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How do You Know You're Keeping Your Love Alive?

In this article I examine the challenges to maintaining closeness and friendship between husband and wife in busy family life, and propose some ideas that can help.

How do You Know You’re Keeping Your Love Alive?

 In her thought provoking article in the December 1 New York Times, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a University of California Professor of Psychology, makes the wise and researched observation that the thrill of new love fades after about two years. The intense heat is based upon several factors: the power of sex, the idea that “at last I’ve found someone who gets me,” and if the marital choice is conscious enough, the recognition that your “someone” has values and goals that you admire.

 Competition for Time and The effect of Familiarity

 Although the passion and psychological compatibility may be there, what kicks off suffering is the loss of attention partners frequently complain of after children enter the scene. Before this period, each of you was more available as a source of validation and emotional feeding. Maintaining vitality can be very hard when dirty dishes, housework, after school activities, job stress, commuting, and fatigue enter the picture. Lyubomirsky also observes that passion wanes due to familiarity, or “hedonic adaptation.” Esther Perel makes this point in her book, Mating in Captivity, and suggests that each partner maintaining a sense of being an interesting “other” is a source of excitement in marriage.  Human beings are novelty seekers. Clearly this sounds like quite a challenge in a long term relationship.

As a marriage counselor, I frequently hear spouses complain that their partner doesn’t listen to them, and worse, isn’t aware of what they are going through and what they need. As each feels less and less tended to and important, intimacy wanes, and more important, the friendship which is at the heart of secure relationships suffers.  The gym, the office, the tennis court, and kids’ activities become competition for the two of you as a couple.  Family therapists refer to this development using the concept of triangles.

 Triangles

 Triangles are universal in life, and in family life there are many versions of them: mother-father-child, father (or mother) –child-child, mother-father-work, mother-father-friend, etc. What is so important to remember, however, is that in family life the relationship between mother and father is the most important one. The two of you came first, and your bond needs to be pretty solid and healthy for the structure underneath you, the kids, and how they get along with each other and how they get along with you, to be pretty solid and healthy.

 Keeping the Music Going

 So, the trick is how to keep the spark that was there early on in your relationship alive. We can’t expect the headlong rush into each other’s arms that drove us to heights of passion and joy to be there all the time, and if it was we wouldn’t get anything done. Also, as we age the hormones that drove that intensity naturally diminish. Add triangles and the intensity can drop even more. I wonder if you have some suggestions. Some marriage counselors suggest that partners “gift” each other on certain days of the week, each gift being an expression of how you value your significant other. Whether it’s flowers, candy, a backrub, drawing a bath, being tender or going out to dinner alone, there needs to be some form of energy that can rocket through the daily chores of family and work life that reassures your partner that he, or she, is loved and is number one in your heart. I like to refer to this as “bond maintenance.”

What can you suggest?

