“Love is born in a glance, and matures in a smile.” ~ Brazilian proverb
Most people enjoy being in love, because falling in love is a euphoric ride. You are exhilarated when you fall for someone and the feeling is returned. And you can’t stop thinking of them, wanting to spend every moment together, as if you can’t get enough.
We hope this feeling will never end, and when it starts to dissipate we worry. Life is not like the fairy tales, movies, nor romance novels. Love has seasons that change as the relationship, life, and family changes. But just because love between two people changes, it doesn’t mean it’s gone.
Relationships are always evolving. While change is hard, it doesn’t have to mean something is wrong. Join me in exploring how love and marriages evolve and how we can think about the new seasons with more smiles.
Identify Your Season of Love
Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love, shares her thoughts on how love changes so that our species can survive. With a team of scientists, Fisher scans the brains of people who have recently fallen in love. Through her research, she discovers that certain areas of the brain light up when we are falling in love.
Fisher concludes that all animals and humans feel romantic love in the reward center of their brains. In other words, love is much more complex than having a positive feeling, it is a “fundamental mating drive.”
Through her work, she identifies three interlocking drives that primitively speaking help keep families alive. Fisher explains that “drives” evolved to motivate us to reach different goals:
- Lust: “to seek an array of sexual partners”
- Romantic Passion: “to choose one partner to dote upon”
- Attachment: “to remain emotionally engaged with him or her long enough to rear a child together”
Fisher goes on to explore whether or not these drives (or seasons) can occur at the same time. Do you identify with one or more of the above relationship goals?
Twenty years ago on spring break, I was interested in talking to many young men. But by the end of the trip, I had picked one young man that I hoped to spend more time getting to know. We stayed in this romantic love season until some time after our wedding.
Love Changes and Relationship Patterns Emerge
You gradually start to see your spouse as they are. While you were once blinded by passion and able to overlook their faults, you are now living with their strengths and weaknesses every day.
And predictable patterns of interaction emerge when tension and conflict rise. Depending on how you think about the differences, you may start feeling less attracted and more distant. Since the “romantic love hormones can only last 12-24 months” into a new relationship, how do you deal with these relationship patterns, negativity, and worry?
“We’ve become addicted to the hormone rush fueled by the media hype and don’t know what to do when it’s over, except to find someone new.” ~ Susana, Hubpages.com
As you pick a mate to spend the rest of your life with, the hormones that once attracted you are starting to slow down. So it’s not physiologically possible to stay on the high of falling in love. But many people are distraught that the romantic feelings have gone.
Emotional Distance or Intimacy Evolves
While you can’t return to the original feeling state, you can work on how you think and interact with your spouse. Many people become so negative about their partner and their relationship, that they want to leave the relationship “seeking happiness.” But others want to find out how to be less negative and develop a new level of openness with their mate. Love’s changing season becomes an opportunity to grow your friendship and intimacy by growing yourself.
Instead of trying to get your spouse to meet your needs better, it is seeing them as separate from you emotionally that makes it easier to get close to them. If you are always thinking that they don’t care for you or want something from you, then you will keep your distance.
Everyone feels distant sometimes. When you can focus less on blaming your partner and more on identifying when you feel distant, you can begin to reclaim your happiness. When you become less defined by what your partner does or doesn’t do, you are free to be yourself. Your partner is also free to be him or herself. It is through this “growing up” stage of marriage that emotional intimacy is found, as it’s easier to get close to each other again.
Which opportunity will you take: Is marriage’s changing seasons an opportunity for growth and intimacy? Or is it an opportunity to leave the marriage?
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Photo Credit: “In Love” by Hartwig HKD