How often have you heard the expression “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” Military spouses hear it a lot, especially from civilian friends and family members who are legitimately trying to soften the blow of frequent and prolonged separations. Maybe it’s because we hear it so often or because it’s often said during the toughest moments of a deployment, but odds are we roll our eyes and brush it off as meaningless. But I actually don’t think it is; there may be something to relationship habituation. I know, I know. But hear me out on this one.
You see there actually is some scientific evidence that may back up the concept. The basic idea is that if you’re constantly exposed to something, you’ll get used to it and it won’t have as big of an impact on you as it did originally. This can apply to everything from a fancy meal to a new phone to that expensive sweater you just had to have, but doesn’t seem as great the 5th time you wear it. This is called habituation and is something that military spouses don’t seem to get a lot of.
Think about it. Between regular workdays, training, TDYs and deployments, military couples barely have time to get used to a joint schedule, let alone become immune to each other. It’s why homecomings have the rosy glow of a first date and the butterflies to go with it. On the bright side, you get to live like newlyweds longer and maybe find yourself loving your spouse more after a long separation. They have a stronger effect on you.
Unfortunately, this same concept may also be why couples may learn down the road that they aren’t as well suited for each other as they thought, especially now that they have to spend more of their time together. But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can make relationship habituation work in your favor throughout your relationship, even if you never go through a deployment.
Spend time apart, even when he or she is home.
I’m not saying spend months at your summer home alone (invite me!), but rather explore your own hobbies/activities. A few hours or even a day here or there spent apart may recharge your relationship habituation batteries and give you plenty of new things to talk about.
Openly and respectfully discuss the things that irritate you about your loved one.
In my experience, it’s the smallest irritants that cause the biggest fights and the most resentment, largely because someone has kept them on lock down for eight years and suddenly lets it all come pouring out because they cannot stand one more pair of dirty socks on the floor. So nip it in the bud and discuss it early on before you’re boiling with rage at the mere thought of cotton footwear.
Regularly look for new reasons to love your spouse.
Part of the fun of a new relationship is that you discover new awesome things about your significant other on a regular basis, sometimes even daily. The same concept applies if your loved one has been gone for an extended period of time: you rediscover how good they smell or that cute way they crinkle their nose when they laugh. So look for ways to get that same warm and fuzzy feeling even if you’ve spent every day together for a year straight or 10 years straight.
Do new things outside of your collective comfort zone together.
In new relationships, you’re constantly doing stuff together for the first time, learning about each other and bonding as you go. But as time goes on, couples often stop exploring together, instead settling into a routine of Netflix and chill. But I think it’s so important to continuously do new things together! You can try a unique date night idea or visit a new place or even just eat a new restaurant. Create new memories together. And who knows? Maybe you’ll see a whole new side of your spouse when you take them salsa dancing for the first time.
Relationship habituation isn’t necessarily something military spouses are super familiar with, at least not during their spouse’s military career. And in a way, we’re lucky because of that. But as time goes on, we may find that all the time together is a bit too much time together. How do you make relationship habituation work for you instead of against you?