Good relationships are vital for a healthy life. And healthy connections provide some of the best opportunities to grow in meaningful ways. In a lovely piece entitled Lessons For Living in the most recent edition of Psychology Today, Elizabeth Svoboda proposes five principles for living, loving, and playing well with others.
I have selected for this blog her Lesson #5: Lust Diminishes, but Love Remains.
Being inured to your partner isn’t the same as being out of love.
A slew of misconceptions persist with respect to relationships: If you’re with the right person, you’ll rarely experience conflict. The spark should stay alive all on its own. Life should be a continual state of wedded — or paired-up — bliss.
Too often, couples assume a relationship is damaged beyond all repair when the tear-your-clothes-off period of sexual and emotional excitement ends and the arguing begins. Part of this mind-set comes from the widespread cultural belief that it’s easier to cut ties than to stick it out when discord arises. “The immature part of us hates confronting our limited ability to invest in someone else and loves the idea that compatible people don’t have conflicts of interest,” says psychologist David Schnarch, author of Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship.
But research and real-world experience don’t support this mythology. University of Denver psychologist Howard Markman, coauthor of Fighting for Your Marriage, has found that successful couples argue — it’s how they go about it that determines their continued relationship satisfaction (among other things, happy partners refrain from hurling nasty zingers or withdrawing from conflict). Airing grievances is necessary, since it allows both people to speak their minds and take responsibility for their missteps.
It’s also normal to experience a waning of sexual desire once you’ve progressed past the giddy initial stages of a relationship. Arriving at such a point actually offers an opportunity to deepen your relationship in ways that would have been impossible at the outset. “Romantic love is when we have this consuming, emotional experience with another person, and it usually lasts about a year and a half,” says Washington State University’s Meek. “Deep love comes after — after we see how imperfect the other is and commit ourselves to them anyway.”
All relationships are messy: “If you want to build a history together, be prepared to hang in for the full range of feelings that make us human,” says Lerner, who wrote Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up. The only formula for fixing the frustration and stagnation you’ll both inevitably feel is to take concrete steps to resolve them — but that doesn’t mean unleashing a litany of complaints, she says.
Instead, focus on the lasting bonds that remain in the relationship. Rather than asking yourself, “Am I still in love with my partner?” try asking, “What can I do to restore our connection?” It might mean sparking some excitement in your less-than-thrilling sex life by initiating something new and unexpected, or perhaps it’s as seemingly simple as recycling that pile of basement boxes that’s annoyed her for months. Or maybe the first step is sitting down for a 20-minute conversation about what’s been stressing him out at work, one where you resolve to hold back your opinions and really listen.
Finally, remind yourself that a committed relationship requires continual doses of effort in order to progress, Meek says. “People know what warms their partner’s heart,” Lerner adds, “but usually we’re too angry or settled into the distance to actually do it.”
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See also: Bringing Lust Home (E. Perel)