Keep the Spark Through the Years

Our culture romanticizes the process of falling in love, committing to each other and living happily ever after and is saddened when this beautiful tale does not last for some pairs. Is there a way to help secure a permanent state of shared love and happiness throughout the years?

The attraction that initially drew you to each other is a complex blend of physical, emotional and psychological mechanisms that can persist and grow only if we regularly tend to them.

Every pair begins their love connection with joyful enthusiasm about each other with frequent mutual affirmations of each other’s endearing traits and by promoting their beloved’s physical, emotional and personal wellbeing. When the intensity of these reciprocal ego-bolstering exchanges begins to wane both mates may feel disappointed and even disillusioned.

The shift from pleasing each other to focusing on one’s own unmet needs creates an emotional gap that leaves the partners disillusioned, sad and hurt. The focus may shift from attending to the mate to nursing one’s unmet needs and grieving about the loss of their former state of utopia. Criticism, disenchantment and sadness may lead to self-centered attitudes that hinder our open-heartedness towards each other.

When the shift from “we” to “me” occurs it creates emotional, physical and psychological loneliness that weakens the couple’s bond, and calls upon both partners to identify it and reverse this trend.

John Gottman’s Research with couples identified the causes of couples’ disconnection through the use of four practices: 1. Criticism, (“What’s wrong with you?”)  2. Defensiveness, (“What about what you did?”)  3. Contempt, (“You are not the person I married.”) and 4. Stonewalling, (Shutting down, withdrawing and avoiding contact). He recommends changing these practices to 1. Stating dissatisfaction without blame. 2. Taking responsibility for your part in the conflict. 3. Trading the discount for an appreciation. 4. Practicing self-soothing tools to stay engaged with your mate even when you are stressed.

To preserve the physical spark, it is important not to buy into the notion that attraction fades with time. The same hormones that drew you to each other initially are still there. In “Mating in Captivity” Esther Perel states, “Erotic intimacy is an act of generosity and self-centeredness, of giving and taking. We need to be able to enter the erotic space of another and to experience our separateness without the terror of abandonment.”

A recent study by psychologists Crystal Jiang of the City University of Hong Kong and Jeffrey Hancock of Cornell University found that “long-distance lovers who have limited face-to-face interactions were still able to keep their romance alive by engaging in frequent communication and by discussing deep issues, such as love, trust and future plans.”

To make your heart grow fonder:

  • Regard your mate as the same lovable being you originally fell in love with, adored and valued.
  • Accept that attraction lasts when you treat each other reverently and kindly.
  • Cultivate your physical attraction through loving words and kind, attentive actions.

 

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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