Passion is a key feature of many budding romances, and the intensity is often so high at the beginning that it seems like it will never fade. But, as many people in established relationships know, keeping the spark alive can be a challenge.

Promoting Passion in Relationships

Passion in relationships involves intense feelings of emotional and sexual longing for a partner. At least in North America, people tend to be happier when their romantic relationships are more passionate. Although passion is typically high when relationships begin, it tends to decay over time.

One way to promote passion in established relationships is by engaging in exciting activities with a partner such as date nights, travel, or hiking. These types of activities, especially when unique, are known to provide people with new perspectives of themselves and the world. For instance, you might learn that you like camping, you might hear different political beliefs, or you might get exposed to different cultural customs and foods. These experiences can be associated with increased relationship well-being, sexual desire, and passion.

Despite the benefits of engaging in an exciting activity with a partner, there are challenges with carrying them out. For instance, some people might not be that good at planning dates with their partners. Others might face challenges or external stressors related to being sick, finding a babysitter, or not having money for travel. And then there is the issue of being in a relationship rut, aka boredom.

Boredom is a dissatisfying state that can affect all aspects of people's lives—relationships are no exception. At a more extreme level, boredom in a relationship can be thought of as a state of apathy associated with feeling trapped and not wanting to be around the partner. More commonly, being bored in a relationship might feel like a loss of something that once was positive—you feel as if the spark, fun, and laughter have gone. Common advice when people feel in a rut is to 'spice things up'. But does that work?

Boredom Affects Date Night Occurrence and Quality

Unfortunately, boredom makes it harder to spice up the relationship. In a recent study, we tracked community couples in established relationships on a daily basis over three weeks (along with a 3-month follow-up). 

We found that on days when people were more bored in their relationship than usual, there was a lower occurrence of exciting, shared activities (for example, date nights). Further, when people who were more bored than usual did engage in a date, the dates were lower in quality, with lower feelings of satisfaction, closeness, enjoyment, and passion. We also found that people who tended to be more bored at the start of the study reported fewer exciting dates over the 3-week period and less relationship passion three months later. Thus, ironically, just when couples need it most, bored people are less likely to engage in date nights and, even when they do, their dates might be lower in quality.

Avoiding Date Night Disappointment and Passion Decay

So, what can couples do to promote passion and get out of a rut? First, there is not one type of date night that works for everyone. One couple's idea of an exciting date (like attending a play) might be another couple's disappointment. This doesn't mean you have to go bungee jumping to save your relationship. Discuss what will fit your relationship's level of excitement. What intrigues you both? Trying an exotic new restaurant? Or seeing if you can get through a scary haunted house together? Sometimes even the discussion of possibilities can be a little thrill.

Couples might also need to try several different activities before finding something that both couple members enjoy. For instance, dancing or rock climbing might not work for both couple members, but perhaps taking a cooking class together does.

Expectations also play a key role and people might need to manage their beliefs and avoid, say, the unrealistic goal of recreating the intense feelings from the beginning of the relationship. Instead, people should focus on being in the moment and being grateful for the shared leisure time with their loved ones. Ultimately, there are many possible spices in the "spice things up" cabinet.  If at a loss to find the right ingredient for your romance, ask around or even google it.

Lastly, shared exciting activities are just one way to increase relationship passion; time apart engaging in hobbies can give couples new things to talk about and offer new energy to the relationship in terms of how the person feels and how the partner sees them.   

For Further Reading

Harasymchuk, C., Lonn, A., Impett, E. A., & Muise, A. (2022). Relational boredom as an
obstacle for engaging in exciting shared activities. Personal Relationships, 29(2), 350-365.

Harasymchuk, C., Walker, D. L., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Planning date nights that
promote closeness: The roles of relationship goals and self-expansion. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships38(5), 1692-1709.

Harasymchuk, C., Cloutier, A., Peetz, J., & Lebreton, J. (2017). Spicing up the relationship?
The effects of relational boredom on shared activities. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34(6), 833-854.

Cheryl Harasymchuk is a Professor of Psychology at Carleton University in Canada and studies how people maintain happy relationships.