Being in Love, Staying in Love
Most couples begin their marriage with great enthusiasm for being in love and assume that they will stay in love with the same effortless ease that they first fell in love. The experience of passion and romance is so powerful and profound that it leads to expectations of eternal devotion. The problem for many couples, however, is that several factors lead to an inevitable demise in their sense of being in love with their partner. First, science shows us that during the first two years of a romantic relationship, endogenous opiates (our body’s self-produced narcotic response) and feel-good hormones are at an all time high that is impossible for our body to continually produce at this level. (Future posts will address ways to work in concert with your body and brain to improve romance in your marriage.) Second, many couples accidentally promote the insidious demise of love by failing to do the things that helped them fall in love in the first place. They stop dating and they stop communicating on the deep authentic level that leads to intimacy and shared love. I do not mean that couples literally stop talking to each other, stop going out, or stop having sex, but the manner in which they do these things takes a subtle shift that guarantees eventual boredom, emotional isolation and loss of intimacy. One of the most painful things that can happen in a marriage is to feel isolated because you feel unknown and misunderstood.
How do couples accidentally shift from a romance enhancing lifestyle that made it so wonderful to get married in the first place into a marriage strangling lifestyle? Research on couples shows us how couples make these mistakes. Couples who have been married a while or who have lives made busy by work and children tend to start focusing upon being task mates instead of soul mates. They stop doing novel things together and they spend the majority of their conversations talking about task completion and To Do lists. Married couples also watch more TV than non-married couples-this becomes the default date. This is quite different than what couples do while they are dating or courting each other. During dating and courtship the couple engages in many novel activities that invite self and other discovery. They tend to engage in frequent conversation that centers on deep self-disclosure about values, dreams, hopes, fears, the meaning of important life events and what they hope to become together-the meaty content of our inner being.
Research by Arthur Aron, Ph.D. shows us that our conversations, more than anything, help us fall in love and stay in love, but only when they are focused upon the kind of conversation that leads to truly knowing your spouse and letting your spouse truly know who you are. The dilemma for many couples is that after the initial courtship, they forget that both they are their spouse are in a state of constant growth and flux. They assume that they know their spouse well enough. You forget that God is constantly renewing and transforming your spouse every day and this means that your husband or wife is changing before your very eyes. Just because you are a close witness does not mean that you have the best information. Have you ever secretly thought, or even said aloud, that you know your spouse better than they know themselves? Thinking this way ends up patronizing your spouse rather than opening yourself up to the process of mutual discovery. It closes off communication and convinces your spouse that revealing themselves to you is a pointless activity. One of the ways that you can give grace and mercy to your spouse is to assume that they will have a constant need to redefine who they are and that it is your greatest pleasure to be in a constant state of discovery with them.
Several weeks ago I was at a friend’s birthday party in which her husband of 26 years made a speech and referenced her extraversion. She then responded by correcting him that she was, in fact, the type of person who came out on tests as being slightly introverted. Everyone laughed, but did everyone realize what a lovely moment it was that illustrated how much there is to learn about your spouse even after many years of marriage? When my husband surprises me, which is often, I take it as an opportunity to follow up with one of those “getting to know you” type of conversations so I can be blessed by discovering the person he is becoming. Professional pride as a psychologist might prompt me to feel foolish for not having known him better, but this would be profoundly unhelpful to our marriage. Instead, I know that I need to be humble so I can allow God to make our marriage a vital vehicle of grace.
What are some practical ways that you can keep the conversation alive that leads to love?
1. Pray with your spouse. In prayer we share our deepest longings, our heart’s desires and reveal ourselves as we really are to God. Shared prayer allows us to draw closer to God together without pretense. Be willing to begin the sharing process with your spouse through prayer.
2. Start dating again, really dating! Vow to learn one new thing together as a couple every year, to take up a new hobby, a new place to travel, learn new games or do things in a new way. Stop going to the same places, with the same people at the same time and stop watching so much TV together. You can go on the internet and find lists of creative free things to do together or find books of ideas for couples to do new activities if you feel that you are in a rut or have been married so long that you believe you have already done everything worth doing.
3. Start having adventures together. Do something that is a risk for both of you, something that would be a stretch for you, such as trying a new ministry, going on a mission together, volunteering together, trying a new lifestyle change or a new look. The idea is to get out of the rut and to have a shared experience that challenges your prematurely fossilized way of viewing each other and your marriage.
Karen Cassiday, Ph.D., A.C.T. is a Light of Christ member with 25 years of experience in clinical psychology. To read her full biography, click here.
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