If California neurologist Dr. Fred Nour is right, then you can say goodbye to dreams of everlasting passion depicted in books and films like “The Notebook.” Nour believes the longest that intense love can last is two to three years, since it all boils down to chemicals in the brain – a complex concoction devised by nature to ensure we get together and procreate. The best thing to do if couples want their marriage to last, he says, is to stop dreaming.
“Romance will never last for a lifetime. You have to accept falling in love is just a phase that’s going to go away… If you accept that, you’ll have fewer divorces and more happy people,” he recently told TODAY. If it sounds a bit depressing, that’s because it is. The good news is, research published by the American Psychological Association says the opposite:
Romance can last. “Couples should strive for love with all the trimmings.”
What do loving couples have in common?
According to the above-mentioned research, couples who were more passionate in their relationships were happier and had higher self-esteem. The report is noteworthy because it looked at 17 studies into short-term relationships and 10 studies into long-term ones, coming to important conclusions about what makes relationships work. Support is one key factor – a feeling like one’s loved one was “there” for them in good times and bad. Self-confidence is also key; the more insecure people felt, the less likely they were to be happy about their relationship. Of course, self-confidence begins with the work we do on our ourselves.
Working on Oneself Can Be Tough
Harriet Lerner, the best-selling author of “The Dance of Anger,” sheds light on one reason many initially happy couples drift apart. Each of us, she notes, have our own ways of handling conflict. Some seek closeness and immediate reconciliation (they are the “pursuers”); others require more space (they are the “distancers”). Our ingrained patterns of dealing with tension mean that we always tend to do the same thing in the face of conflict. The more the pursuer tries to get close, the more the distancer “escapes” emotionally. Despite knowing that this mechanism doesn’t work, human beings tend to repeat their patterns, and eventually, people in a couple can feel unloved, unheard and alone.
Throughout this book, Lerner emphasizes that the only person one should ever try to change is oneself. Doing so may have the desired effect (and result in corresponding change) in one’s partner, but this should never be the main aim. When we try to change, we can meet resistance from our partner, because many couples become stuck in the same “comfortable,” yet unfruitful patterns. However, progress can only be made if we stick to our resolve and try to engage in healthier conflict resolution behaviors that focus on solving a problem rather than “winning.”
Humor Is Key
Lerner notes that displaying a humorous attitude is important, precisely during moments of tension. Imagine being in the middle of a discussion and bringing out a surprise for your partner such as a treat they love, a cute lingerie set or a music album they’ve been eyeing. It’s the least appropriate time to do so, which makes it likely that your partner will crack a smile and recall the love that unites you. A gentle touch, a smile, right when they least expect it will “soften” them so you can reduce tension and reactivity and simply focus on how to come up with a practical solution to a problem as a team, rather than as opponents.
Is respect undervalued?
Humor must be balanced by respect – showing one’s partner that their feelings matter. If you promised your partner you would walk the dog or clean the house on a given day, try to do what you promised. Repeatedly making promises you do not keep will undoubtedly make your partner feel unvalued, which is a big romance killer.
Keeping the romance alive is about the tiny details, but also about keeping one’s word, making the required changes to one’s own thoughts, emotions and behaviors (i.e., constant self-growth and self-awareness) and on committing to solve issues with the least tension possible. Flowers, chocolate and perfume aren’t where it’s all about; turn your eye instead to truly “being there” for your partner in ways that mean something to them.