Keeping Your Love Alive: 4 Ways to Avoid Marriage Failure
Keeping the fires burning and the love alive in marriage may not come naturally. The new-love hormone, dopamine, begins to fade after the first year or two of relationship. What then? How do you keep love alive and your relationship healthy and vibrant?
Our brain, memories and emotion:
What makes us feel close to each other is the emotional memories that are recorded in our brains. A look or a voice tone can trigger past hurt or an experience of joy. Emotional memory does not fade with time. A 70 year-old can still feel the pain of being abandoned in childhood or the ecstasy of a first date.
The great news is that painful emotional memory can be replaced by new positive emotional experiences.
I find it fascinating the way our brains record memories. Certain aspects of an event, people, places and things, sit in one region of our brain. The emotional components of the experience are actually stored in a different region of our brain. Smells, sounds, and visuals are stored elsewhere.
Research has shown that the connections – the circuits – between the contextual memories and the emotional memories are impermanent or malleable. They can be changed. This is incredibly good news! There is a growing field of research on this “reconsolidation” of memories that gives hope to those suffering from debilitating trauma, grief and attachment injuries.
How can we use this little bit of brain science to avoid relationship failure? It’s not as difficult as you may think.
Here are 4 Ways to keep your love alive… and ward off the potentiality of marriage failure.
1. Recall and retell the magic.
When we recall a memory, we don’t simply remember the details of the event. When we press the “memory replay” button on our brain’s circuit board, stuff happens. Lights go off, bells ring, and smiley face emoticons appear on the brain’s screen.
The reality is, when we recall a memory, different regions of the brain light up, connecting contextual details with smells, visuals, sounds, and emotions of the event.
All of us have found ourselves lost in a magical memory. The entire experience can be relived in living and vivid color. I love to hit replay again and again and again. Sometimes we just can’t get enough. I laugh harder the second and third times around. My smile widens and my eyes brighten each time I recall my magical moments. And each time I relive and retell, I actually create a different memory. Like on a computer when we save our new file and replace the old. Our new file just keeps getting better and better.
Don’t ever stop recalling and retelling your magical stories. They are incredibly powerful in keeping you in positive, healthy, loving relationship.
2. Create new magical moments.
Are your magical memories few and far between? Has it been months or years since you’ve experienced anything worth recalling?
If you are waiting for the kids to grow up to begin your life as a love-crazed couple again, stop!!! It won’t happen. You cannot wait. Those who put couple-nurturing on hold end up in therapy or divorced. Don’t be that couple.
Stop re-doing the same “date night” week after week. unless of course they are amazing experiences. If they are not leaving you with replay-worthy memories, you’re doing something wrong.
Maybe you need to ride a ferris wheel or a horse or a motor cycle. Maybe you need to go skiing or bike riding. Tour a ‘for sale’ yacht and pretend it’s going to be your next home. Drive to the mountains or the beach.
Maybe you need to eat that ice cream sundae you haven’t allowed yourself in months. Forget your waistline for a night. Your relationship is worth it. One decadent sundae, two spoons and lots of napkins. Feed each other, close your eyes between bites. Take selfies while making a mess.
Give yourself permission to act like young lovers. The new memories will go a long way in softening the occasional bad mood.
3. Never miss a magical moment: stay present to each other at all times.
I wonder how many great moments in a day we miss because we are moving too quickly. Slow it down. Stop and smell the roses. Savor the moments.
Many of us move through our day so quickly that magical moments get lost in our busyness.
Do you savor the kiss you share before parting ways in the morning? Make it one that you can re-experience during your morning break.
Seriously, goodbye kisses don’t have to be unremarkable.
Cherish each compliment. Actually take it in, feel his words sift through your being. Where do you feel it in your body? Remember that physical sensation. Guys, experience the thrill of her commenting on your huge biceps or the amazing sale you just landed.
Slow it down, stay in the moment, be thankful. Be appreciative that your spouse still notices. When you stop appreciating, he’ll stop noticing.
Take in the sights and sounds of each other. How you each laugh and smile and smell. Treasure the intricacies of one another.
4. Repair the attachment injuries in real time.
Life is not a fairy tale…stuff happens. Sometimes our butts really do look big and he tells us so. Yikes! Bad days at the office can set the stage for an outburst at our evening meal. And kids, though most of us would say we can’t live without them, are occasionally just plain impossible, testing our tolerance beyond human limits.
We say the wrong things. And we get caught rolling our eyes or making obscene gestures. Or we raise our voices and stomp our feet.
We injure our spouses with our words and actions. When ignored, pushed aside, left un-dealt with, these unintentional hurts can be serious injuries to our attachment system.
When the moments are NOT “replay-worthy”… stop and fix them.
Don’t add bad experiences to your memory bank. Apologize, kiss and make up, talk it through. Change the ending! Yes, hit rewind and do it over. Fix it in the moment, before your Amygdala can even grab hold of the negative emotions. Letting attachment injuries go unaddressed is dangerous to any relationship.
It’s often hard to know when we’ve hurt our partner. What may be very painful to her may seem trivial to him, or vice versa. We must, in a loving way, tell them. Help them to understand. We can’t rely on their reading our minds. Slow it down! Listen to your beloved, really listen.
Feel his/her words. Imagine how your partner must feel, even though you might be feeling something entirely different.
Hit rewind and repair the hurt in real time.
Know when to get help.
Keeping love alive may not seem possible for some. Sadly, many have waited too long or suffered too much. When there is no love to keep alive or even rekindle, or attachment injuries are too painful, get help from a professional. Your marriage may depend on it.
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) is a scientifically validated form of therapy to heal attachment injuries and rebuild healthy, secure relationships.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a highly trained and experienced clinical psychologist, Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, CA, who, along with his wife Paula, co-authored Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. Dr. Regier helps couples heal, repair and restore the magic in their relationships.