PASSION CAN LAST:
DR. GILDA CARLE (Ph.D.)
The heat doesn't always cool down with time. Here's how to keep things sizzling!
Courtesy of Match.com’s Happen Magazine
Carlo was an attractive man who had been married for 20 years. His kids were out of the house, so he could no longer use them as an excuse for remaining in his unhappy marriage. He forever complained that his wife was a hopeless bore, but he stayed — and had affairs. I asked him, "If you're so miserable, why don't you get divorced and marry the mistress you've had for the last eight years?" His response was not surprising: "Dr. Gilda, I know that if I married my mistress, she'd turn into another dull wife; our sneaking around keeps our passion going." I agreed that many people have illicit affairs and they remain married. Despite the obvious reasons for keeping a marriage intact, I wondered why people really continue to stay.
Helen Fisher's groundbreaking book, Anatomy of Love, was published in 1992. It taught us that romantic love can only last from 18 months to three years, at best. From the time her book came out, I've quoted these findings in my writing, my speeches, and my media appearances. But recently, I interviewed the author for another article I was doing. In our discussion, I recounted the 18-month to three-year limit she placed on romantic love. What a shock to hear her excitedly describe her latest findings that refute her former research!
The link between love and addiction
Fisher's team from the Department of Anthropology at the Rutgers Center for Human Evolutionary Studies scanned images of the brains of young couples who were madly in love and had been together for six months. Since more than 100,000 chemical brain reactions fire up each second, the group sought to determine how lovers' brains reacted to seeing a photo of their beloved compared to one of a stranger. In fact, the lovers' brains showed activity in the same region as the brains of people who were using addictive drugs, so the team likened romantic love to an addiction. Moreover, this addictive brain activity matched that of someone who had been dumped. So this would explain a rejected party going haywire in attempts to regain a lost love.
How long-term relationships affect brain chemistry
OK, so these were findings for the young lovers studied. Next, the researchers examined the brain activity for couples aged 40 to 65 who had been married for at least 20 years and were still wild about each other. After viewing their spouse's photo, each older person's brain showed vibrancy in the same region as the younger subjects had in the previous study. In addition, there were increased levels of the chemicals serotonin and vasopressin present. (Serotonin maintains happiness and serenity, and vasopressin affects monogamy.) So the major difference between the young lovers and the older ones was that the regions of the older subjects' brains associated with love anxiety were no longer active! The passion was still there, but accompanying that now was a sense of calm. The researchers concluded that when the obsessive suspense of new infatuation is removed, couples can continue to enjoy passion, alongside the vital ingredient of trust. Fisher's findings suggest that true, dependable love can last forever — but she warns that people must first select the right partner.
Preserving "positive illusions" about your partner
So is the habitual cheater, Carlo, correct in predicting a future of boredom with a new, different wife? Fisher cites research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology conducted by psychologist Marcel Zentner at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, who found that there is only one personality trait that will lead to a couple being able to enjoy the kind of sustained romance that Fisher's team observed: the ability to enjoy "positive illusions" about each other. Certainly, we've all heard long-married people characterize each other in such glowing terms that we wonder whom they're describing; this is the "love blindness" Zentner mentions in his study. Fisher deems this condition to be a gift from nature that enables partners to ride the waves of relationship crises together. Clearly Carlo lacks that "love blindness" in his own marriage, since he perceives his wife to be unappealing, boring and dull. On the other hand, my friend Bobbi describes her husband of 14 years this way: "Everything about him as a man excites me." To outside observers, Bobbi's husband drips food from his mouth when he eats, is 40 pounds overweight and he's often been let go from jobs because of his temper… but none of these traits faze Bobbi. After several years together, the couple's shelf life remains solid.
How to choose the right partner for you...
DR. GILDA CARLE (Ph.D.) is an internationally known psychotherapist, relationship expert, and product spokesperson. She is Match.com’s “ASK DR. GILDA” advice columnist. She is also known as the Country Music Doctor, with her “Country Cures.” She is a motivational speaker, professor of psychology & communications, the author of the well-known “Don’t Bet on the Prince!,” a test question on “Jeopardy,” NOW IN ITS SECOND EDITION, 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity, How to Win When Your Mate Cheats, and many more. She was the therapist in HBO's Emmy Award winner, "Telling Nicholas," featured on Oprah, where she guided a family to tell their 7-year-old that his mom died in the World Trade Center bombing. DR. GILDA is the Love Doc advisor for the off-Broadway show, “Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage!” She is currently developing her own TV show. Visit www.DrGilda.com and get her Instant Advice!