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 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?