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.
Experts would even weigh in with the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Studies have found that a glass of wine a day is heart healthy and a study in The New England Journal of medicine evaluating 12,000 women aged 70-81 found the moderate drinkers had 23% reduced mental decline compared with nondrinkers.
It is just as difficult, however, to deny the reality that women are increasingly doing more than social drinking.
Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.
Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.
Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities:
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 …
You read my emails?
I can’t report every move I make in the course of a day.
Why can’t I check out my high school girlfriend on Facebook?
When it comes to relationships, partners often underestimate the importance of privacy and the danger of secrecy.
Privacy in relationships reflects trust and enhances intimacy. Secrecy in relationships impairs trust and impedes intimacy.
What is Privacy?
Privacy is defined as the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people. It is the state of being free from public exposure and attention.
Why We Need Privacy As Individuals
Psychologically, we understand that whereas secure attachment is key to early development, the growing capacity of the child to internalize this attachment and to separate–to have room to be, to play alone, to have private thoughts, to have space, to develop an authentic self–is crucial.
Why We Need Privacy In Relationships
As adults we continue to need different degrees of privacy to re-charge, regulate stress and nurture a sense of self–be it a solitary hobby or reading the paper alone.
We also need intimacy. We need to be and share with another, to be known by them in a way that no one else knows us.
Boundary Changes in Relationships
As such, in committed and intimate relationship, our individual boundaries of privacy change. In most cases, we choose to share bedrooms, sex, money, food, pets, chores, vacations, confidences, fears, and hardships– the best and worst of ourselves–with another. We also share a respect for each other’s privacy.
Disclosure Expectations in Relationships
While one partner may be more disclosing than the other, we can’t expect to hear or share every thought, action, urge or memory of our partner. In a trusting relationship, we have neither the need to check each other’s phone, emails, mail or daily moves, nor the obligation to disclose all. If we enjoy such sharing, it is mutual sharing that fuels our connection.
When thinking about privacy in a relationship it is worth considering:
If you are human, in a relationship and living on this planet there will be decisions to make and problems to solve. They may be intrinsic to your circumstances, imposed upon you by outside factors, or a function of your personal needs and goals.
For most couples issues related to jobs, residence, children, socializing, religion, sex, money, in-laws and more demand decisions but often invite dissent.
If you want a clear example of the type of behavior to avoid when problem solving as a couple you have only to take a look at the presidential hopefuls.
Recognizing that they are, of course, contenders and putting aside the specifics of their platforms or the campaign engines that drive their rhetoric, they nonetheless offer a glimpse of the type of the exclusionary thinking and reactivity that erodes collaboration, jeopardizes problem solving and risks relationship success.
Dynamics to Avoid:
Consider avoiding the following as you and your partner build the platform for your life together.
When children head back to school this year, they should not be carrying emotional baggage from home.
When we worry about how our children will handle school- what they will face and how they will cope, we often overlook the impact of marital strife on their physical, emotional and intellectual functioning.
It is difficult to feel confident, curious or open to new school friends or ideas when you are a young person weighed down by exposure to adult conflict and issues.
While we know that the impact of most traumatic events on children can be reduced if parents remain calm & learn to manager their own feelings, marital strife poses a bigger challenge. In the case of chronic marital strife, the very people who are supposed to offer safety are the ones creating the danger!
Don’t All Couples Fight?
Yes, in fact if a child never saw any discord or disagreement, he/she would have no model for conflict resolution or regulating a broad range of emotions.
Marital strife that creates a potential emotional crisis for a child of any age is a different animal altogether. It involves expressions of anger that can include chronic but subtle verbal abuse, the silent treatment, bitter fighting and at the extreme, domestic violence that warrants a 911 call.
Unregulated marital discord demands too much of children and teens.
Do they need this extra job as they face new appropriate childhood challenges?
Is this a learned pattern of survival we want a youngster to take with them in life?
In their necessary avoidance they tragically lose not only the connection with their parents, but a world of knowledge, relationships and …
There is nothing small about “small talk.”
Defined as polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially used on social occasions, small talk has often been seen in a pejorative or dismissive way.
Actually, small talk has a much broader meaning. Whether we love it or dread it, whether it serves us as a “ tool or trait,” we use “small talk” for meeting important psychological needs. We use it to make connections, to regulate anxiety and to facilitate the interplay between these two necessary functions.
When you met your partner or spouse for the first time, did you open with a question like: Will you marry me, sleep with me, and have my children?
More likely, you used what would be deemed small talk to show some interest and bridge an initial connection:
“So you are the new guy in the office.”
“What’s a female with a Yankee hat doing in Boston?”
It is also likely that whether shy or outgoing, you have found yourself in a hospital waiting room, a delayed airplane, or the crowd outside a funeral home engaging in small talk – and that it helped you.
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?