Relationships: The Law of Diminishing Returns

Economics.  I make no claim to be an expert on the subject. However, I do know enough about the concept of diminishing returns to see it play out in other areas of life. It happens when a continued effort does not create the desired result. One of my children loved a certain sour candy. On one long car trip they consumed piece after piece of it. It began to numb their tongue. They ate on and on. Eventually they lost all sensation of the taste of sourness. (Thankfully it was only for a few days).

It can happen with candy or cookies, food or drink, or a myriad of other choices. It can even happen in relationships and friendships. Couples often “memorize the dance steps” to their relationship. They expect their memorized behavior will always work. “This is the way we’ve always done it in the past, so doing more of it will surely make things better.” Not always. The law of diminishing returns says that there is a point where doing more of the same will stop working the way we expect. It may mean that a simple change is needed or goals might need to be redefined. When you recognize a decline taking place—physical, emotional, or relational—it may be time to take an assessment and make some changes. This is not an easy step.

As I stated earlier, there are a myriad of subjects where this impacts our lives: desserts, alcohol, television, and computer use are just a few. Thinking in terms of relationships, the law of diminishing returns may leave one person feeling alone in the relationship.  Take the time to invest in yourself or the relationship in new ways and watch the returns increase.


Marlayne Whitlock, M.A., LAPC


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