What Makes Love Last?

Very often, the most important people in our lives become neglected because we are busy with other factors in our lives. We become so focused on what we want, that we totally lose sight of what others need.

For example, we want security and a happy, memorable family life full of love and laughter.  So, we focus on having a beautiful home as the base for our family, followed by vacations to make memories doing exciting things. In order to take vacations or to have a beautiful home (and do mundane things like paying the bills associated with the home), we have to make money. So we become focused on career and making money. Sometimes we need more education for our career, so we become more focused on education. We slave day and night towards certain end goals, not realizing they are slipping further away because we forgot the most important thing of all – Nourishing the relationships which are an integral part of our goals.

This happens whether you are focused on money, career, education, or even being at home with children attending to their needs. In the end, the person we love the most can often feel neglected and begin to question all means to every end. This can create a life of hopelessness, chaos and the feeling that there is an empty “need” inside which must be filled. Even worse, some people turn to other people or other unhealthy habits to fill the emptiness.

The only thing that will fill the emptiness is to focus, again, on the relationships that made you want to begin this natural life spiral that is the foundation of human existence. We are tribal beings. In forming our tribe, we create a safe space; A haven of existential tranquility where we can create, build, raise children, survive, be loved, accepted and needed.

man and woman holding hand walking beside body of water during sunset
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The Normal Progression of Romantic Love

For some people, this tribal familial need is more intense. Even as infants, we begin to seek those who affirm our boundaries, mirror our value and worth and prove our existence is meaningful. Psychological experts refer to these infantile qualities as “proximity-seeking”. We seek the comfort of our caregivers, our mothers, our fathers, our guardians. When the needs of a child at this age are not met, it can lead to lifelong attachment disorders. A neglected child is inadvertently told that their needs are not worthy or valuable.

Children of a very young age who are not given appropriate caregiving measures may develop a negative psychological pattern that they have no worth. As a result, a lifelong struggle will ensue with this individual floating through life desperately trying to please others, to prove their value to themselves and to others, and to experience rejections by others on a trajectory that may seem to wound them to the very soul where for those who had a normal, healthy childhood would have such rejections just graze across the surface as a shallow scratch. Some may consider these people “mentally tough”, but in reality, they likely either had a normal childhood where their needs were met or one where their needs were overly met so they became dismissive and callous. There are extremes to everything.

For those experiencing attachment issues resulting from childhood, new possibility will be awakened when they are old enough to discover romantic love.

stack of love wooden blocks
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Constructs of Love and the flaws that end it

By most psychological models of love, it begins with sexual attraction. Relationships are  desired to stave off the ache of loneliness. New love brings fresh promises and is full of all the novelties that come with exploring the world of a new human being. Everything about love is exciting. We are launched into someone else’s world, meeting their friends and family, experiencing new music, movies, experiences, and things we’ve never known before. Some become addicted to the high of this “new-ness” and end up feeling disappointed, bored, lonely, frustrated and hostile when the feelings begin to fade. The more thrill-seeking the personality, the more potential that when the person falls out of love, it will happen with a crash.

Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg developed a very comprehensible model of love that condenses love into three distinct foundational blocks:

Passion is the sexual attraction, the physical chemistry that compels gratification in closeness.

Intimacy embodies the emotional feelings of warmth, sharing and communication.

Commitment is defined as our willingness to protect the relationship.

Consummate love is the defining term that embodies all three.

Inevitable of all relationships, passion and sexual attraction will wane. That does not mean it will completely disappear, but sexuality never encompasses the true core of a steady relationship. In times of stress, preoccupation or periods of disenchantment, it will sometimes be one of the first things to go.

Interestingly, the sexual relationship is sometimes marketed as being one of the most important factors in a marriage. Many a lingerie store has used advertising aimed at “spicing up” a tired marriage. However, it is only part of a whole. It can be argued whether or not it is the least important factor for lasting love considering it’s so purely physical. In time, these physical responses are dulled and become less important to aging couples. Yet, marriages still end all the time over sexual issues.

Intimacy also comes and goes to a degree, but should never vanish completely. It is important that communication remain open and that couples set aside time to communicate, even when it is the last thing they feel like doing. Studies have shown that high on the list of reasons for women to divorce is lack of communication and decreased emotional intimacy. Much social commentary would have you believe men are not very communicative individuals. The truth is, men and women communicate very differently. Generally, social matters and relationships are valued more by women than by men. Men who communicate regularly with their wives will generally have longer-lasting relationships. Wives who communicate kindly, gently and in soothing tones will have more successful marriages. When conflict is managed gently, both parties benefit.

