As Valentine’s Day approaches, I remember many years ago when a student asked me, “How do you stay married and in love for so long?” At the time I didn’t have an answer.
So I asked my wife Mary and like always, she did!
“Easy! We’ve had six different marriages!”
“Errr…did I miss something here? When did we have six marriages?”
“Our first marriage was our first four years without children. The second marriage began when our daughters were born and we raised them. The third Marriage was when they left. The fourth marriage was when they moved back in. The fifth marriage was when they left again to have their own families and the sixth marriage is the one we are in now.
“And in every one of those marriages, we had to make a decision. Will we choose to adapt and grow into the new marriage, or will we not?”
So how can our relationships last? As I look back on our own relationship, here are three observations.
Romantic love and companionate
Two types of love generally underlie a relationship —romantic and companionate. Romantic love is in the early phases of a relationship. It is characterized by euphoria and intense physical attraction, a lot of sexual interactions and so much thinking about the other that it nearly becomes obsessive.
Romantic love however tends to fade after a few years. Jobs, money, babies and all the challenges of life can get in the way. Mary and I then had to transition into companionate love. This type of love is more stable and predictable than romantic love, although it can be less exciting. However, when our second marriage began with our children, our bond became deeper, more comfortable and more caring.
What do you choose?
Research demonstrates that the happiest, most long-lasting couples are best friends: They choose to enjoy each other’s company. They also choose to laugh at each other’s foibles and peccadillos and choose to look to each other for emotional support. They also choose to spend leisure time together and choose to share many things in common. (I’ll explain why I keep saying “choose to” in a minute.)
The risk of companionate love is that partners may begin to feel too much like friends. What can we do to keep the spark alive and the romantic feelings flowing?
Our feelings come from our beliefs
So what do you do when your romantic feelings begin to wane (as they inevitably do at times). Realize this, and what follows began with Albert Ellis’s book, “A Guide to Rational Living” in 1961. This book is revolutionary because it was one of the first written by reputable experienced psychotherapists to show people how to deal effectively with their own challenges; a long time before other books such as, “Your Erroneous Zones and The Road Less Traveled appeared.”
Here is what Dr. Ellis discovered. Our feelings about our relationships and our partner do not primarily come from our relationships and our partner. Do you know where they come from?
They come from our beliefs about them.
This is reflected in some of the chapter titles from Dr. Ellis’ book; “You Largely Feel the Way You Think” and “Feeling Well by Thinking Straight” and “How You Create Your Feelings.”
Learning this became a turning point in our own marriage. We entered our marriage expecting recurrent romantic feelings continually and were perplexed (and admittedly concerned) when they did not. However, after I began studying the Bible and Dr. Ellis’ books and other books, I realized that my feelings toward Mary were significantly affected by what I was thinking about her. Another way to say this is that my feelings about Mary were coming from my beliefs about her.
What is so exciting was my discovering that when I chose to change those beliefs, the romantic feelings did return. However, they were no longer coming from my hormones; they were coming from what I was choosing to say to myself about Mary and our relationship together.
In other words, since our feelings about our partner do not come from the partner, but our beliefs about them, we can choose to change those beliefs and our feelings about them follow!
So when I am with Mary, I find myself choosing to concentrate on how pretty she is, or how fun, or how smart and I make a point of telling her this! She then responds and the romantic feelings follow!
We can also bring back the romantic feelings by choosing to insert fresh, exciting activities into our lives. This does not mean an expensive cruise ship to Italy. It might mean salsa dancing, trying a new restaurant, enjoying a TV program you have not seen together, taking a walk in the woods, or on the beach, or around your neighborhood. It might include trying a new spot for a weekend where you can concentrate on enjoying each other. It might mean simply telling the other person how much you like them.
And novel activities outside the bedroom tend to lead to greater romance inside the bedroom.
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent” and conducts “The Winners Circle” every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. Contact Steven at 480-5007 or go his website at stevenrcampbell.com to ask about his one-day free monthly seminar.