Many couples come into my practice disillusioned about love. When they met or some time after, they said they experienced intense feelings of ‘love.’ After a few years of marriage, they wonder where this feeling of love went to. We talk about ‘romantic love.’ According to Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love, couples in love experience great changes in their brains. The dopamine level rises and the serotonin decreases giving the brain a ‘chemical high;’ thus creating a wanting and craving for their partners. Many couples become obsessed with each other. At this point, they may overlook many of the traits of their partner that will cause disagreements later on. According to Dr. Fisher ‘romantic love’ is a way of bringing couples together. In addition to this, when a couple experience orgasms in their love making, the bonding hormones oxytocin and vasapressin are released. So what should you do to keep the love going?
While romantic love is a feeling, real love is a verb. This means it is important how you treat your partner and it takes being conscious of the relationship and the needs of your partner to sustain love: moving from the idea of ‘You and I are one and I’m the one’ to ‘we are two separate people and we are not expected to always agree.’ How to do this takes both discipline and patience. Here are some suggestions:
- Come up with a plan to deal with disagreements in a respectful way. See my earlier blog, Couples’ Difficulties in Communicating, for suggestions.
- Be careful of the words you use. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote a wonderful little book called, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely.
- Language is so important in a relationship. Be intentional how you bring up a complaint without blaming or putting your partner down. Tone and gestures are crucial too. Raising your voice will also raise your partner’s blood pressure according to the research of Dr. John Gottman.
- Dr. Gary Chapman, a pastor, wrote a book called the Five Languages of Love. He wrote about small, caring behaviors that each partner can do for the other. Each partner has a favorite one or two. What are they? He lists them as words of affirmation (saying, “I love you,” giving compliments); acts of service or kind deeds (bringing tea, emptying out the dishwasher); tangible gifts (flowers, magazines); physical touch (holding hands, giving a massage); and spending quality time together. The key is to give your partner what they want, not what you think they want. Just ask and write their answers down such as, “I feel loved when you . . .”
Yes, there is a lot of work being in a relationship. Love is a choice. By the way, Dr. Fisher discovered that some couples in long-term marriages still experience ‘romantic love’ along with feelings of strong attachments.
Let me know what works for you as a couple.
Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.