Clack. He’s bitten his spoon again. Your eyes narrow and your head practically explodes. “I told you, please stop doing that!” you moan, thinking I can’t believe I used to think this was a cute quirk. And it’s not only that; the face he makes when he’s trying to conceal a close-mouthed yawn has gone from seeming adorable to embarrassing, you’ve had three low-key arguments and it’s not even 10am, and you’re pretty sure you saw him check the time mid-makeout session the other day.
Congratulations! You’re officially exiting the honeymoon phase!
There are people who go from honeymoon phase to honeymoon phase, calling off a relationship as soon as it ends and perpetually drunk on the feeling of new love. Some of these people never realize that finally sobering up doesn’t have to spell doom.
The honeymoon phase can last up to about two years, or even longer for some (Metcalf, 2020). It’s the beginning of the end for many couples, including plenty of newlyweds. But what if I told you that what comes next, if done right, can actually be even better?
Mechanics of the Honeymoon Phase and Prenups
First, let’s nerd out a little bit and look at what happens in your brain and body during and after the honeymoon phase. Otherwise known as ‘Limerence’ (Seeker, 2016), falling in love makes the parts of your brain associated with reward and pleasure light up like Rudolph’s nose.
Oxytocin, commonly nicknamed ‘the love hormone’, helps us to feel things like security and contentment. And vasopressin, another oh-so-delicious hormone, aids in long-term bonding. There’s also a lot of cortisol (a stress hormone) released during the honeymoon phase, making levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin drop significantly. Depletion of serotonin causes feelings like infatuation, obsession, and that state of constantly having the other person on your mind (Seeker, 2016). This chemical cocktail is colloquially referred to as falling in love.
But, the honeymoon phase isn’t necessarily all fun and games. Another effect of this intoxicating love potion is that the part of our brain associated with fear and social judgment all but shuts down…and that’s the part that enables us to make critical judgments of people. That’s why we sometimes unwittingly fall in love with people who are actually awful.
A prenup is always a good idea. However, If you get engaged during the honeymoon phase (like many couples around the world), it’s extra crucial not only to get a prenup but to get help doing so. Limerence is an exciting time to plan for the future…but when it comes to prenups during limerence, you really need the objective viewpoint of an expert to help you. You don’t want to accidentally mess up one of the most important arrangements of your life simply by doing it without help while you’re essentially drunk on neurotransmitters.
In time, the high wears off and all those juicy brain chemicals return to normal. An exit from the honeymoon phase can happen suddenly or gradually, but for many couples it is accompanied by a feeling of loss or disillusionment. That doesn’t have to be the case, though.
Why the Next Phase Can be Even Better
Limerence may be fun, but it isn’t sustainable. It’s neither balancing nor safe, and in limerence, you don’t see things as they actually are (Metcalf, 2020). It often leads to your other relationships and life responsibilities being put on hold, and your whole world becomes about the other person. Infatuation is a great little trick by mother nature to get us to bond and ultimately make babies, but if it went on forever, other important aspects of life could fall apart from neglect.
It’s only natural that the transition away from limerence hurts, because you’ve put each other on a pedestal. The farther the fall, the greater the impact.
Nevertheless, phase two can be even better–and more sustainable. After fantasies have dissipated, the couple can finally connect on a more authentic level. Authentic connection strengthens the trust that started to develop during limerence. Sex is usually also better because you feel more comfortable saying what you like and don’t like and less of a need to be performative (Metcalf, 2020).
Once you’ve successfully settled into this next part of a relationship, it could be a wise idea to start talking about marriage. It’s also an ideal time to sort out the details of a prenuptial agreement because you’ve built the trust and comfort that should underscore any important discussion.
5 Ways to Make Your Relationship Spectacular Way Past Limerence
Here are some expert tips on how to strengthen your relationship past limerence. Some of this involves re-creating the most beneficial aspects of that first phase when necessary, but keep in mind that this isn’t about going backward. You don’t want to go back to the honeymoon phase. You want to take some of what worked during that phase and use it to go forward.
Remember that infatuation ≠ love
When you feel that infatuation fading, don’t misinterpret it as a loss of love! Infatuation is not love. Infatuation is a crazy roller coaster of brain chemicals. Love is an action. It’s something you do, cultivate, nurture, and grow on purpose. Infatuation is hardly within your control. Love is.
Personal development expert Thais Gibson compares infatuation vs. love to pleasure-seeking vs. genuine fulfillment. When we are engaged in pleasure-seeking behavior like partying or binging on flamin’ hot Cheetos or staying up late watching Netflix, we do things that give us a temporary high (Gibson, 2019).
