Self-expanding activities – any activity that is interesting, and/or novel, exciting, new, and challenging – usually leave us with an individual sense of fulfilment, but do they have a positive effect on relationships? This is the question that a 2019 research paper set out to answer.
The participating couples were asked to keep diaries and answer questions about how they felt after certain activities. The research found that on days with a high amount of self-expanding activities, couples were between 25 and 34 per cent more likely to have sex. These couples were also more satisfied with their relationships.
The group that this had the greatest effect on were those who were in long-term relationships. Perhaps the novelty of self-expanding activities is enough to add excitement and this effect is greater for those who know each other very well and have well entrenched routines.
The activities that the participating partners classified as self-expanding are also interesting and worth mentioning. These included: Outings, Household activities, Leisure, Disclosure, Future planning, Sex, Care, Affection, Physical activity, Negative (arguing etc.), Religious/Spiritual, Learning, and Humour.
The activities themselves didn’t have to be grand, the participants weren’t jumping on a plane and going skiing, they were doing fairly regular things such as painting their house, eating together, exercising together, and caring for each other. The important part was how the activity made them feel. For some partners taking a walk together would be enough to generate feelings of self-expansion, for others it might be watching a movie or TV together. Although we would often think of travel and more adventurous activities when we think of self-expansion, everyday and less grand activities can have just as positive an effect.
One way to look at why this happens is to think in terms of connection. Have you ever simply gone for coffee with a friend but afterwards you felt boosted and more connected with the world than beforehand? That’s essentially what we are describing here. Any activity where you feel increased connection with your partner is going to lead to the greater desire and rates of sex and satisfaction that the research found. Interestingly they found that even arguments could lead to a greater sense of connection, perhaps due to the increased closeness of apologising and patching up after the argument.
Takeaway: Self-expanding activities lead to greater sexual desire, amount of sex, and satisfaction in couples, especially those who are in long-term relationships.