The next time you’re cooking up a romantic date night idea, a painting session might be more effective at conjuring up romance than an Italian dinner or a stroll through the park. A new study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found creating art as a couple might be a particularly effective at helping two people form an intimate bond.
Researchers studied 20 heterosexual cohabitating or married couples between the ages of 20 and 40 who were randomly assigned to do a recreational activity together like playing board games, playing cards, or going to an art class. The researchers measured their oxytocin levels (via a urine sample) before and after the couple activity and found that everyone’s oxytocin levels increased afterward. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” because it’s typically released during sex and even while hugging; it serves to help people bond with one another and develop secure attachments. So knowing you can trigger that same chemical release during a game of Monopoly is mind-blowing.
In particular, participants in the art class reported more touching than those who did other activities, and interestingly, men in the art class released twice as much of the love hormone as anyone else.
“Typically, an art class is not seen as an interactive date with your partner. But sometimes couples that were painting turned the activity into a bonding time by choosing to interact—putting an arm around their partner or simply saying, ‘Good job,'” said Karen Melton, Ph.D., a Baylor University professor of child and family studies and one of the study’s researchers, in a news release.
Similarly, another recent study showed that couples who take part in “self-expanding” activities (i.e., activities where one or both people learn a new skill) have a more satisfying sex life.
“The self-expansion model was developed out of arousal-attraction research and identifies novel, exciting, and challenging activities—such as a couples’ art class—that may offer couples an opportunity to bond,” the researchers of the present study wrote in the paper. “[These findings] provide initial support that novel environments may also stimulate the release of oxytocin. For couples, this may potentially translate to finding new and challenging activities for date nights rather falling into regular routines.”
The study also found that couples release more love hormones while doing things in new situations compared to, say, playing a board game at home.
So the next time you’re thinking of ways to bond with your lover, consider busting out some watercolor and paintbrushes or trying your hand on the pottery wheel. You’ll both be developing a creative skill—and get closer in the process.