A common narrative around long-term relationships, particularly marriage, is that there’s intense chemistry and emotional attachment at the start of the relationship—what we usually refer to as “passion”—followed by a slow but steady dip. Some even claim that the passion eventually snuffs out entirely after enough years go by, replaced instead with either a more practical love or a quiet resentment.
But regardless of what actually happens to the passion in your own relationship, whether you believe in that narrative may actually have a bigger impact on your relationship—at least, that’s what a new study says.
Researchers from Northwestern University wanted to see how this idea of “passion decay”—the belief that the magic can’t ever come back after it’s lost—affects actual relationship outcomes. According to their findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, your mindset is important when it comes to saving a so-called passionless relationship. Researchers asked hundreds of participants who were currently in relationships to complete surveys about the state of their relationship, their commitment levels, and their beliefs about the concept of passion. Overall, low passion was indeed linked to low commitment, but that link was moderated by a person’s belief in passion decay. In other words, if you believe that you’ll never get that spark back, you’re more likely to see your commitment to your partner dwindle as the spark dims.
“Believing that passion cannot recover, then, appeared to exacerbate some of the relationship consequences of experiencing lower levels of passion, whereas believing passion can revive reduced the consequences of low passion on commitment,” the authors wrote.
The doomed, passionless relationship trope seems to be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, fading passion can hurt your ability to commit to your partner—but according to these findings, those who believed passion could return were more likely to stick with their relationship. That means believing passion can be reignited isn’t just a healthy mindset to have—it can literally breathe life into your relationship.
Science also suggests there’s truth in this more hopeful outlook: Earlier research has concluded that it’s definitely possible to make a relationship more exciting and satisfying by introducing a few simple, fun couples’ activities. Relationship coach Valerie Kolick suggests even the smallest additions to a couple’s daily life—like hugging more often and introducing a meditation practice, for example—can be enough to kick those butterflies back into fluttery action.
So just because the excitement dies down doesn’t mean your relationship should. A passionate relationship can be incredibly fulfilling—but it’s possible to maintain and rekindle that love even after the initial passion has subsided.