Falling in Love While on a Chemical High
Do you remember how much time you spent with your spouse when you were first dating?
I’m guessing that you spent every possible moment together. Other “stuff” wasn’t as important as spending time with your new love.
Many students see their grades begin to slide when they fall in love. Similarly, work performance often suffers during this time.
Why is that?
As couples begin to fall in love they experience an initial “chemical high”. According to Dr. Pat Mumby “Falling in love causes our body to release a flood of feel-good chemicals that trigger specific physical reactions.”
You remember those days right!? Sweaty palms, a racing heart, and when you were apart (which wasn’t that often) your thoughts were still centered on your guy (or your girl).
These chemicals (dopamine, adrenaline, oxytocin, norepinephrine) are actually quite useful in helping us fall in love as well as helping us desire to progress to courtship and marriage.
But, what happens when the chemical-levels drop?
This “high” doesn’t last though. After a few months, our body’s chemical levels return to a more normal level.
This is actually a really good thing- otherwise most of us would have flunked out of school or been fired from our jobs. The “love high” can be fun, but it is difficult to live a productive life in that chemically altered state.
But, does our love fade when this “high” is gone?
Well, it depends!
There are plenty of neglected marriages which leave both individuals riddled with hurt, disappointment, bitterness and anger.
By contrast, when couples choose to continue to prioritize their marriage (long after the initial “high”), then this relationship can grow into something much deeper and sweeter than anything experienced during the “chemically aided” beginning of their romance.
The Intentional Marriage
Before you were married, you were likely very intentional about spending time with your significant other. Sure, the “chemical high” helped, but by choosing to prioritize your relationship, you grew closer and had an ever increasing amount of love for each other.
However, according to William J. Doherty, PhD:
When we get married and especially after we have children, this reverses. Other things – the children, our work, our hobbies, even our religious involvement – become central and the marriage recedes to the background and only receives our attention when something is wrong.
Does this describe your marriage?
I hope not . . . but it might.
I have seen countless couples (even marriages between two wonderful people) who allow their relationship to fall into the background.
Valentine’s Day Vows
If your marriage is currently in the background, will you decide today to recommit to your sweetheart? Will you decide to prioritize him (or her) above all others?
Commit to prioritize your sweetheart about your career!
Commit to prioritize your sweetheart above your hobbies!
And, yes, even commit to prioritize your sweetheart above your children!
When describing this type of a marriage, Dr. Doherty noted that the happiest of couples have an absolute commitment towards each other and their marriage. He noted that happily married couples make these type of vows to each other:
- “Nothing will break us up.”
- “We will fight through whatever obstacles get in our way.”
- “We will renovate our marriage if the current version gets stale.”
- “If we fight too much or too poorly we will learn to fight better.”
- “If sex is no longer good we will find a way to make it good again.”
- “We will accept each other’s weaknesses that can’t be fixed”
- “We will take care of each other in our old age.”
He then concludes that in these happiest couples, these commitments aren’t simply made one time but are renewed over and over throughout a lifetime.
You on January 1st
“No really, this is the year I am getting into shape. I have purchased my treadmill, I have a pantry full of Gatorade, and I’ve downloaded an app on my phone to track my progress. I’m on fire (pronounced fiyaaa).”
Your Craig’s List ad on January 18th
“Gently used treadmill for sale (seriously, almost brand-new). Doubles as a clothes hanger – trust me I know. I will throw in a case of Gatorade at no extra
To quote Ned Ryerson from the 90’s movie Groundhogs Day, “Am I right or am right? Or am I right? Right?”
There is an 8% Chance That I’m Wrong
Okay, so actually I hope I am wrong and that the above scenario does not accurately describe your plight here in the first weeks of 2017. However, according to a 2013 Forbes article, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolution. A 2015 US news article was slightly more optimistic noting that only 80% of New Year’s resolutions end in failure. But, a 20% success rate still represents a lot of failed goals. “Am I right?”…okay enough of that.