But, when we start to work on ourselves and our goals more and therefore get a taste of real, lasting fulfillment, pleasure-seeking no longer seems like the be-all and end-all. So it is with relationships: When we get a taste of long-term love and fulfillment that comes from successfully navigating what comes after the limerence stage, infatuation is no longer necessary (Gibson, 2019).
In the limerence phase, people tend to be very open and vulnerable and share emphatically, even if this level of sharing doesn’t normally come naturally to them. When limerence ends, sharing tends to drop off in some people. The other person may feel they’ve lost some important aspect of what made them fall in love with their partner. Sharing is one of the habits created in limerence which it is exceedingly beneficial to sustain. Keep on sharing.
The recipe for oxytocin-boosting hugs and kisses
Remember our good friend oxytocin, the lovey-dovey hormone responsible for feelings of security and contentment? A full-hearted 20-second hug or passionate 6-second kiss is enough to get that oxytocin a-flowin’. Many connection-building activities take significant amounts of time and energy, but this is one of the fastest, most straightforward methods for boosting connection (Metcalf, 2020).
Never assume you already know your spouse.
After you’ve been with someone for a long time, after you’ve seen them in many different life situations, listened to them vent about their sister 10,000 times, and been through thick and thin together, you might assume you know a person pretty well. Right? Wrong!
We humans have a knack for constantly growing and changing, evolving and adapting. Change can be sudden or gradual. When it’s gradual, it’s easy to miss–especially if you’re so accustomed to seeing certain patterns of behavior that you don’t even notice anything else. Assuming you already know everything about someone can quickly lead to a death of connection (Gibson, 2019).
You know those old couples whose perpetual silence kind of goes beyond just being comfortable with each other and seems to stem more from just not having anything to say to each other anymore? Never assume that everything has already been said. Keep asking your spouse questions about themselves, about their experiences, about their innermost thoughts and feelings (Gibson, 2019).
Ask them what they’re struggling with lately. Ask them to share something that’s on their mind sometimes which the two of you don’t usually discuss. Ask them what the best part of their day was. These are the kinds of questions that make people feel seen, heard, understood, and vulnerable. You first created this vulnerability in the infatuation phase.
A plant needs continuous watering to survive; your relationship is the same way. You have to keep on cultivating that curiosity and vulnerability well past limerence (Gibson, 2019). You’ll probably be surprised to discover how much you don’t know about the dynamic human being in front of you. And as a bonus, your meaningful questioning of one another will help each of you continue to reflect and grow as individuals.
Free flow of expression of feelings and needs.
If you want your spouse or partner to meet your needs and understand you, you have to constantly express your feelings and needs. You also both have to ask what their feelings and needs are. A lot of couples fall into the trap of expecting one another to know their feelings and needs…but feelings and needs can change like the weather (Gibson, 2019).
Equally important is holding space for one another’s feelings and needs, doing your very best to fulfill them, and forgiving one another when that isn’t always executed perfectly (Gibson, 2019).
If your partner does something you don’t like, you can set a boundary without condemning them. Explain that what happened wasn’t ok with you, but don’t stop there. Ask and try to understand what was going on that led them to behave like that, and challenge yourself to react with empathy (Gibson, 2019).
If you take the time and energy to make these five simple rules second nature, the next phase of your relationship will be even better than the honeymoon phase. You’ll build the groundwork necessary for a long-term connection that can nourish you both throughout your lives.
Your Perfect Prenup
Regular implementation of these five tips will help you to build a strong, loving relationship that can truly stand the test of time. They will also help you lay the groundwork for devising a prenuptial agreement that suits both of you well.
The process of creating a prenup can bring up a lot of questions you may never have talked about before as a couple, and you may find you disagree on some points you had never even considered. That’s why it’s essential that you get expert guidance.
Nevertheless, any disagreements or insecurities that come up can be turned into growth opportunities with an eye towards the five principles listed above. If the conversation becomes difficult, remember that it’s the love you’ve built that has gotten you to the point of being able to have such a serious conversation. Remember that you may learn some new things about your partner through this process, and remain open and willing to embrace that.
Be ready to share your needs and feelings in the moment. If you need reassurance, be vulnerable enough to ask for it. Check in with your partner about how they’re feeling and what they need. If things start to get at all tense, try a brief time-out followed by a 20-second hug or 6-second kiss.
The final prenuptial agreement should be a product of both of your individual needs as well as your needs as a couple. You can learn a lot about one another through the process and will likely grow even stronger as a couple.
Gibson, Thais. 2019. 12 Key Ways to Thrive Post-Honeymoon Phase. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2c4g-Cd9d0
Metcalf, Abby (PhD). 2020. What to Do When the Honeymoon Phase Ends. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1C8dYc4pt4
Seeker. 2016. The Scientific Reason the Honeymoon Phase Goes Away. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWc3Ql0vsvc