April 17, 2024
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After Infatuation, What? Sustaining the Connection in Marriage

Many of us can recall the early stages of our courtship and marriage, when we were infatuated with each other and were the centers of each other’s universes. We were totally sensitive to our partner’s every action and word, to their every expression of feelings. Our connection to each other was so strong that it was as if we had blinders on and noticed not much else. After a while, though, life set in; we had to get up every morning to go to work, children came along and with them, sleepless nights and a perpetual state of exhaustion. Gradually, we found that our infatuation had diminished. Numerous researchers have shown that the state of romantic euphoria predictably burns out after 18 to 36 months (Levitan, 2013, Lucas, 2003). After this stage has passed, many of us find ourselves less attentive, more complacent with our spouses.

Does this mean that it is not possible to sustain a deep emotional connection with our husband or wife? That intense responsiveness and engagement have no place in mature love? I believe that the answers to these questions is a resounding “no” and “no.” In fact, such moments of deep emotional connection are not only vital throughout marital relationships, but they are, in fact, the hallmarks of happy, secure couples.

So, how do we sustain a secure bond with our partner? In order to do so, we must be able to tune into our loved one as strongly as we did before. But, while this was effortless in the early stages of our courtship and marriage, we must now be extremely mindful of this process. We cannot reserve our efforts for those few special dates on the calendar, such as our partner’s birthday or Mother’s or Father’s Day. Rather, on a daily basis, we need to, very deliberately create moments of engagement and connection.

What do “moments of engagement and connection” look like? Some therapists prescribe to couples that they make sure to have “date night” once a week or use “I statements” when talking to each other. These suggestions make sense; however, I believe that they do not get to what truly matters between marital partners. In fact, John Gottman, a psychologist who has conducted a great deal of research on marital satisfaction, has shown that happily married couples do not talk to each other in any more “skilled” or “insightful” ways than unhappy couples (Gottman, 1999). And couples who are taught effective communication skills often find that when they are in the midst of a fight or feeling angry or resentful toward one another, they cannot even recall these skills, let alone implement them.

Rather, the key to lasting love for couples is emotional responsiveness. In order to be emotionally responsive to each other, we must be accessible to our partners. We must tune into our partner when he or she is attempting to connect with us emotionally. This is sometimes easier said than done. For example, if a man tells his wife that he feels neglected because she is spending too much time on her work or with their children or on Shabbas preparations, she may feel hurt or insulted. If she becomes defensive, her husband will not feel heard and his insecurity about her love for him will go unanswered. However, if his wife is able to put aside her defensiveness, she will be able to understand and accept her husband’s need for attention.

The second component to emotional responsiveness is responsiveness. This means tuning into our partners and showing them that they can depend on us to respond to them emotionally. It means giving priority to our partner’s emotional needs and sending them clear and explicit signals of comfort and caring when they ask to be comforted by us. When we are able to give this attunement to our love partner, they have a felt sense of being held and are calmed. As a woman told her husband, “when I tell you that I’ve felt like a stick of furniture to you and you hold me tight, I feel like you finally get it.”

The final component of emotional responsiveness is engagement. This refers to the unique type of attention that we give only to our love partner. We show that we value them and want to be close to them by being emotionally present, gazing at them longer, touching them more. This type of emotional presence is what we want from our love partner and no one else.

So, while the infatuation that we felt in the early days of our courtship and marriage does not last very long, deep, emotional connection can and, in fact, needs to be cultivated throughout the course of our lives together if we are to have happy, secure marital relationships.

Laura Turk, MS, LMFT, LPC, NCC, is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She practices marital and pre-marital therapy in Teaneck, New Jersey. Contact her at [email protected] or by calling her at 201 823-7933. You can also visit her website at www.marriagecounselingbergencounty.com.

By Laura Turk

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