Every sad couple out there were once in love.
Full of longing and infatuation, desire to undress and be touched. To lay awake and watch the other sleep, this miraculous person who infused life with meaning and physical and spiritual pleasure.
But “limerence”, the biochemical processes in the brain when we fall in love, which releases norepinephrine, dopamine, phenylethylamine, and gives us that drug-like arousal, only lasts so long.
Usually, at the six to 24-month mark, romantic euphoria slips away … the honeymoon is over. But with the help of attachment hormones, vasopressin and oxytocin, a more settled kind of love kicks in. The time has come to shop for couches.
And then life happens. Careers, kids, in-laws, addictions, re-financing. He changes. Or you do. Some couples grow apart. We all become less infatuated, less sexually interested. And this, biochemically and anthropologically, is normal. It’s only Hollywood that told us different. That love was supposed to be all consuming, everlasting and orgasm-inducing until our final breath.
In reality, our relationships are unlike our Instagram posts. We do not always smile or hold hands or look sexy. Behind closed doors, there are no filters. And half of our relationships don’t make it.
Once someone in the partnership feels unloved or unrecognised, the relationship is under threat to outside forces.
What are the red flags that your relationship is heading that way?
- When you no longer kiss on the mouth every day. A sensual kiss says, I am still in love with you. You are more than a co-parent, a co-inhabitor.
- When you spend more time pointing out what they haven’t done opposed to what they have. Dr John Gottman of the University of Washington, a foremost expert on couple studies, considers chronic criticism one of the “Four Horsemen”, four ways of interacting with your partner that sabotage your relationship.
- The qualities that originally attracted you to the person now repel you. What was once endearing, such as his fondness for Edwardian architecture, is now so, so boring.
- Repetitive arguments. If the same fight keeps cropping up, tend to your damn soil. Although conflict is part of any long-term relationship, be aware of intensity and frequency.
- When, actually, you’d rather just read a book. And he would prefer to play Warcraft. Every night. The last time you orgasmed while looking into each other’s eyes was before jeggings came out.
- Differing financial values and the stress incurred from consumer debt and partner materialism.These are a top reason for divorce. So, like, does this mean I should curb my eBay addiction? Jeffrey Dew, from the National Marriage Project, found: “Couples who reported disagreeing about finances once a week were over 30 per cent more likely to divorce over time than couples who reported disagreeing about finances a few times per month.”
- Infidelity. Just don’t.
- When Netflix has replaced late night conversation. And dirty talk is literally about dirt. As in, who did the laundry last, took out the garbage, cleaned the bathtub.
- Name-calling, sarcasm, shouting, and ridicule are de rigueur. After 20 years of research Dr Goffman concluded that the worst of the “Four Horsemen” and the single, best predictor of divorce is when one or both partners show contempt in the relationship. Be wary of invalidating feelings, focusing on the other’s wrong doing, not separating an individual from their behaviour and making universal statements, e.g. You always come home late. You never stop nagging. BTW: The remaining horseman are “defensiveness” and “stonewalling” (withdrawing, shutting down).
- When the word divorce appears in your mind. How, you ask yourself, might my life be like without him or her? Chances are, if you have started thinking this way so, too, has your partner.
- Frequent sexual fantasies about someone else. Particularly if this someone else is a person you know, whom you communicate with regularly, and has given you hints that they may be thinking the same thing. Warning! Warning! Warning! See point 7.
- When your gut tells you it’s over.
If you have more red flags than a Chinese military parade, remember, no relationship is perfect. It’s the not-perfect bits that teach us, and help us grow. Despite indicators of couple breakdown, if both partners are willing, every relationship can be repaired. For most, it’s worth it. Fight for your relationship with the same totality as when you first fell in love.