What You Already Know
You’ve likely heard great advice in the past about effectively setting goals. One of my favorite ideas is that of SMART goals – setting specific, measureable, assignable, realistic, and time-related goals. This is sound advice!
However, I want to share two other critical factors necessary to achieving meaningful goals.
What You May Not Know
Sometimes we just don’t care enough about achieving the goals that we set. If your goal was to lose weight in 2017 and yet by noon on the 1st you had already eaten 2 maple bars, an apple fritter, and a Bear claw, it would be a fair to ask how much you really wanted to lose weight. Similarly, if 10 days into the year you have a hard time remembering what your goals even were (I’ve been there 🙂 ), it is probably safe to assume that your heart wasn’t really in it.
In order for us to effectively reach our goals, we have to have passion for those goals. A lukewarm desire to change doesn’t supply us with the necessary fuel to do the hard work that is often required to meet these goals!
But, passion isn’t enough. It is my observation that most of us who set goals truly want to make those changes or improvements. But, passion or not, we often give up on our goals when life gets busy or when we encounter obstacles.
So, for us to actually meet our goals, we not only need the passion but we also need perseverance. Those who succeed often have a “no matter what” attitude. As a recently diagnosed pre-diabetic who has gone weeks now without any desserts, I know that we all have the capacity to persevere and do hard things!
So, yes, set SMART goals. But, recognize that without passion or perseverance you will likely fail in achieving your goals.
Dr. Angela Duckworth refers to this combination of passion and perseverance as grit (a new buzzword of the last few years). Her compelling research suggests that those who are consistently successful in reaching their goals have learned to develop grit. And, for those of us who don’t yet have grit, we can work to develop those characteristics.
Don’t You Run a Marriage Website?
What does all of this have to do with marriage?
Fair question! This article really has little to do with marriage… unless, of course, your goals are marriage related.
Allow me to speak bluntly!
You should always be trying to improve your marriage (even if you are already happy). A healthy plant today will be shriveled and dying within a few weeks if you stop providing water and sunlight. Conversely, a dying plant today can be rejuvenated with sufficient care.
I don’t really care if your plants live or die, but I do care about your marriage. So, please make a resolution (New Year’s or otherwise) to work on your marriage. Powerful goals could include any of the following:
- Strive to forgive and forget previous mistakes
- Shut off technology earlier and spend more time connecting with your spouse each day
- Hold hands and kiss like you did when you were newlyweds
- Take time to be more intentional with your marriage
You get the idea. I really do hope that you lose those 20 pounds, or pay down your debt, or whatever else your goals may be. The principles that I shared will help towards that end. But, not all goals are created equal. Whatever else you do, have 2017 be the year to improve your marriage!
Before considering how selfishness may be showing up in your marriage, let me first share a quick disclaimer about the title.
Honestly, I was pretty proud of myself for making a clever play on the old saying “sex, money, and rock n’ roll.” Then, a few hours later I sadly realized that the saying was actually “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” – thus making my title less clever. But this not-as-clever-as-I-once-envisioned title was still better than my other lame attempts…so I’m running with it. 😎
Now, on to selfishness within our marriages.
The Sexual Relationship
Healthy marriages are clearly based on so much more than just the physical relationship. However, a mutually satisfying sexual relationship still plays an important part! Author and intimacy expert Laura M. Brotherson shared a number ways in which couples can benefit (both individually and as a couple) as they prioritize lovemaking.
Among these reasons, she noted that sex can improve emotional intimacy, can be a great stress reliever, can actually boost the immune system, can build self-esteem, can improve sleep, and more.
A healthy and mutually satisfying sexual relationship really is a necessary ingredient for a happy marriage.
So, how are things going in your marriage? Is it possible that you’re allowing sexual selfishness to sabotage your marriage?
Sexual Selfishness Quiz
- Do you only consent to sex when you are in the mood?
- Do you insist upon sex when your spouse isn’t in the mood?
- Do you genuinely care about your spouse’s sexual satisfaction?
- Do you place this bonding marital act low on your to-do list?
