Does love last? Can we keep the home fires burning?

Don’t take your partner for granted, Paul Schoenfeld advises. Strive to connect with — all day, every day.

An article in the New York Times (New Love: A Short Shelf Life, by Sonia Lyubomirsky, Dec. 2) cited a study of 1,761 people who were married for 15 years or longer. They found that newlyweds experience a major happiness boost that lasts about two years, and then they return to their previous level of happiness. Oh well, the author suggests, the honeymoon must end sometime!

How frequently I hear from couples who have been married for seven years (remember the seven-year itch?) lamenting the loss of passion they felt when they first fell in love. They wonder: “Am I normal? Is it reasonable to expect a decrease in passion and excitement? Have we fallen off the cliff?”

The good news, according to the author, is that after several decades, when the nest empties (if it does), passion between couples has a way of reigniting. My wife and I were together for seven years before we had children. As somewhat older parents, we were very excited about having a family. Two decades later, both girls were gone. It was a difficult adjustment at first. But after a while, it seemed like we were back to where we were before we had children! In some ways, it was very familiar to both of us.

When children are very young, there is always major fatigue. Then there is the 8–11-year-old period, where kids are more independent, and parents can spend more time with each other. Then adolescence erupts! There is no question that teenagers tromping around at all hours have a way of cooling marital fires. So, there is a natural life cycle to family life — an ebb and a flow which impacts marital affection.

But what happens after the initial two years of bliss — during the next two decades? Lyubomirsky notes that human beings rapidly habituate to anything that is new rather quickly. A new car, a new apartment, a new job, new furniture or a new location rapidly becomes familiar — less challenging, less exciting and less stimulating. We start to take what we have for granted.

I hear many couples complain that their spouses take them for granted. Have you ever felt that way? You come home and your partner barely looks up at you, gives you a peck on the cheek (if you’re lucky) and continues to peruse their Facebook page. I think all married couples have felt that way at some time. They see younger couples, holding hands, passionately kissing while taking a walk, and they feel envious.

The author cites studies which suggest that novelty and variety triggers a release of neurochemicals which produce excitement and a natural high. She notes that women seem to be more effected by this hard-wiring than men, and therefore are more likely to lose their sexual desire for their mates over time. I hear many men lament this outcome. But I also hear the same sad tale from women too — sexual desire gone flat.

How do we keep the home fires burning?

Don’t take your partner for granted. Connect, connect and connect — all the time, every day, when you walk in the door, and when you walk out the door. Remember who the most important person in the world is to you. And never forget it.

Variety and novelty are important. After my wife read the New York Times article, she suggested that we take dance classes together again. When our nest first emptied, we took a salsa class together. Aside from stepping on her feet and feeling awkward (In her youth, my wife was a trained modern dancer in New York), I really enjoyed the class. Something new and different can be stimulating and fun. The last two years of the pandemic have reduced our ability to bring novelty into our lives.

And so is familiarity too. I must be old fashioned. Closeness brings ease that enables couples to be more relaxed and comfortable with themselves and each other. This allows for a deeper connection.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.

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