June 12, 2024

Love’s Diminishing Returns: Why Maintaining your Relationship Takes Effort

By Maverick Remiel

Love’s Diminishing Returns: Why Maintaining your Relationship Takes Effort

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’re probably familiar with the term “Honeymoon Phase”, which typically refers to the first couple of months of a relationship where your feelings and passion are most intense. Following this infatuation period, the real test for a relationship’s strength began. As we know, it’s not difficult at all to maintain a relationship when both you and your partner can only think about each other. However, this intensity fades over time and a relationship becomes more stable than intense. In this article, we will look into this relationship dynamic through an economic theory: Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.

            The law of diminishing marginal utility states that all else equal, as consumption increases, the marginal utility derived from each additional unit declines. Within the confines of our discussion, we can interpret each unit of good consumption as being each unit of time spent in the relationship. In the initial stages of a relationship, feelings are naturally more intense and this usually translates to greater feelings of joy stemming from the relationship. This feeling of joy will be our metric for utility, and its intensity being the unit. As we settle into routine within the relationship, the intensity slowly fades and turns into stability. Although the couple in the relationship may still be just as in love as in the start of the relationship, the intensity and passion has typically softened. Finally, as a relationship moves towards the long-term, a relationship generally reaches a stable equilibrium, being characterised by stable trust rather than burning passion. This understanding is illustrated in the following graph:

            In order to maintain the same intensity of a relationship’s love, conscious effort needs to be made. For example, having regular date nights can introduce some variety and maintain some level of intensity within the relationship. Furthermore, variety can intentionally be added into the relationship through consistently encouraging trying new activities and visiting new places. Maintaining the initial dynamism and engagement of a relationship is therefore required to counteract the diminishing marginal utility of a long-term relationship. Balancing the time spent together and apart is crucial too to maintain a healthy level of interest and appreciation towards each other. Lastly, open communications about needs and expectations allows for continuous improvement towards the relationship dynamic, also acting as an important countermeasure against the diminishing marginal utility of a relationship.

            Thus, our observation that long-term relationships require a consistent effort for upkeep is something which can be explained through economic models. The law of diminishing marginal utility highlights how inputs have to be consistently added in order to maintain the same level of utility over continually increasing levels of production just like a relationship’s love. Although this article’s analysis is largely based upon anecdotal observation, future research could be done to attempt to quantitatively measure the general formula and coefficient of diminishing marginal returns in the context of long-term relationships.