Do couples stay in love forever?
We are sure you followed some of the happenings in our neighboring country, Pakistan. No, we are not talking about terrorists and the antics of their government and their army chief. We are referring to the mercurial romance between Imran Khan and a TV celebrity, Reham Khan. When they married, most people thought that they will stay in love for a lifetime.
But what really happened was a fairytale love story had all the ingredients of a Diwali cracker that create a lot of hisses only to fizzle out in a whimper. Their marriage lasted only 10 months and it crashed and burned spectacularly to everybody’s amusement.
Rumors about the sudden divorce included conspiracy by Imran Khan’s party members, Reham’s attempted poisoning of Imran Khan, black magic, Imran Khan’s dogs and their preference for sleeping on his bed (so cute) and, of course, a conspiracy by RAW or Mossad can never be discounted in Pakistan.
Passionate love during the honeymoon
Every marriage starts off with the honeymoon phase. The honeymoon phase is characterized by a heady feeling, longing to be together, and excitement every time you see your spouse. That’s why people say they have butterflies in their stomach or their heart beats faster everytime they see their newly married spouse during the honeymoon phase.
You will never see anything wrong with your spouse and there is a deep sense of mutual admiration. In other words, during the honeymoon phase, the couple is experiencing passionate love. According to this article, you think your partner sh*ts gold and smells like angels.
If you examine the brain of a couple experiencing passionate love, you will see several physiological changes. Here is an extract from Scientific American on what happens to your brain when you are head over heels in love.
Using functional MRI, investigators have identified several brain regions associated with feeling love. Individuals who experience passionate love (typically brought on by pictures or thoughts of the beloved) show greater activation in the caudate nucleus, important in learning and memory, and the ventral tegmental area, central to emotional processing. Both brain areas tend to be rich in dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and motivation.
Another study found that when women who were madly in love thought about their partner, instead of a friend, they exhibited elevated levels of the stress-buffering hormone cortisol.
Researchers have also examined how experiencing passionate love can influence an individual’s brain chemistry. One study revealed that recent lovebirds had higher levels of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that aids in the development and functioning of neurons, than people who were single or in long-term relationships. The authors speculated that elevated NGF levels might increase a person’s feelings of euphoria or connection.
Check out this video that explains the science behind love.
The bad news is that the hormones and chemical concoctions that give us these heady feelings naturally go away and we are back in the earth after a while.
The challenge then becomes how do we deliberately make sure passionate love can sustain for a long time to help couples stay in love for a lifetime? The good news is that it is possible to sustain the “spark” endlessly.
Beware of obsessive compulsive love
In the book titled “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love”, the author Donald Tennov coined the term “Limerence”. According to Tennov, limerence is characterized by:
* Idealization of the other person’s characteristics (positive and negative)
* Uncontrollable and intrusive thoughts about the other person
* Extreme shyness, stuttering, nervousness and confusion around the other person
* Fear of rejection and despair or thoughts of suicide if rejection occurs
* A sense of euphoria in response to real or perceived signs of reciprocation
* Fantasizing about or searching obsessively for signs of reciprocation
* Being reminded of the person in everything around you
* Replaying in your mind every encounter with the other person in great detail
* Maintaining romantic intensity through adversity
* Endlessly analyzing every word and gesture to determine their possible meaning
* Arranging your schedule to maximize possible encounter with the other person
* Experiencing physical symptoms such as trembling, flushing, weakness or heart palpitations around the other person
Limerence is seen as an affliction as the person will do anything to get what they want (much like drug addiction) and don’t really care about the partner or spouse’s happiness Most likely, rabid fans of movie stars and celebrities who will do anything, including breaking into the celebrity’s home or issue threats come close to explaining limerence.
Bottomline is that if you want to stay in love, steer clear of relationships involving obsessive or smothering love.
Passionate love after the honeymoon
What goes up comes down and so let’s focus on the bad news. Why does the honeymoon phase or period of passionate love come to an end? Let’s look at what people say about it and then see what science has to offer in terms of an explanation.
The “honeymoon” stage, from my experience and observations, “ends” the day your spouses asks you to do something he/she needs that you don’t want to do and the decision is no longer easy. I’ve often referred to that moment as the moment when love becomes a choice.
For me, it happened about 15 months into my marriage. I came home late from work and I was stressed. I hadn’t had anything to eat, I wanted to come home, maybe cuddle with my wife, maybe do my own thing, but either way, when I walked in the door, all I wanted to do was kick off my shoes and do nothing important. My wife, on the other hand, was feeling very sick, and she asked me, or maybe begged would be the better word, to get her medicine. At this point, it was after 9pm and I knew that most pharmacies in my area would be closed. I wanted desperately to tell her to either get it herself or suffer until the morning, but after a moment of deep introspection, I got up, put on my shoes and spent the next hour driving around the city looking for an open pharmacy to buy medicine.
In the end, my wife was happier and feeling better, which in the end I did benefit from, but I always look back to that moment and realized that I chose to love my wife then, rather than myself. My relationship grew stronger from it because she knew I didn’t want to do it, even though I never said so.
