Divorce rates are currently at 40-50% in the US and even higher for subsequential marriages.
Marriage satisfaction is 58%, so something is not working.
What has gone wrong?
Love is the top reason for people getting married in the USA.
But where did this come from?
We have to start with a history lesson, so buckle up.
Throughout history, marriage used to be an arrangement created to promote the family unit’s survival and safety.
The industrial age changed all that.
As safety increased and resources became independent of the tribal collective to survive, individuality took form.
They didn’t rely on the tribe or family to survive, so the concept of marriage for safety stopped making sense.
Marriage used to be seen as a duty, not something you did for personal fulfillment or emotional satisfaction.
The new economic realities of the 19th century merged with the ideas that sprung from the Enlightenment about individual rights and the pursuit of happiness, and the result was Romanticism.
The new ideal was to get married for love.
Love was to provide the ever after happiness and feeling of meaning, worthiness, and value that individualization had torn apart when our sense of tribal communities fell apart.
With a lack of social meaning and purpose, we looked for a partner to fill that gap and make us complete.
It wasn’t until the relatively recent 150 years ago that the ever-popular “happily ever after” idea was born.
So, what’s wrong with this new idea of a soulmate everlasting love, you might ask?
Feelings are unreliable, unstable, and not consistent in any way or form.
As wonderful as the drug of oxytocin & dopamine can be, they are nature’s way of making us bond and invested enough to have sex and make babies.
This chemical cocktail only lasts a few months to 2 years max, and then the honeymoon stage is over.
During this stage, you will idolize your partner.
You love that they are so spontaneous. Later you will likely see the same traits as annoying and unreliable.
We see all our partner’s traits positively and even make some up that are not even there.
It’s a state of obsession, and there is a reason it’s been compared to obsessive-compulsive disorder as the chemical imbalance and behavior are similar.
Eventually, the unnatural high from nature meant to draw you together to mate will go away, and now it requires skills and self-awareness to create a much more in-depth and profound love of companionship.
Frequently couples think the love is gone, which means the relationship is over, so they leave to see the next drug of chemical intensity that we call in-love.
Or they accept to live in disappointment and resentment as the data above indicate.
Emotions also don’t tell us anything about long-term compatibility.
We often feel attracted and fall in love with an ideal when we meet someone that unconsciously shows traits we wish we had or that makes us feel seen, accepted, and valued.
Who we fall in love with is also motivated by our attachment style, and so does not indicate in any way that this person is healthy or nurturing for us long term.
The In-love feeling is based on a fantasy.
As we see traits we desire in the other, our brain is designed to create a story based on our desires, expectations, and past experiences.
These stories tend to have an overly optimistic bias setting us up for disappointment because of the chemicals.
We tell ourselves these stories about this person and how perfect they are.
We idealize them and become obsessed with this fantasy.
This is not love.
Love is safety, trust, and seeing you partner in all their glory and mess and accepting them in that space.
And, that takes time, effort, and a whole lot of growth on both parties.
Our rush to have sex also blurs our vision through chemicals that make us feel connected to people that are not compatible.
We rush to sex because we feel anxious and believe that sex will create the bond and safety we crave and validate that we are desired, wanted, and enough.
As a dating coach, I help people find their most suitable match.
We are all a pain in the a.. to live with.
We have different backgrounds, triggers, goals, expectations, communication styles, attachment styles, love languages, and ideas of roles in a relationship, so there are bound to be many misunderstandings.
If we don’t have the skills to navigate this, it’s bound to go wrong even if we started with a bang and felt we found our soulmate.
Intensity is like a drug, taking us out of everyday life’s mundanity and makes us feel whole, worthy, valuable, and alive. But it is an illusion that will not last.
Slow down and take time to get to know each other.
Focus on what shows compatibility instead of the quick, intense emotions that will mislead you.
I am not stating emotions do not matter, and you should be with someone that makes you feel miserable.
My point is that we need to restore the balance between emotions, sensation, and logic.
It’s what neuroscientists call integration, and it’s how we function the best and make good decisions.
There is a reason I recommend premarital counseling. Without these skills, you are leaving love to luck, and as we know, that does not turn out well most of the time.
Love requires skills.
You got this far; that’s an achievement.
The four skills I teach in couples therapy and that you need to create long-lasting love are
You won’t get far without self-awareness.
I know the fantasy of romantic love lied and told you that your soulmate should magically know what you need, but let’s be honest. You don’t even know what you need half the time.
Even a mother is wrong 70% of the time with her baby.
You have to become aware of your wounds, triggers, needs, and boundaries so you can communicate these to your partner. This is something I teach people in marriage therapy.
This requires a lot of self-reflection and turning something inwards; we often dread as that could mean meeting some of those uncomfortable emotions when there are no distractions.
Mindfulness, journaling, and therapy are all great tools to expand your self-awareness.
If you don’t understand yourself, how can you expect someone else too?
Attachment is two nervous systems linking, and that’s why scientists have found that our close attachments impact our nervous system far more than those we are not connected to.
When relationships go to hell and back then, it’s because our brain and nervous system have been hijacked by fight or flight, and we are not to toddlers fighting it out.
No chance that will end well.
Being able to restore calm in ourselves and our partner, so our adult brain comes online is imperative to mature love and longevity of your relationship.
The essence of intimacy is our inherent need to be seen and accepted.
As we grow up, we learn quickly to adapt and hide parts of ourselves to get acceptance from our parents’ teachers and peers.
Once we find a partner that can allow us to show these parts and be accepted, we feel an immense connection and love.
I call it coming home.
How we respond to our partner sets the foundation for safety and love.
Is how we can tune in to our partner’s emotional world and seek to understand their experience?
The old saying, “do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” is valid.
If your partner ends up agreeing with you, but at the expense of their self-worth or humiliation, then you both lose.
Being right is also subjective as we all have different expectations and values of how the world should function, so no one is ever right. We just have different experiences.
Seek to understand your partner’s experience with questions such as.
How did you feel when…?
This is perhaps the most important skill that I work with couples as a relationship coach.
Love flourishes when we feel safe, and it dies when we feel unsafe.
Knowing your partner’s and your attachment style and making each other feel safe is paramount to nurturing lasting love.
Turn towards each other
When we have conflict, tension, or stress, we either turn away from each other or towards each other.
Turn away is when we attack, blame, criticize, or disengage. They create a disconnect, resentment and slowly break a bond.
Turning towards is when we engage and try to understand our partner’s experience and find win/win solutions.
To do this, you first have to regulate, so you are calm.
Vulnerability turns into intimacy when it’s met with acceptance.
Similar intimacy dies when met with judgment.
So, if you feel judgement, look at what makes you judgmental.
Are you scared or fearful of something?
Does what your partner express make you feel inferior or not good enough?
Once you heal yourself, you can meet the world with acceptance, and acceptance does not mean you have to give your partner everything they need or want.
It just means you accept their experience and needs as valid.
Thomas is the Founder of Zensensa.com the leading institute for relationship intimacy.He is the author of two books and the host of the Zensensa podcast. A dating coach, relationship coach, confidence coach & sex coach. Provides premarital counseling, couples therapy, online marriage counseling, relationship counseling & marriage therapy. Marriage counseling near you.
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