freedom of the so-called empty nest, partners are left to discover one another — and often their early bliss — once again.


When love is new, we have the rare capacity to experience great happiness while being stuck in traffic or getting our teeth cleaned. We are in the throes of what researchers call passionate love, a state of intense longing, desire and attraction. In time, this love generally morphs into companionate love, a less impassioned blend of deep affection and connection. The reason is that human beings are, as more than a hundred studies show, prone to hedonic adaptation, a measurable and innate capacity to become habituated or inured to most life changes.


With all due respect to poets and pop radio songwriters, new love seems nearly as vulnerable to hedonic adaptation as a new job, a new home, a new coat and other novel sources of pleasure and well-being. (Though the thrill of a new material acquisition generally fades faster.)
我們要向詩人和流行音樂作者抱怨一下,他們把新愛情搞得和新工作,新家園,新衣服和其他新的快樂幸福來源一模一樣,都在「享樂適應」下脆弱難擋。 (雖然物質的快感,消逝得比較快。)

Hedonic adaptation is most likely when positive experiences are involved. It’s cruel but true: We’re inclined — psychologically and physiologically — to take positive experiences for granted. We move into a beautiful loft. Marry a wonderful partner. Earn our way to the top of our profession. How thrilling! For a time. Then, as if propelled by autonomic forces, our expectations change, multiply or expand and, as they do, we begin to take the new, improved circumstances for granted.


Sexual passion and arousal are particularly prone to hedonic adaptation. Laboratory studies in places as far-flung as Melbourne, Australia, and Stony Brook, N.Y., are persuasive: both men and women are less aroused after they have repeatedly viewed the same erotic pictures or engaged in similar sexual fantasies. Familiarity may or may not breed contempt; but research suggests that it breeds indifference. Or, as Raymond Chandler wrote: “The first kiss is magic. The second is intimate. The third is routine.”

性的激情和奮,最容易成為「享樂適應」敗將。墨爾本和紐約的實驗室證實:不論男女不斷觀看同樣的色情圖片或類似的性幻想之後,性奮會降低。熟悉感不一定會導致鄙視,但會滋生冷漠。或者,如同Raymond Chandler寫道:「第一次接吻是神奇的。第二次是親密的。第三次是家常便飯」。

There are evolutionary, physiological and practical reasons passionate love is unlikely to endure for long. If we obsessed, endlessly, about our partners and had sex with them multiple times a day — every day — we would not be very productive at work or attentive to our children, our friends or our health. (To quote a line from the 2004 film “Before Sunset,” about two former lovers who chance to meet again after a decade, if passion did not fade, “we would end up doing nothing at all with our lives.” ) Indeed, the condition of being in love has a lot in common with the state of addiction and narcissism; if unabated, it will eventually exact a toll.

基於生理和現實考量,澈情是不可能忍受長期的進化。如果我們無止盡地沈迷於和伴侶一天內多次性愛,我們不可能有工作成效,或關注子女,朋友,或是自己的健康。 (2004年的電影《愛在日落巴黎時》,十年後昔日戀人再次見面,談到如果激情不褪:「我們很可能一事無成。」)事實上,陷入愛情的症狀和成癮症和自戀大多相似,如果發展下去,最終會付出代價。

WHY, then, is the natural shift from passionate to companionate love often such a letdown? Because, although we may not realize it, we are biologically hard-wired to crave variety. Variety and novelty affect the brain in much the same way that drugs do — that is, they trigger activity that involves the neurotransmitter dopamine, as do pharmacological highs.


Evolutionary biologists believe that sexual variety is adaptive, and that it evolved to prevent incest and inbreeding in ancestral environments. The idea is that when our spouse becomes as familiar to us as a sibling — when we’ve become family — we cease to be sexually attracted to each other.


It doesn’t take a scientist to observe that because the sex in a long-term committed monogamous relationship involves the same partner day after day after day, no one who is truly human (or mammalian) can maintain the same level of lust and ardor that he or she experienced when that love was uncharted and new.


We may love our partners deeply, idolize them, and even be willing to die for them, but these feelings rarely translate into long-term passion. And studies show that in long-term relationships, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex, and to lose it sooner. Why? Because women’s idea of passionate sex depends far more centrally on novelty than does men’s.


