Enduring Love Doesn’t Just Happen

Enduring Love Doesn’t Just Happen. You’ll have to work for it to last.

So we’re reminded by Jane Brody’s recent post on the NYT Well blog:

That Loving Feeling Takes a Lot of Work

Studies by Richard E. Lucas and colleagues at Michigan State University have shown that the happiness boost that occurs with marriage lasts only about two years, after which people revert to their former levels of happiness — or unhappiness.

Infatuation and passion have even shorter life spans, and must evolve into “companionate love, composed more of deep affection, connection and liking,” according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

She points out that the natural human tendency to become “habituated” to positive circumstances — to get so used to things that make us feel good that they no longer do — can be the death knell of marital happiness. Psychologists call it “hedonic adaptation”: things that thrill us tend to be short-lived.”

Brody briefly illuminates the importance of Building Companionship with your partner to endure well past the infatuation has faded and partner-life feels mundane.

Appreciation, and the proactive demonstration of Gratitude, even for the little things is an essential, free, high-impact way to further develop the positive rapport and emotional investment with your partner. Start by giving more simple, explicit messages of things your partner does for you that you appreciate. A fleeting comment that shows your gratitude for your partner’s actions, something as simple as taking your plate, reminding you to run an errand, anticipating your empty glass of wine, will all deepen the positive regard.

Brody mentions Variety & Novelty as tools to embolden the relationship and prevent it from turning stale. A banjo lesson? A painting class? A zumba class together, and the resulting laughter! (Here, find a zumba class in your area at this link or google “free activities and [your zip code]” or “recreation center classes and [your zip code]” then email that link to your partner.)

When we encounter new activities, step outside our comfort zones, explore new territory together, we’re drawn to each other, our brains are activated, excited, and we’re left with a positive, exciting memory to return to and to build upon.

Positive Touching & Loving Speech: “Even a marriage that has been marred by negative, angry or hurtful remarks can often be rescued by filling the home with words and actions that elicit positive emotions, psychology research has shown.” From Thich Nhat Hanh: “Reconciliation is a deep practice that we can do with our listening and our mindful speech. … In order to reconcile, you have to possess the art of deep listening, and you also have to master the art of loving speech. You have to refrain from aligning yourself with one party so that you are able to understand both parties. This is a difficult practice.”

This means in service to repairing and rebuilding a relationship, we have to let go of our positions, setting the emotional allegiance to our hurt and anger aside, and come to our partner with intention to reconcile and love.

In an interview with Oprah, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of mantras for loving speech and presence to contribute to enduring relationships: “”Darling, I’m here for you.” When you love someone, the best you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? … You look into their eyes and you say, “Darling, you know something? I’m here for you.” You offer him or her your presence. You are not preoccupied with the past or the future; you are there for your beloved. The second mantra is, “Darling, I know you are there and I am so happy.” Because you are fully there, you recognize the presence of your beloved as something very precious. You embrace your beloved with mindfulness. And he or she will bloom like a flower. To be loved means to be recognized as existing. And these two mantras can bring happiness right away….”

David Schnarch gives Six Tips for Creating a More Passionate Relationship, including a description of his exercise, Hugging till Relaxed, a way to come together in meaningful, positive, non-sexual touch that re-establishes connection with one’s partner while reinforcing healthy differentiation as individual loving partners:

Try Hugging ’till Relaxed. Here’s a terrific was to get more in touch with your partner while also getting a better grip on yourself. It turns a simple hug into a window into your relationship and a way to improve it. Prepare yourself by taking a few minutes to slow down, relax, and slow your heart rate. Then stand facing your partner a few feet away. Get a balanced, well-grounded stance over your own two feet. Close your eyes, take a breath, and relax again. Open your eyes, and when the two of you are ready, shuffle forward without loosing your relaxed balanced position, so that you have one foot between your partner’s feet. Get close enough that you can easily put your arms around your partner without feeling off balance, or pulling or pushing your partner off-balance either. Shift your stance or position as needed to be physically comfortable. Let yourself relax into the hug and remember to breathe. Lots of feelings about your partner, your relationship and yourself are bound to surface. Note your resistances but don’t give into them. Afterwards, talk about the experience with your partner. It often takes several months of practice, several times a week, but you’ll be amazed by the many improvements this brings. Hugging ’till Relaxed is fully described in the book Passionate Marriage.

5:1 Brody continues her post with the importance of pursuing a better ratio of positive to negative emotions: “Dr. Lyubomirsky reports that happily married couples average five positive verbal and emotional expressions toward one another for every negative expression, but “very unhappy couples display ratios of less than one to one.””

The article then suggests asking yourself “What can I do for five minutes today to make my partner’s life better?” To help yourself remember, consider setting yourself a recurring event on your calendar, maybe right before lunch, and set a plan if need be to hold yourself accountable. One secret she doesn’t get to is that it need not take a whole five minutes to reach out, show compassion, offer loving speech and heartfelt kindness to improve the ratio and your relationship for the long haul.

Enduring love doesn’t just happen. It requires small gestures daily, from the beginning and into the future.