The sexual relationship can be a wonderful aspect of a healthy marriage. However, when selfishness exists, this part of marriage can become an area of disagreement, stress, and frustration.
Money issues can cause stress in many marriages. Let’s face it, life can be expensive! Lots of articles talks about how financial stress can harm your marriage (see this NY Times article as an example).
Sadly, too many of the “money issues” couples deal with are self-inflicted.
As you take this quiz, honestly check yourself. Is financial selfishness is an issue in your marriage?
Financial Selfishness Quiz
- Do you often find yourself thinking more about buying what you want rather than what your spouse would prefer?
- Do you thing about whether or not your purchases fit within your family’s / couple’s budget?
- Do you purchase things without your spouse’s consent (or against his/her will)?
- Are you sneaky with your spending (like hiding some of your purchases from your spouse)?
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that selfish financial behavior is pretty common. If you struggle with this, please recognize that these habits could really hurt your marriage.
There’s one more area of selfishness that’s a bit sneakier: self-loathing (see this article for more information). Let me clear: being consistently down and hard on yourself is not a very pleasurable form of selfishness. But if we’re consistently “blue,” it can still damage the marriage just like other forms of selfishness.
We all experience some sadness of course. And there are some who struggle with clinical depression and may benefit from medical attention to help with this illness. However, for the rest of us, as we frequently allow ourselves to remain mired in our own “pity parties,” we are unable to give our best to the marriage relationship.
Take this last quiz and ask yourself, are there “pity parties” that are hurting your relationship?
Self-loathing selfishness Quiz
- Do you often find it hard to love and serve your spouse because of how you feel about yourself?
- Do you allow negative thoughts about your body or your appearance to impact your physical relationship?
- Do you convince yourself that you are not a good spouse and then allow those destructive thoughts to become a reality?
Among other things, marriages need consistent attention, friendship, and passion if they are going to thrive. Since we all have a limited amount of time and energy, if we choose to focus inwardly we won’t be able to give the time or energy needed to have a great marriage!
I have yet to see a marriage that hasn’t encountered selfishness at some point. But how we respond to our own “humanness” (as well as the “humanness” of our spouse) makes all the difference.
If you’re guilty of any of these forms of selfishness, for the sake of your marriage, work at it! We all have the ability to improve!
Please remember that happy marriages don’t simply happen. Rather, they are the result of consistent effort and intentional decisions to nourish the relationship.
“I Want to Hold Your Hand”
Some months back my wife and I went to a local concert with a Beatles tribute band. Not surprisingly, one of their featured songs that evening was the 1964 hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
I left this concert with two main takeaways.
First, and less importantly, I now sort of understand why my wonderful father-in-law dressed like he did in the early 70s.
Second, and more importantly (especially since I am a marriage and family scholar), I started thinking about the importance of such a simple act – holding your spouse’s hand.
And let’s face it: don’t we all want to be one of those cute older couples who are still holding hands decades later?
And is it possible that holding hands with your spouse now may help you still be happily married then?
Ahh, patience! We’ll cover that shortly. But first, a quiz!
Do you remember the anticipation leading up to holding your spouse’s hand for the first time?
Were you the one brave enough to make the first move?
Did this simple act fill you with warmth and closeness toward your future spouse?
However, wherever, and whenever it happened for you and your spouse, I bet you still fondly remember the details!
For my wife and I, it was on a date a few weeks after we met. Carissa and I had already enjoyed a few dates together. This evening we were watching a play at a local theater.
I really don’t remember much about the play.
In part because it was a long time ago. Mostly, however, it was because my mind was completely preoccupied with my desire to hold her hand.
Well, why didn’t I just take it you might ask? After all, nothing ventured nothing gained, right?
But, as it was, I was a big chicken! Notwithstanding the fact that her hand was intentionally beckoning from the armrest (as she would later confess), we were well into the third act before I finally had the guts to hold her hand for the first time.
If I had a hard time remembering the play before I held her hand, I had no chance remembering what was happening for the remainder of the play.
Thoughts like these were running through my head:
“I can’t believe it, this beautiful girl is letting me hold her hand.”
