In his latest book, Love Illuminated, Daniel Jones concludes, after culling over thousands of essays written to his Modern Love Column in the New York Times, that what most people really want is a loving and permanent relationship.
Evidence for this is the over 13.5 million self-help books addressing relationships and the interest by so many couples in improving and sustaining their love.
Given the deluge of information offered, I have siphoned out four essential ingredients that can be found in satisfied, long-lasting marriages.
A brief look at the growing research on risk-taking and happiness and the connection of happiness with social relationships, may give you pause to reconsider.
A consideration of risk-reducing strategies may even make it seem possible.
While most partners want someone to care if they run away with the neighbor, using jealousy to evoke a sign of love from a partner, or feeling jealous of your partner’s interest in something or someone other than you—takes its toll.
Often confused with envy which is the emotion you feel when you want something someone else has (car, wife, job) jealousy is the apprehension or fear of someone or something being taken away from you.
Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love, describes jealousy as a combination of possessiveness and suspicion. She reports that studies of men and women find that neither is more jealous than the other, but that they react to jealousy differently. Whereas women will feel it, overtly showing indifference (often with verbal digs) but hold on to a relationship, men will leave a relationship to save face or become reactive. Male jealousy is a leading cause of spousal homicide cross-culturally.
Clearly, despite the anthropological consideration of jealousy as necessary for early man’s survival, or its equation with love in medieval poetry, in the day-to-day life of couples, jealousy threatens connection and reduces happiness. “A nationwide survey of marriage counselors indicates that jealousy is a problem in one third of all couples coming for marital therapy.”
Recognizing The Threat of Jealousy
Because some of what we do is not always conscious and we are often unaware of the impact of our feelings, words and behavior on our partner, it is worth checking out the role of jealousy in your relationships.
Recently the American Psychological Association reported the latest findings on what makes love last in a marriage. The results of one series of studies by Shelley Gable and colleagues were particularly interesting because they were unexpected. They invite speculation and application.
Responding for Better and For Worse
These studies revealed that although we need our partners to be there for us during the “worst” of times, it is our partner’s positive responses to the “best” of times that we receive best and remember most.
Adding to this and surprising is the finding that our partner’s responses to positive events directly contribute to the perception that our partner will be available in the worst of times-regardless of the specifics of their actual support during those times!!
How Do We Explain This?
It seems that context matters. Crisis, be it the aftermath of surgery, the lost job or family problem, makes giving and receiving support challenging and more complicated.
In difficult life situations, a partner’s attempted or enacted support is often not well received or not perceived as helpful for a number of reasons:
Missing the Mark
“ You should know that I didn’t want any visitors.”
“ I didn’t know what soup to get so I got a few…you don’t want soup?”
Can’t Work the Miracle
While the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.
A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.
Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.
What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”
Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?
You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.
You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.
Neurochemistry supports …
Most families are a group of related people of different ages with a mix of personalities, needs, feelings and expectations. They may be a nuclear family, an extended family, a reconstituted family or a blended family. In any case, they share an identity as family and, as such, consciously and unconsciously have an impact upon each other.
Their lives can be touched by the joy shared by one family member, the excitement of another and the heartache and loss of still another –sometimes all on the same day.
Most would agree that at times of pain and joy, families are the greatest source of support and the greatest source of applause. They can also be the greatest source of stress.
Holidays seem to turn the volume up on all possibilities.
No matter how hard we try, we really don’t manage time. We manage to live within its’ parameters. We can’t make the months of our spouse’s deployment less than they are. We can’t change the fact that we will be 50 years old on our next birthday or that we face an 8-hour workday, an hour commute, and two children who need to be at practice at a certain time.
We can’t manage time because time is finite. What we can manage, however, is our energy. Unlike time, we can expand our energy. We can increase our energy in a way that significantly improves the success and the quality of our life.
The original idea for “managing energy, not time”, comes from the work of Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, whose Energy Project was directed toward correcting the corporate mistake of making more demands of employees to increase productivity. The problem was that as managers and employees pushed harder, often working more hours, the results were negative. There was a decline in engagement, high turnover rates and increasing medical costs among employees.
The Energy Project proposed a different solution. Defining energy as the capacity to work, they considered that managing energy, not time, would change people’s productivity and involvement. Rather than increasing hours, they recommended and trained employees to draw upon the four sources of energy – body, emotions, mind and spirit. What is dramatic in their research is that the employees’ identification and use of seemingly small and brief energy enhancing rituals on a regular basis had a significant impact on productivity compared with companies who had not adapted the program.
Given the fact that most people, be they working adults, parents or school children are being asked to do more, be more and produce more in a finite amount of time, it is worth considering ways to conserve and revitalize your energy.
Energy Saving Strategies:
Everyone agrees that exercise rejuvenates body and mind and can help re-set sleep cycles. The problem is time.
A viable answer is fractionizing your exercise in and around your workday.
It can also be just as shocking to observe the public interaction of a couple only to wonder, “Why are these people together?”
Having worked many years with couples, I’ve come to understand that no one but the partners involved really know the differences in the private or public versions of their relationship.
While some differences in the private and public versions of a couple’s relationship are inevitable and even desirable, differences that cause or hide pain, rejection and disdain are destructive.
How different are the private and public versions of your relationship?
In this fast paced world of expectations, social media, instant communication and blurred public and private lives, it’s worth accessing whether the differences in the public and private versions of your relationship are desirable or destructive.
The Private Version
Are you trusted confidantes?
Can you hold on to your relationship ties despite outside family demands?
Do your friends know how important your relationship is to you?
The Public Version
We all have a public version of our private self that is adjusted to fit the role, demands and expectations of our public lives. While your public “image” might be at times very different from your role as a spouse or partner, it shouldn’t disqualify it. In the …
When you take into account the effort, the planning, the stolen moments, the affection, the creative communications and the anticipation of connection – you have to wonder what having an affair with your spouse could do for a marriage.
The likelihood is that it will do great things.
Having an affair with your spouse is something I have recommended to couples for years. It is an antidote to what Esther Perel describes as “Mating in Captivity,” the neutralizing of connection, the tendency to take each other for granted, the need to prioritize the kids, the jobs, the house, the money…. over the romance.
Does having an affair sound irrational, unlikely, possibly erotic and without guarantees? Yes. That’s the nature of affairs…only this one has a real chance of a happy ending.
What Do You Need to Have an Affair?
Here are the ingredients for having an affair – Do you have anything to lose?
Recycling is a good idea, except when it comes to relationships.
Regardless of what people tell themselves about the time invested, the good times missed, the great sex, or the feeling that things will be different; in most cases the re-connection with an ex rarely brings a better outcome.
Research tells us that rekindling a relationship decreases happiness. Studies of college grads as well as larger national studies of older couples reveal that those people who cycle back to relationships, often over and over again, experience less satisfaction, more uncertainty and more disillusionment in their relationships than non-cycling partners.
Let’s face it – breaking up is hard to do. When it has happened there is usually a good reason on the part of one or both partners.
Why then do people look backwards? Why do they imagine it will be different?