Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Jul 20, 2020

Does Your Relationship Need a Boost? Try Something New

by Emily Britton and Kassandra Cortes
Dancing with partners

For many of us, having a happy and healthy relationship is important. We want to build relationships that are mutually rewarding and that stand the test of time. So how can we do that?

Research shows that one way people can improve their relationship is by doing new and exciting activities together with their partner. This could mean that, instead of sitting on the couch watching TV on the weekend, you could take a dance class together or explore a part of the city you haven’t been to before.

But what is it about doing these kinds of activities together that makes people more satisfied with their relationships? Research has focused on the idea that these experiences are exciting and stimulating, evoking emotions such as intrigue or passion and providing opportunities for couples to grow. This can keep the relationship from becoming boring; after all, passion does decrease in couples over time.

However, we wondered whether there is another way that these activities might contribute to relationship satisfaction: by making people feel more secure. Perhaps doing new activities together provides couples with opportunities to rely on and support one another, and to show each other that they care. We tested this idea in two studies.

In our first study, we asked people who were in a relationship to recall either a time when they did something new and exciting with their partner or a routine, everyday experience with their partner. After the research participants wrote about this event, we asked them how much the experience made them feel a sense of growth in their relationship and a sense of security in their relationship.

Our results showed that people reported feeling more growth in their relationship, as well as more security, after new and exciting experiences than after routine, everyday experiences. Additionally, after doing something new and exciting with their partner, people said that they felt equally high levels of growth and security in their relationship. The results supported our idea: doing new things together makes couples feel more secure.

To test whether this sense of security makes people more satisfied with their relationships, we brought couples into our lab and had them complete either a fun, new activity together or a less exciting activity by themselves while in the presence of their partner. Couples who were selected to complete the fun, new activity had to crawl across a maze of mats on their hands and knees while holding a pillow between the two of them, without using their hands or arms, without dropping the pillow, and while staying on the mats. Couples assigned to complete the less exciting activity each individually rolled a ball across the mats from one end to the other.

People who completed the fun, new activity with their partner reported feeling more relationship growth and more relationship security compared to people who completed the less exciting activity by themselves. And, experiencing more relationship growth and security, in turn, led people to feel more satisfied with their relationship. Even though growth and security were both important, security was more important than growth.  The more the activity made people feel secure in their relationship, the more satisfied they were with their relationship.  

These findings suggest that one important outcome of doing new activities together as a couple is an increased sense of security in the relationship. They also suggest that this sense of security that comes from relying on your partner—and not just excitement or passion—is responsible for the relationship-enhancing effect of doing new things together. This conclusion highlights the need to rethink why trying new activities affects couples as it does, and when and how doing new things will be most beneficial to relationships.

So if you want to build a happy, healthy relationship, try something new. Maybe take that dance class with your partner and trust that they’ll catch you in the dip, or explore the city together and rely on them to navigate the way.


For Further Reading

Cortes, K., Britton, E., Holmes, J. G., & Scholer, A. A. (2020). Our adventures make me feel secure: Novel activities boost relationship satisfaction through felt security. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 89, 103992. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2020.103992

Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 273-284. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.78.2.273

Muise, A., Harasymchuk, C., Day, L. C., Bacev-Giles, C., Gere, J., & Impett, E. A. (2019). Broadening your horizons: Self-expanding activities promote desire and satisfaction in established romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(2), 237-258. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000148

 

Emily Britton is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on emotional, motivational, and self-regulatory processes in both personal and social contexts.

Kassandra Cortes is an Assistant Professor at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her research focuses on close relationship dynamics using motivational and social-cognitive frameworks.

 

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Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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