“Ugh, you fool, why didn’t you try this an hour earlier?”
“I really wish this was a seven act play.”
This simplest of physical touches, holding hands, sent butterflies through my body that day. It was wonderful.
I bet many of you have similar memories!
Why We Need to Keep Holding Hands!
While most newlyweds generally excel in the area of physical touch, it turns out that holding hands has benefits for all marriages (regardless of how long you’ve been married). Consider this fascinating TED talk from Dr. James Coan (PhD and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia).
According to this research from Dr. Coan, when we hold hands with our spouse we actually send signals to each other. More specifically, this simple act of holding hands sends signals to your spouse’s brain suggesting that “I am here with you”. Over time the signal can grow even stronger to the point that it signals to the brain that “I am you.”
Fascinating, isn’t it?
There is something romantic about the notion of “becoming one” in marriage. This is often manifest as we share our dreams and triumphs, as well as our frustrations and challenges. Likewise, in obvious ways, we become one with our spouse during sexual intimacy. But it is amazing that simply holding hands can subconsciously help us feel of this desirable “oneness” in marriage!
So, if you do want to be married long enough to be one of those adorable older couples walking hand-in-hand through the grocery store, then commit today to frequently reach out for your spouse’s hand.
Remember, even simple acts can strengthen a marriage!
We’ve all had those friends who are stuck in miserable marriages. Maybe we’re even stuck in one ourselves! But are we really stuck? Except for cases of tremendous trauma (such as abuse, infidelity, and neglect), the way out is not as hard as it may seem. We actually get to decide how happy we want our marriages to be.
Don’t believe me? Well, read on!
We Decide if We Give our Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt
In happier marriages, couples seem to have a positive filter that influences the way they respond to each other – even during times where offense, frustration, disappointment, or anger would be natural responses. Dr. John Gottman refers to this as positive sentiment override.
In other words, so much positivity builds up in the marriage that it’s easier to overlook little frustrations. The overall positive balance counteracts the negative. Or, as a wise friend said, when we don’t know one’s motives, we default to an assumption of goodwill (see this previous article for more additional information).
Happiness Tip #1 – Remember, giving the benefit of the doubt is our choice. Though this may be difficult at times, as we consistently make this choice, we choose a happier marriage!
We Decide if We will Forgive our Spouse
You’ve probably heard this quote from 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope: “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
While this principle is true in so many aspects of life, constant and complete forgiveness is a critical component for anyone choosing to create a happy marriage.
Too often, the inability to forgive slowly destroys relationships that could otherwise be happy. Because we all marry imperfect people and we all continue to make mistakes, forgiveness is necessary for every marriage!
Happiness Tip #2 – Forgiveness, while not always easy, is always a choice. If we really want an amazing marriage, holding onto grudges can’t be part of our relationship. Remember, to choose to forgive really is divine!
We Decide If We Will Be Resilient or if We Will Give Up Easily
Have you ever experienced disappointments in your marriage? Have you dealt with unexpected financial or health challenges? Are you facing difficulties in your marriage right now?
You probably answered “yes” to at least one of these questions.
While we each face different struggles, research suggests that it’s not necessarily the stressor itself (unemployment, illness, etc.) but rather how we respond that has the largest influence on our marital satisfaction.
For instance, research shows how some couples coping with a husband’s cancer still improved their marital happiness, even during such a hard time. Other research demonstrates how some couples were able to maintain their marital satisfaction even through the heart-wrenching trial of the death of their child.
Why were some couples in these studies able to thrive in spite of their difficult challenges while other couples struggled? The answer, at least in part, is resilience.
Happiness Tip #3 – We choose how we will respond to adverse situations (including tough times during marriage); in other words, we can choose resilience! Remember, strong marriages are formed, in part, by their ability to weather the storms of life. Trials and challenges will come to every marriage. But, how we respond to the “bad weather” will greatly influence our ability to achieve marital bliss.
By applying these three tips, you can choose to be happily married. So give the benefit of the doubt, forgive, and don’t give up. Choose happiness today!