A recent article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology presents evidence for a counterintuitive aspect of human relationships:
couples who had been together longer – on average 40 years longer – knew less about each other’s preferences (favorite foods, movies, etc.) than younger couples.
The article is entitled “Older but not wiser–Predicting a partner’s preferences gets worse with age.” You can read the original here and a writeup at Wired.com here.
On reflection, this phenomenon is not completely unexpected.
When you first get to know a person, be it in friendship or dating, there are countless undiscovered things you have to learn about each other.
Each new experience is an exciting revelation, and each new fact adds to your understanding of the other person.
But after a time, you start to feel as though you know each other pretty well, and you stop digging for surprises.
Or you might think that the other person’s preferences and beliefs are fairly constant, and don’t bother investigating whether they have changed in the time that you have been together.
An interesting idea would be for a couple to try to maintain a simple, healthy tension in their relationship – the tension of being aware that there are still countless things they don’t know about the other person, and to treat those unknowns as a treasure of surprises to be discovered.
To give a somewhat silly example, do you know whether your significant other prefers flip-flops or sports sandals?
If it’s the former, are they a Rainbows fan or a Rainbows skeptic?
If it’s the latter, do they favor the tricked-out ones with massage footbeds and gel cushions?
The conclusion of this exercise:
if you don’t know, try finding out!
You might be surprised at what else you learn about the other person.
This idea of re-discovering the person by engaging with him/her on different ideas and in different situations relates to another phenomenon – couples who have been married longer often find themselves doing the same things for “date nights” that they have been doing throughout their relationship.
However, the spouses report feeling much closer to each other when they do something new or adventurous instead, such as going rollerblading at night and getting ice cream instead of going through the hum-drum “dinner and a movie” routine for the nth time.
This paper raises several other fascinating issues (for example, the role of “white lies” in long-term relationships), and I will be discussing it more in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!