The World’s Worse Marital Advice
When you thought it couldn’t get this bad…
1. You Deserve to Be Happy
When people are in individual therapy, and they share their marital unhappiness, they are sometimes told:
“You deserve to be happy…”
No, you don’t.
Growth usually involves pain. Can you imagine a two-year old falling down and deciding:
“That’s it. I’m not walking anymore. I deserve to live a pain-free existence.”
You don’t “deserve” to be happy, anymore than you deserve to be rich, famous, or an expert cello player. All of these things take time and effort.
Happiness is also a transient state.
Your nervous system isn’t built for a state of perpetual happiness. It’s built for happiness in fits and starts. Something makes you happy, and then you fall back to baseline.
Ask opiate addicts. The thrill doesn’t last, because it’s not designed to, biochemically.
Dispositionally, there are ‘cheerful’ people, but that’s not the same as constant happiness. If you want to be ‘happy’ in your marriage, you both have to work at it, and you can’t give up until you know how to love well.
2. If you were never ‘in love,’ then it was never ‘real love’ to begin with.
It’s marriage not limerence, silly!
Limerence is an early stage of love which is similar in its effect to a drug intoxication. Oxytocin, dopamine, phenylethylamine (PEA), testosterone, estrogen, serotonin, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) make a heady chemical soup which produces physical symptoms highly correlated to early romantic love.
It’s a fun, transient state to be in.
You hyper-focus on your Dreamboat, and often have reduced appetite, trouble sleeping, and find yourself in a perpetual state of romantic obsession.
And even though it is very cool to experience, it doesn’t happen in every sound relationship, and it doesn’t last all that long. And it can happen even with the WRONG PERSON, but we’re more familiar with that phenomenon:
Mr. or Ms. Wrong
You’re in the dating scene, or your marriage is in a difficult place, and you discover someone who seems perfect. Suddenly, all the switches in your brain light up. YOU HAVE TO HAVE THEM.
It’s a psychotic-like state, really.
Limerence lowers the fear response, making you reckless and bold. You feel young again. If sex and orgasm happens, oxytocin and vasopressin starts to rise, blinding us to any negative information about our Dreamboat. Genitals stimulation promotes dopamine activity that simulates novelty and lifts depression.
Love is not blind, it just doesn’t care.
Most of us (even psychotherapists) believe that limerence is a prerequisite for lasting love. Nothing could be further from the truth according to science.
“I love you, but I was never really in love with you…”
Wonderfully matched couples come to me in a panic, because one of them suddenly makes the painful realization (maybe right before, or a few years after the wedding) that:
“I love you, but I was never really in love with you…”
They were about to destroy a perfectly good marriage based upon this terrible marital advice.
The science is clear: Being in limerence does not guarantee long-term marital happiness, any more than its absence indicates a poor match. Not all marriages start in limerence, and not all of them have to.
As Daniel Dashnaw has written:
Romantic songwriters might hate the fact, but limerence is only a biochemical cascade which is fundamentally evolutionary and transpersonal. It’s the body’s way of saying: “I like how you fill out my genes.”
It’s about the species achieving the best genetic outcome. The best way to do that is to highjack your common sense as quickly as possible. Limerence is a chemical taskmaster that drives us to pursue, bond and mate. Think of it as a wobbly chemical bridge to the possibility of building trust and commitment.
More: Is it Love or Limerence?
The Brief Allure of Limerence
Limerence is a kind of biologic reflex that lasts about 18–24 months. Just long enough to achieve that ‘caveman pregnancy,’ or at least this is the biological intent.
Biology is not concerned with your interpersonal happiness. And biology also doesn’t care about your thoughts, opinions, or better judgment.
After the thrill is gone, it’s souring and sobering to discover that some of your partner’s ‘cute and endearing traits’ become the source of frequent irritation and friction. If they’re a paramour, they start to hauntingly resemble your ex-.
After the thrill is gone (and your marriage is in shambles,) you come to your senses. It’s one of the reasons that a relationship that starts as an extramarital affair seldom ends in a marriage, and the few that do have a 70% chance of divorce.
Some people get hooked on the high of limerence…
But that’s a post for another day.
2. Your marriage is dead because the romance is dead…
Romantic love is like a sleeping cat; it can be awakened at any time. — Dr. Helen Fisher, American anthropologist, and human behavior researcher.
Romantic Love is one of three fundamental brain systems that evolved to orchestrate our essential mate selection and reproductive strategy. While not as old as reptilian “horniness,” romantic love is a proven, successful survival strategy for the human race, at least in the short-term.
When the romance is dead, forget the lace and roses. Instead, up the frequency of your empathic conversations.
Having a solid felt-sense of security lays the foundation for romance. It makes people more open to being influenced by their partner, less self-centered, and most importantly, increases their capacity for empathy.
Empathy encourages emotional bonding, and determines in part, whether or not a couple will describe their marriage as satisfying.
Attachment emerges slowly, and over time, unlike romantic love. Attachment is slower because it takes time to get to know whether someone is trustworthy and committed to the you and to the relationship.
An entire model of couples therapy has been built upon the research on relationships that demonstrates that intensifying engagement by the distant partner, and heightening empathy enhances love and bonding. Once that’s in place, romance can easily be awoken, as couples become better able to say what they need, in order to feel more loved and cared for in everyday life.
Good for you if you have rejected this sort of terrible marital advice, and hung on when your marriage was in turmoil. Every day we hear couples come to us believing this kind of crank advice. We’re working hard to dispel these hurtful myths at Couples Therapy Inc. with science-based advice.
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