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What can help bond you and your partner closer together? How can you keep the flame burning?

In 2008, psychologist James Graham at the University of North Carolina conducted a study to see what sort of activities kept partners bonded. He had 20 couples who lived together carry around digital devices while conducting their normal daily activities. Whenever the device went off, they had to use it to text back to the researchers and tell them what they were up to. They then answered a few questions about their mood and how they felt toward their partners. After over a thousand of these buzz-report-introspect-text moments, he looked over the data and found couples who routinely performed difficult tasks together as partners were also more likely to like each other. Over the course of his experiments, he found partners tended to feel closer, more attracted to and more in love with each other when their skills were routinely challenged. He reasoned the buzz you get when you break through a frustrating trial and succeed, what Graham called flow, was directly tied to bonding. Just spending time together is not enough, he said. The sort of activities you engage in are vital. Graham concluded you are driven to grow, to expand, to add to your abilities and knowledge. When you satisfy this motivation for self-expansion by incorporating aspects of your romantic partner or friend into your own skills, philosophies and self, it does more to strengthen your bond than any other act of love.

And:

This opens the door to one of the best things about misattribution of emotion. If, like those in the study, you persevere through a challenge – be it remodeling a kitchen yourself or learning how to Dougie – that glowing feeling of becoming more wise, that buoyant sense of self-expansion will be partially misattributed to the presence of the other person. You become conditioned over time to see the relationship itself as a source for those sorts of emotions, and you will become less likely to want to sever your bond with the other party. In the beginning, just learning how to relate to the other person and interpret their non-verbal cues, emotional swings and strange food aversions is an exercise in self-expansion. The frequency of novelty can diminish as the relationship ages and you settle into routines. The bond can seem to weaken. To build it up again you need adversity, even if simulated. Taking ballroom dancing lessons or teaming up against friends in Trivial Pursuit are more likely to keep the flame flickering than wine and Marvin Gaye.

Source is the very interesting blog You Are Not So Smart. His new book is You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself.

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About Eric Barker