Clearly, you can see how passionate love transitions to a more “rational” love that focusses on your spouse’s well-being and happiness even at the cost of your own happiness. This transition is a key requirement if you hope to stay in love for a lifetime.
Science also has an explanation for this change.
Going back to what researchers found when examining brain chemistry for people that claimed to be in passionate love, when measuring cortisol and NGF levels 12 to 24 months later, they found that differences between the passionate love group and the others had disappeared! Miraculously, people get used to our partners over time and this automatically brings our feelings of passionate love under control.
Here is another scientific explanation.
It is a clearly established fact that things start going downhill for most of the married couples after the initial euphoria. Many couples are able to transition to a less exciting phase of their relationship after the honeymoon phase and there are those that cannot face this reality and end up divorcing. That brings us to our million-dollar question.
How do we sustain love after the honeymoon?
First, let’s look at what researchers have to say on this topic. The Time magazine published an interesting article (written by Dr. Arthur Anon of the Stony Brook University) that focuses on two different studies. Here is a brief summary of both the studies.
In a 2011 nationally representative U.S. survey led by Dr. Daniel O’Leary, we asked respondents to rate how in love they were with their partner on a seven-point scale from “not at all in love” to “very intensely in love.” To our surprise, more than 40% of those married 10 years or longer selected “very intensely in love.” Of course, we don’t know how they defined love, and it’s always possible people are deceiving themselves or trying to make a good impression. Still, the results are striking.
More interesting, in a brain scan study led by Dr. Bianca Acevedo that year, we specifically sought out couples married at least 10 years who claimed to be passionately in love. We showed them pictures of their partners as well as a familiar neutral person. Our studies, like similar ones with newly in-love couples, found that when people look at a picture of someone with whom they’re intensely in love, the “dopamine reward system” part of the brain is activated. The only notable difference from those newly in love was that the long-term lovers did not also show activation in brain areas associated with anxiety.
So what can you do to stay in love long after the honeymoon phase is over? Here are five proven tips that will help you do just that:
1. Sustaining long-term relationships can get addictive
If you go back to the brain scan study by Dr. Bianca Acevedo, one of the results of the study was that the “dopamine reward system” was activated. This is similar to the feeling of euphoria or happiness associated with being rewarded with something we like. Guess what happens? We end up doing things that further reinforces the release of dopamine in our brains!
According published in Psychology Today, “The key to understanding how to sustain long-term romantic love is to understand it a bit scientifically. Our brains view long-term passionate love as a goal-directed behavior to attain rewards. Rewards can include the reduction of anxiety and stress, feelings of security, a state of calmness, and a union with another. And when we perform actions that make our partner happy, we enhance and maintain the relationship by working towards our goal of sustaining the rewards.”
To stay in love for a long time, you will have to think of your partner and not treat marriage as a means to attain your personal satisfaction.
2. Keep the Rajnikanth effect going
Why do we still see a very passionate fan following for Rajnikanth? They worship his every word and always consider him to be the one and only Superstar long after his prime.
In a survey of 470 studies on compatibility, psychologist Marcel Zentner, Ph.D., of the University of Geneva, found no particular combination of personality traits that leads to sustained romance — with one exception: the ability to sustain your “positive illusions.”
Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind, and ideal for them in just about every way stay in love for a lifetime.
3. Take up challenging activities together
According to Psychology Today, Couples can improve their love for each other when they spend their time together exploring new and challenging activities. If you’re going to go bungee jumping for the first time, your relationship will benefit when you and your partner face this challenge together. If you’re not up to bungee jumping, seek out mentally challenging ways to spice up your daily routines.
In order to stay in love for a lifetime, make sure you spend quality time with your spouse or partner on a regular basis outside your home. While eating out or a movie date may not involve anything challenging, it at least puts the couple together. A weekend trip to a jungle lodge or even jointly taking up social service occasionally will help create a greater bond.
4. Desire and neediness are enemies
It’s always a good idea to marry someone that is confident and can function independently. Whenever the need for safety and security becomes a key expectation, it can kill desire. Check out this video by Esther Perel.
According to Perel,
“So what sustains desire, and why is it so difficult? And at the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship, I think, is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence. But we also have an equally strong need — men and women — for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, surprise. So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms.”
She recommends that couples should see each other in their element when they are confident and know what they are doing. For example, if you watch how good your husband in the local cricket league, you probably will love him more.
5. Enthusiastic people stay in love for a lifetime
Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, in her article titled “The 12 ties that bind long-term relationships” explains that “People who approach their daily lives with zest and strong emotion seem to carry these intense feelings over to their love life as well. If you want your relationship to have passion, put that emotional energy to work on your hobbies, interests, and even your political activities. Your brain’s reward centers respond similarly to love as to getting excited about your other daily interests.
6. All the science distilled into an infographic
Happify has done a great job of consolidating all the scientific studies on successful relationships and the traits of couples who have stayed together for a long time into one awesome infographic. Whether you want to know how to stay in love with your boyfriend or girlfriend or you want to stay in love in a long distance relationship, you will find this infographic relevant.