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Why Both Comfort and Novelty are Important for All Your Relationships

Piano on State StreetPHIL: COVID-19, politics, global warming. Even with these, I’d much rather be alive now than during the Great Plague, yet it’s still very unsettling to realize that in all three areas, life may never return to the way it was.

The known and familiar makes us feel safe. I knew a woman who lived through an earthquake in Italy; she said that afterwards, even walking on sidewalks gave her trepidations because she wasn’t sure they wouldn’t move from under her.

We take comfort from the regularity in our life. We write this blog each week; we shop at Trader Joe’s and Ralph’s; we have flowers in the house and series we watch on Netflix. We feel blessed, and yet Maude said this week that she wanted to have experiences outside the house, outside the regular flow of our lives. I’m good with that, and although nothing is planned yet, I recognize their importance. New and unusual events add highlights to our life, and in addition, foster growth. Every new experience adds to the palette from which we paint.

To act like this needs, for me at least, a push, a nudge. The familiar routine is a comfort, and to step outside it is to risk being uncomfortable – but the rewards outweigh the risk. Stretch yourself. It will make you larger.

MAUDE: The other day, I found myself sharing with Phil that I feel we need to create more experiences together outside the wonderful world we have built in our home. We have always lived comfortably in our house and we have excelled at modifying and improving that experience during COVID.

It is so easy to get into patterns, especially when they work well for you. This is particularly true within all your intimate relationships. When I shared my feeling with Phil it was not caused by anything that felt wrong or even missing. It came from an awareness that our relationships offer a great opportunity to remain creative and to infuse vitality into life by sharing fresh ideas and actions together.

The very act of thinking of someone creatively and offering something new to the exchange is already a conscious act of loving that injects vitality and brings both parties into the present in an added way.

Most of us have twin desires for novelty and for the familiar. Given the current stresses of COVID, the divisive nature of the world and politics today and climate change, we often long for the comfort side, like wanting a grilled cheese sandwich (a Welsh Rarebit to Phil.) Yet the stimulation from the novelty side is also very important.

In our relationships, it behooves us to incorporate both; finding time to breathe and relax and finding ways to be both creative and original in what we share with each other.

These can be both big and small actions, as they can often create the same effect. I have a dear friend who excels at the little things that often provide us with interesting discussions, new books to read, shows to watch, new information about things we share interests in, and new pathways to walk together. She will show up with articles ripped from the LA Times, a great book she has just read, an event that we simply must go to, or the newest reviews and announcements of movies and shows. Our relationship stays vital and filled with novelty, as well as our ongoing sharing of the sorrows and joys of our daily lives.

I have other friends who live far away and we have found great service from today’s technology, using phone calls, Facetime, Zoom and email to share, photos, stories, and laughter. With some dear ones we have regular adventures that occur monthly or annually; having dinner every Monday, meeting for a Biltmore brunch once a year, going away together for a weekend, celebrating certain holidays regularly together (although many of these have been interrupted by COVID, and other plans have had to fill their place.)

Keeping our relationships comfortable and safe and at the same time spiced with novelty and creativity, is one of the great ways to be present, and to assure that our relationships exist in the present and not just in the memories of what they once were.

Photo credit: Maude Mayes
Photo note: Every year, a dozen decorated pianos appear on State Street for a week, thanks to Pianos on State.

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Successful Relationship Reading Corner


Books on shelfIn our blog this week, we wrote about why both comfort and novelty are important for all your relationships. This is a well researched area; here are some good takes on it.

Balancing Novelty And Comfort In Romantic Relationships "We expect a lot from our partners. On the one hand, we develop relationships based on love and romance. We yearn for attraction, excitement, a spark. On the other hand, when we’re forging lifelong partnerships, we also seek stability, reliability, and a predictable, comfortable status quo with a lot of emotional safety."

Why Do We Seek Comfort in the Familiar? (also a podcast) "Okay, so now we’ll get to her question. She writes, “I’m squarely in my most productive years — I’m 39 — but I’ve noticed that whenever I feel particularly tired, I turn to the comfort of familiar things: the bands I love, the books and movies I’ve already read and seen, the poetry that I love, etc. I wonder if there is existing research that explains whether that is common and also whether the need to find comfort in the familiar increases with age, and conversely, whether the desire to try out new things requires both a positive outlook on life and the physical energy to do so.” So, let’s start there. Angie, what say you to that query?"

Seeking Novelty in Marriage? Don’t Forget Self-Expansion; 6 Things to Consider as You Shake Things Up "That lusty, unstoppable, boundless feeling of falling in love has a lot to do with novelty. It is no surprise that as we become familiar with one another novelty tapers off and perhaps some of that initial “effortless” love wanes as well. But what about self-expansion? Dr. Arthur Aron’s self-expansion model tells us two things; as humans we are forever motivated to expand and that we often achieve this expansion through our close relationships. Novelty in marriage (or any relationship) nourishes that desire for self-expansion. We feel better, confident, and more fulfilled in our relationships."

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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