When married couples reach the two-year mark, many mistake the natural shift from passionate love to companionate love for incompatibility and unhappiness. For many, the possibility that things might be different — more exciting, more satisfying — with someone else proves difficult to resist. Injecting variety and surprise into even the most stable, seasoned relationship is a good hedge against such temptation. Key parties — remember “The Ice Storm”? — aren’t necessarily what the doctor ordered; simpler changes in routine, departures from the expected, go a long way.

當已婚伴侶臨界兩年大限,許多人誤將,由激情自然轉變為溫情,視為衝突而不不愉快的。其實事情還是有可能出人意表,會更精彩,更令人滿意。在最穩定成熟的兩人關係中注入多樣化和驚喜感,可以有效防止預期的僵化。關鍵的部份 ( - 還記得《冰風暴》嗎?) 不儘然要遵循專家的指示,而是稍微改變常規,離開既定的道路,走得遠遠的。

In a classic experiment conducted by Arthur Aron and his colleagues, researchers gave upper-middle-class middle-aged couples a list of activities that both parties agreed were “pleasant” (like creative cooking, visiting friends or seeing a movie) or “exciting” (skiing, dancing or attending concerts) but that they had enjoyed only infrequently. Researchers instructed each couple to select one of these activities each week and spend 90 minutes doing it together. At the end of 10 weeks, the couples who engaged in the “exciting” activities reported greater satisfaction in their marriage than those who engaged in “pleasant” or enjoyable activities together.

Arthur Aron的團隊做過一個經典實驗,研究人員給中產階級的中年夫婦一份雙方都認為是「愉快的」活動表(如創意的烹飪,探親訪友或看一場電影)以及偶爾參與的「興奮的」活動表(如滑雪,跳舞或參加音樂會)。研究人員要求每對受訪人每個星期選擇一項,而且要一起參與90分鐘。10個星期後,從事「興奮的」活動者,他們對婚姻滿意度高於從事「愉快的」活動者。

Although variety and surprise seem similar, they are in fact quite distinct. It’s easy to vary a sequence of events — like choosing a restaurant for a weekly date night — without offering a lot of surprise. In the beginning, relationships are endlessly surprising: Does he like to cook? What is his family like? What embarrasses or delights him? As we come to know our partners better and better, they surprise us less.

雖然活動類別和驚喜度似乎大同小異,其實是截然不同的。可以很輕易地區別出不同活動的順序 – 例如每週一次約會選擇餐廳 – 並沒有提供很多驚喜。但是交往初期,每件事都是驚喜:他喜歡烹飪嗎?他的家庭背景如何?那些尷尬或喜愛的事?當我們越來越認識對方,驚喜越來越少。

Surprise is a potent force. When something novel occurs, we tend to pay attention, to appreciate the experience or circumstance, and to remember it. We are less likely to take our marriage for granted when it continues to deliver strong emotional reactions in us. Also, uncertainty sometimes enhances the pleasure of positive events. For example, a series of studies at the University of Virginia and at Harvard showed that people experienced longer bursts of happiness when they were at the receiving end of an unexpected act of kindness and remained uncertain about where and why it had originated.


Such reactions may have neuroscientific origins. In one experiment, scientists offered drinks to thirsty subjects; those who were not told what kind of drink they would get (i.e., water or a more appealing beverage) showed more activity in the portion of the brain that registers positive emotions. Surprise is apparently more satisfying than stability.


The realization that your marriage no longer supplies the charge it formerly did is then an invitation: eschew predictability in favor of discovery, novelty and opportunities for unpredictable pleasure. “A relationship,” Woody Allen proclaimed in his film “Annie Hall,” “is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” A marriage is likely to change shape multiple times over the course of its lifetime; it must be continually rebuilt if it is to thrive.


The good news is that taking the long view on marriage and putting in the hard work has calculable benefits. Research shows that marital happiness reaches one of its highest peaks during the period after offspring have moved out of the family home.


The nest may be empty, but it’s also full of possibility for partners to rediscover — and surprise — each other again. In other words, an empty nest offers the possibility of novelty and unpredictability. Whether this phase of belated marital joy lasts, like the initial period of connubial bliss, for longer than two years is anybody’s guess.


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