More than once last year, I found myself completely smitten with a man and then, a month or two later, I’d have doubts and reservations about the relationship. I could chalk it up to being an introvert who doesn’t mind time alone or the fact that I’ve been through a divorce and am especially sensitive to relationship discontent but really I just want to know if long term love is possible. What does it take to make love last? Does it ever last?

Michelle Williams/Seth Rogan Take This Waltz

Michelle Williams/Seth Rogan Take This Waltz

In the movie, Take This Waltz, actress Michelle Williams‘ character, Margot, falls in love with an artist who lives across the street.  She strategically bumps into him whenever possible and gets the highest thrill from his words and presence.  Exciting? Yes, but she is married to Seth Rogan‘s character, Lou, during the dalliance. Spoiler alert* She ultimately breaks Lou’s heart. In the painful breakup scene Lou cries as he says, I thought you were going to be there when I died.  

Oh my God.

I’m not saying that because I never imagined Seth Rogan in a serious role. That was the saddest, most vulnerable, admission I’d heard in a long time. According to the movie’s director, Sarah Polley, the cameraman blinked away tears and the rest of the crew, director included, looked down as Lou’s (Seth’s) emotions poured out during the filming. As I watched Take This Waltz, my heart leapt for him but …my brutally honest inner -goddess understood Margot’s need for passion and novelty. I cried at the end of the movie because it brought up all the doubts I have about long-term love and it portrayed my biggest fear — hurting someone else.

An underlying message in Take This Waltz is, everything shiny eventually dulls. Stay with it or seek something new? How much dullness can you accept?  How much can be abated with love and effort?

The first kiss is magic.  The second is intimate. The third is routine.

                                                                                        ~ Raymond Chandler

I worry about that point of restlessness in a relationship.  How can you lessen the effects of hedonic adaptation — where we get so used to things that make us feel good that we stop noticing them?  According to a study mentioned in the New York Times article, New Love – A Short Shelf Life, newlyweds enjoy a happiness boost of about two years before they return to the level of happiness or unhappiness they were before the marriage. Two years!

How to keep the spark ignited?

Surprise = Better Than Variety or Stability

We’ve all heard about the importance of getting out and trying new things together and spicing up your sex life. There is proof of the advice’s validity.  According to neuroscientific experiments, surprise and novelty trigger more activity in the positive emotion part of the brain than stability. When something novel happens we pay attention and remember it. We have more powerful reactions which tend to keep us from taking things for granted.

One study mentioned in New Love – A Short Shelf Life, showed that women in long-term Lucy surprisedrelationships are more likely to lose interest in sex (and sooner ) than men. Why? Because our  idea of passionate sex is more directly tied to novelty. So, umm guys we may not be tired.  We may be bored.  Surprise us. I’m going to chime in with my two cents and say that surprise doesn’t have to mean kinky.  It could be a different time of day or a rendezvous in a new location (an unchristened room in the house even).

In a pre-emptive strike against dulling out, I’ve asked the significant man in my life if he’ll go on adventures with me. To be clear, an adventure could be a short road trip ending at a Holiday Inn Express in Wisconsin or a spur of the moment visit to an apple orchard. He’s on board so there’s hope. My fears were somewhat quelled months ago when he said (unprompted) that he likes to keep things new, do different things, as a couple.

Beyond Passion

Most love moves from passionate to companionate (a deep affection, connection and liking) according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The Myths of Happiness. In her book Dr. Lyubomirsky gives several ways to keep love alive including:

  • Truly listening to each other and showing admiration.
  • Appreciation. Count your blessings and don’t take a partner for granted.
  • Variety and novelty.  Mix things up to stave off hedonic adaptation.
  • More non-sexual touching. Sitting side by side. Shoulder rubs. Hand holding. Generates tenderness.
  • Positive energy. Thriving couples offer each other five times as many positive verbal and emotional expressions as negative.

holding pinkies tender loveMy current relationship is still new and shiny but I feel there is potential for continued passion and companionship.  We’ll have to make sure to surprise each other and keep up the non-sexual touching.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could maintain the happiness buzz past two years?