Clients commonly complain about the loss of sizzle and ensuing staleness and boredom that creeps into their relationship. They reminisce about how they felt when they fell in love, describing fireworks, shaking earth, clammy hands, flushed cheeks, unbearable anticipation, and a new awareness of the world’s vivid beauty. Few good things in life overtake and exhilarate us quite like infatuation in early love. No wonder they want to be crazy in love again.
Contrast that love struck state with the reality of everyday life and relationship routines that over time become mundane and humdrum, when you start playing house for real. Meals, bills, kids, the trash, homework, pets, laundry, careers… and let’s not even get started about the pressure of our new connectivity. Couples get exhausted, distracted and want a few moments of peace-alone-with no expectations of them. Even sex can lose its spark and turn into just another ritual. Routine and dailiness wear on relationships. Thinking about all this reminds me of an old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” Even those of you unfamiliar with Peggy Lee have surely asked yourself the same question.
People try to recapture the elation of new love (which, by the way, lasts from two months to two years)– a time when we are at the mercy of our biochemistry and we get flooded with dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, chemicals released during the first stage of love. First, they try with their partner and get disappointed when the attempts fail and the chemicals don’t fly. Next, they conclude that the spark and sizzle cannot be rekindled so maybe it’s time to trade their partner for a new model, something shiny with a lot of zip and updated features. Those who adopt the trade-in model of relationship will experience overtime the fade of infatuation, a time when we are actually “love sick”.
Relationships that satisfy at our soul level are not about the shiny new Maserti. The gold gets mined after couples navigate through the different stages of relationship. The electricity of love’s first blush is meant for just that initial stage, the biochemical stage. As you get to know your partner in a deep and intimate way, which is possible only after time/years spent together, your relationship evolves. Nature programmed us this way.
To create and maintain a healthy and vibrant relationship takes focus, dedication, and commitment. For a healthy relationship, we all need to overcome difficulties and obstacles we will inevitably encounter along the way. Couples who are successful take the time to learn, practice and develop a wide range of problem solving skills that revolve around certain themes. For instance, couples need to learn how to stay connected and what to do in conflict, how to stop criticizing one another, discover how to balance freedom and commitment (how do I stay me and also be “we”?), and how to let go of anger and resentment. They learn the secret of oxytocin, the chemical released during child birth that bonds a mother and baby. It turns out oxytocin is released by both sexes during orgasm, and thought to promote bonding when adults are intimate. The theory goes that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes. Men and women often differ on how much sex is enough.
To maintain a vibrant relationship is a formidable challenge. The partners need to be lively, curious, and willing to be spontaneous and go outside their comfort zone once in awhile. A sense of humor and irony are worth their weight in gold. Research show that couples who try new things together and have adventures enjoy their relationship more.The quality of our relationship reflects who we are as a person, what we put into it, and the kind of relationship vision we have.
Here’s a practical tip you can try right away. Start with you. How can you as a person be more alive, curious, expressive, and demonstratively loving? How often do you look into your partner’s eyes and connect on a deeper level? How much oxytocin gets released in your bedroom? Take it up a notch and see what happens. Let us know your results.
Healthy, mature relationships don’t feel like infatuation; they feel better despite lack of lightning bolts, racing heart, clammy hands, fireworks, and trembling earth. Mature relationships feel accepting, loving, warm, comfortable, and filled with ease. Enduring relationships satisfy our deep need for connection and belonging. Successful couples give each other space enough to feel free and connection enough to feel safe and loved. What could be better?
Jerry Duberstein, Ph.D. is the co-author with his wife, Mary Ellen Goggin of the book , Relationship Transformation: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too-A Practical Guide for Couples Who Want To Be Free and Connected. Jerry and Mary Ellen offer private intensive retreats for couples weekend in the seaport town, Portsmouth, NH.