We’ve all seen them. The love sick couple completely enthralled with each other. They just can’t stop being together, touching each other or expressing their undying affection. Somehow you just know they’ve been together for less that 3 months. A part of you feels instantly annoyed and wants to tell them to get a room. But there’s something else you feel. It’s quieter, but persistent. Whatever it is the new couple has, it’s something you want for yourself. The sheer joy of being adored and desired; and of adoring and desiring your partner. With relatively little effort you may remember what it was like. How you could talk endlessly into the wee hours of the morning, and your heart ached beyond expression if you had to go even one day without seeing your lover. But then, kids, careers and the mortgage came along and slowly something began to fade. You didn’t notice it at first but eventually you realized that you just seemed to be going through the motions. The spark was gone. Maybe you started fighting more, or being intimate less. But now, you’re just plain old feeling disconnected. Usually you can tell yourself it’s just a season that will soon pass. But winter seems to be staying around for a long time.
All of this begs an important question: “Is ‘Love Sickness’ reserved for new love, or is it available to those of us in long term relationships that have weathered life’s challenges?” There’s actually some pretty good research that’s gone into answering this question and the results are encouraging. Not only can long term relationships enjoy the same level of passion and joy experienced by new love, they often experience a deeper level of maturity that feels more secure, and experiences less anxiety. There’s something about having your positive qualities as well as your quirks known, and still being accepted that brings a sense of feeling “at home” with a life long partner. That kind connectedness develops only in time.
But there is an important catch. You knew it was coming didn’t you? While the love of a new relationship can be fallen into without any effort or intention, mature love does not share this advantage. In order to stay in love, or fall in love again, something is required of us. Successful couples feel “in love” as long as they are emotionally connected. Emotional connections happen when we exchange intimate emotional information in a way that is safe for the recipient to hear and leaves the speaker feeling understood, and most importantly accepted. Here’s a simple model for providing emotional exchange.
- 1. Know what’s going on in your partners life. Show an interest. Ask questions. Be attentive and empathetic. Try not to fix problems, rather, listen for emotions. Do you know what stresses your partner is currently facing? What about his or her hopes and dreams for the future? What do they like to do for fun? What’s their favorite kind of ice-dream? Some of these details may seem more trite than others, but there is something endearing about being known. You may be surprised at how the atmosphere between you begins to warm.
- 2. Let your partner know how you feel about him/her. After 30 years of marriage one wife asked her husband if he loved her. He replied “I told you when we got married that I loved you. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” Don’t be that guy! Research shows couples who grow old together and stay in love have developed a rich culture of expressing their fondness and admiration to each other. Their expressions of appreciation out number their complaints by a ratio of at least 5–1. Don’t be afraid to shower your partner with admiration. You will enjoy the results!
3. Take time to interact. Love thrives when you nourish it with time. The research tells us that couples who are enjoying mature love spend at least 5 ½ hours per week in personal and direct interaction that provides a framework for emotional exchange. Does that seem like a lot to add to your busy schedule? Try thinking of it in small bites.:
- *Date once per week: 90 minutes.
- *Say good morning each day for 10 minutes: 70 minutes.
- *Say good bye for 5 minutes on your way out the door in the morning, and hello for 10 minutes at the end of the work day: 75 minutes.
- *Take 20 minutes to talk and cuddle 3 times per week: 60 minutes.
- *If you can find another 35 minutes to play with the kids together, go for a walk, or work side-by-side in the back yard, you’ll be there.
For some of us, achieving these goals may require some life-style adjustments. But you will find that the results are worth the investment. Namely, the joy and pleasure of secure and fully developed love that will last a life time.
Next time you see a couple enthralled with new love, remember that whatever it is they seem to have is there for you as well.