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TurkishTaffy December 08, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Have plenty of sex.
John Gerson December 09, 2012 at 01:38 AM
There is no question that sex is a tremendously powerful source of bonding, the glue in relationships...necessary, but not suffiecient. Any reactions?
TurkishTaffy December 09, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Of course it isn't sufficient. We all need a soulmate, someone who knows us and loves us in spite of all our shortcomings. Someone we can whisper to in the dark and bare out soul to. Someone we can write love notes to and communicate with through our thoughts, even though miles and miles apart.
John Gerson December 09, 2012 at 02:09 AM
What a wonderful, and evocative description of a healthy, a close and loving relationship! Love and acceptance, "warts and all," "in spite of the shortcomings.," this action illuminates family for us. That light can only go on, however, if partners are courageous enough to risk saying hard things to each other and find that their relationship has remained secure or even gained in security. Your description is beautifully poetic and romantic.
Ken Barish December 09, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Expressions of appreciation, even for little things, can be very helpful, and prevent a buildup of resentment and emotional distance. Ken B
TurkishTaffy December 09, 2012 at 11:58 PM
True. And helping each other get through the day. If we could practice a little selflessness, our relationships would thrive.
Rob December 10, 2012 at 01:38 AM
How about wife swap....
John Gerson December 10, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Before considering dissolving your relationship, I would suggest a minimum commitment of 3 months of marriage counseling. Often, patterns of relating follow us from one relationship to another, and it may be possible for these to be highlighted and addressed, on both sides. Remember that anger is only the secondary emotion, covering primary feelings of loss and sadness. If these vulnerabilities can be shared, a troubled marriage has a good chance of healing.
mark December 10, 2012 at 03:57 AM
the commandments of love written by man for women to obey 1. thou shall have no other man but me 2. thou shall not search my pockets at nite or annoy me with any problems 3. thou shall not ask me any questions
Nummy December 10, 2012 at 04:20 AM
I don't call her My wife any more, I introduce her as my ball & chain
You don't. Love is an illusion.
Heron December 11, 2012 at 10:08 PM
I'm not sure that Rob wants to dissolve his relationship, so much as occasionally switch partners with someone else. I don't watch the TV show, but isn't that what they do? I think it's about two couples switching off with one another.
JM December 11, 2012 at 10:42 PM
What can I suggest? Well, without getting into too much detail, I'm single and those in my age group are only interested in hook ups -- while married. I'd rather meet no one than invest time in someone seeking escape. So, perhaps my advice is the worst of all, except to say never, ever, live to 50 and still be single. (Think about that ''coupled folks,'' you don't know how good you have it.) I will die alone. That said, I look at the most successful relationship in my life, that of my grandparents. All of this ''stuff'' -- these outside influences of work stress, societal pressure, disagreements and whatnot, were simply not part of their lives. No matter what was going on, their priority was ''the marriage.'' Every day before dinner was a cocktail hour - together - and they did something I rarely hear people do now: communicate. Sometimes quite colorfully in an election year. Yes, once and awhile they probably did sacrificed an ''outside'' event that could have advanced their career in order to keep committed to the marriage. But I took away from them this: When all is said and done, on your death bed, who will be sitting beside you...? Your boss? Someone on Linkedin? A hook up on craigslist or from an app? Or a husband or wife who respects you? Grow up. Make it work folks. There is no excuse other than plain selfishness.
TurkishTaffy December 11, 2012 at 10:45 PM
If you're going to switch partners, might as well get a divorce. I wouldn't switch my spouse for anyone. I know I have it good.
eatingdogfood December 11, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Unfortunately sometimes the love of your life gets away. You never forget that person.
JM December 11, 2012 at 11:04 PM
I agree eatingdogfood. That love of one's life can and probably often does get away -- just as the dream job remains out of reach, the best house slips through your fingers to a higher bidder, the 1,000% jump in stock price happened after you sold at loss, wealth. Life is full of losing opportunities for what we cannot forget, is it not? What is your priority? If its to never forget, that is one path; if its a companion and/or committed relationship, only you and s/he control the fate of that outcome. And there is likely something you two have in common: the best got away. So, cut the loss, turn the page and make it work to define a new best.
eatingdogfood December 12, 2012 at 12:09 AM
JM, a once in a lifetime lover is different than a job or a house. Yes you have to move on, but sometimes your soul and your heart can't. That is just the way it is and when you realize it, that's a sad day.
Aidan December 12, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Yup. Once.
John Gerson December 12, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Of course, there is no advice that is perfect for all situations, but there is a generalization, a chestnut that I'd like to pass on. I had a therapist who said, "it's easy to be loved...all you have to do is be loving." The emphasis here is on the "ing" part of that word, loving, because love is predominantly an action. It's easy to check off the box that says, "I love you," but where the rubber meets the road, love is about investment of self in the other's well being, and this often requires sacrifice, small or large, from picking up the cookies your partner likes to being fully present during times of stress or crisis. I believe if each partner extends her/himself 2/3 of the way toward the other, the overlapping circles become sources of confidence, support and security that are special, unique creations of your relationship. Even if you're not in a relationship now, consider the value of investing your self in a potential new partner's well being. If you've chosen wisely your energy output will be repaid, and, like a snowball rolling downhill, your relationship will acquire more and more history and definition as a reliable source of love and security. The trick is in the act of giving.
TurkishTaffy December 12, 2012 at 10:09 AM
You will never find the right person if you never let go of the wrong one.

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