Commitment. The saddest thing of all is when someone realizes that they are not committed to a relationship. They decide they no longer feel that there is something there to protect, defend and to fight for. They no longer feel that their spouse is worth this commitment. Whatever once made them think their relationship was special now makes them feel like they are holding a handful of valueless coins they just want to drop.

Certain types of people only find value in a relationship when there is novelty and excitement. They are easily bored people. Nothing their partner did has necessarily been wrong – They just don’t value human commitment in the same way. They will continue to move from person to person and likely regret this decision as their virility fades, their looks disappear and they become less attractive to potential suitors. They haven’t found contentment in familiarity and can’t let down their wall enough to be securely attached in a caring relationship with another human being. The novelty is gone. The thrill is gone. They turn their attention elsewhere, feeling unfulfilled. Twenty relationships down the road, they’ll still feel empty.

If you are with someone like this, there is not much you can do but count your losses. The painful thing about relationships is that even people who seemed to have the same goals in mind as you as far as building a long-lasting relationship will say absolutely anything in the beginning of a relationship to perpetuate the “high” of new love. It is only after a period of years where familiarity sets in, that they will admit a true long-lasting commitment is not what they wanted after all. They just wanted the adrenaline rush and thrill of new love. When it’s gone, so are they… And sometimes, they don’t even realize this about themselves yet and will attribute the normal watering down of excitement to your faults, making you feel unworthy of true love. So many people get bored and fail to  grasp the reality of inevitable relationship decline when it happens.

Relationships can end for so many reasons, including outside pressures (friends, family, etc.), irreconcilable differences in these areas, financial and economic hard times or when thrust into toxic environments which are unfriendly to relationships.

What makes love last

After ‘New Love’ fades., those who have success in marriage are cognizant of a lot of important things:

  1. They understand everyone is a little stupid in the first three years of a relationship – Blinded by new love, guided by sexual attraction, the thrill of not being lonely, the novelties of romance. It’s probably the worst time to make promises, yet it’s the time when most promises are made. Love has been found to have similar effects on the brain as cocaine.
  2. They get that relationship platitudes are unrealistic. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, “Never go to bed angry”, etc. don’t really mean much but they sound nice coming out. You always hear these on news stories when couples celebrating crazy high anniversaries are blindsided by reporters with questions.
  3. They know their partner may not be perfect, but neither are they. They are humble and thankful that their partner puts up with all their bad qualities. When you put yourself in the other person’s shoes and look at yourself – Maybe you snore, chew too loudly and listen to music your partner hates, too.
  4. They know the stages of love and aren’t depressed that love changes because they realize new love is replaced by a more permanent love based on companionship, their ability to be themselves and that someone is real enough with them to annoy them by the loudness of their own reality.
  5. They are faithful and quickly cut down anything in their lives that may be a threat to their relationship and avoid toxic people, toxic environments, etc. that would most certainly lead to the demise of their relationship. They avoid the overly flirtatious women and men, are open and honest about their lives so their partners have nothing to question and stay out of environments and away from people that encourage cheating or disrespect to their spouse. If they have chosen a life with this person, they also know sometimes that means cutting out family members who intervene.
  6. They are financially honorable and are aware that economic downturns happen and aware of the stress they can cause to family life. They do not take stresses from finances out against their spouse. They spend responsibly and conscientiously in regards to the needs of the family.
  7. They refuse to let their job stress affect their relationship. While their job may stress them out, they do not lash out at their spouses or give them the silent treatment. They learn to respectfully explain why they are disgruntled in a way that allows their spouse to know that they do not own a share of the hostility.
  8. They communicate. They talk about the big issues that destroy relationships and aren’t afraid. They aren’t the type to chronically sweep problems under a rug and hope they go away. They would rather discuss things in the open with their spouse, talk solutions and act on solutions rather than hide problems away until they become too problematic to be ignored.
  9. They understand the value of a romantic gesture. They do understand the importance of reassurances and checks and balances. They do not just tell their partner “I love you” – They show it in any means necessary. They add color to their partner’s life in little romantic ways and understand the need for surprise and how to replace the waning excitement of ‘new love’ with the surprises of established love.
  10. They have a sense of humor about life, their faults, your faults and are not condescending or rude. They do not gaslight, blame, keep records of wrongs or scorecards. They treat every day with you as a fresh slate.
  11. They are honest and trustworthy. When someone is trustworthy, they build a reputation with you based on truths. Every time they keep their word, your faith in them increases. When they do not, your trust decreases. Those in long-lasting relationships know it’s better to be honest than facetious.

And here is the catch – Not one, but BOTH partners must abide by the above. This is why long-lasting relationships are so rare and beautiful to witness.

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