Why Does It Change?
In the preceding bonus section you read a sampling of theories on why you and your mate selected each other, and when you did, what happened if you followed the typical pattern of falling in love, or didn’t. This section explores what ensues when the inevitable bloom falls from the rose of the relationship and real life kicks in. After the wedding, not only do many couples experience a let down as all the planning, attention, and excitement formerly focused on them abruptly ends; but for some newlyweds, this post honeymoon period can be one of the most stressful they will face together. Assuming no premarital cohabitation, newlyweds must learn to live, day-to-day with the other and what might have seemed charming from afar, can become grating when two people have to share a bathroom, or even one living space. (Does he put the dirty dishes in the sink or the dishwasher, making you nuts?) . Even if a couple has lived together and are used to the mundane of daily life as a duo, bigger life issues in—work stress, illness, unemployment, pregnancy or infertility—arise and can tax even the best committed relationships. Let’s focus on why the euphoric phase ends and a good marriage depends on much more than having fallen in love and living together or saying “I do.”
Facing Lust’s Last Gasps
No matter how long you’ve been together as pair, it’s helpful to remember that your relationship must allow for growth and change if it is to prosper. The ancient sages told us that there is nothing more constant than change—and it’s true in most things, certainly people and their relationships. During a radio spot to discuss her book, Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget, Dr. Legato related a story that illustrates the epitome of marital growth and development. She had just sat through a professional lecture given by a brilliant, handsome, sexy, married man. She noted how the women gravitated to him and surmised that he must have endless opportunities to be unfaithful to his wife. Legato approached this man and asked how he managed to remain faithful given his circumstances. His answer so pleased Legato that she tells it to audiences everywhere. He said: “My wife has grown and developed and is always changing. I never take the same women to bed twice.”
Now, I’m not saying that in order to retain your husband’s fidelity you must become another person, but I do urge you to consider the implications of this statement as we look at how some mates are able to retain the vitality of their marriages over time, and some are not: and what makes the difference between the two. Normally character and temperament do not vary over the years (except as a result of mental illness or addictions); however, most people evolve or devolve with time. I have never encountered anyone who remained the same from their twenties till the time they reached their sixties. From my clinical experience, I’ve found that a key to maintaining an engaged, tight bond is to acknowledge the inevitable changes that partners will undergo over time, by nurturing a steady, supporting—yet accommodating—love between you.
If you think back to the time shortly after your courtship, you will probably agree that they were times of both great happiness and disillusion—at least that is what researchers have found. Those fabulous neurotransmitters (that enraptured you and your beloved, leading you to a committed relationship or down the aisle) disperse quickly. In fact, if two or three years elapsed between the time you met and the time you wed, those neurotransmitters of passionate love and longing were on their way out as you were selecting your gown. After that, if all goes according to nature’s plan, the attachment chemicals—vasopressin and oxytocin—will kick in and you and your spouse will be bonded together in a way that is special and pair-protecting, but not necessarily passionate, breath-taking, and enraptured. But as you know, not everything goes according to plan. Recently, Dr. Ted Huston and his Texas team discovered that the first two years of married life could predict whether a couples’ bond would grow into something satisfying or would end in divorce court before it had a chance to succeed. After studying newlyweds for thirteen years, they found certain signs that spelled trouble. Here are a few—think how or if they apply to you and your spouse.
The first warning that the relationship is headed for trouble is disillusionment and an overall decline in loving feelings between the couple. The second forecaster of marital collapse is a reduction in affection. The third predictor of nuptial doom is when a mate no longer believes that a partner is sensitive to his or her needs. The final sign that the relationship is headed for trouble is an increase in ambivalence about the marriage, showing an early lack of commitment to the union. Thankfully, scholars have done more than just observe the predictors of divorce; some have studied how to avoid the disenchantment that plagues so many couples in the first ten years of marriage or cohabitation. To avoid unmet expectations that can lead to dangerous levels of disillusionment, researchers suggest holding a positive global view of a partner (remember why you selected him as your mate), while recognizing the reality of who he is—and what a committed relationship entails.
The Calculus of Love and Marriage
Now let’s turn to what the scholars have learnt about love and its expression in people’s lives. Knowing what lies behind the kind of love you share with your partner will provide insight into your relationship and give you the intimacy edge over any would-be romantic rival. We’ll begin by counting the ways (or love styles) described by those who’ve dedicated their professional lives to studying the essence and expression of love and bonding.
Rubin’s Love/Like Scales
In 1970, Zick Rubin, Ph.D., inquired into the difference between liking someone and loving him or her. He concluded that liking someone requires esteem (valuing them as individuals because they are trustworthy, honest, caring, or considerate); whereas romantic love has three irreducible elements: attachment, caring, and intimacy. Attachment, in this context involves a desire for physical contact and a longing to spend time with the beloved. Caring means putting the needs of your beloved ahead of your own and having a desire to protect his or her welfare, even sacrificing yourself, if necessary. Intimacy is the drive for physical union and emotional and intellectual bonding with the beloved, including a desire to know all about him (his dreams, fears, aspirations, feelings, thoughts) and a drive to self-disclose core emotional and personal matters to the beloved in return.
Lee’s Loves Come in ColorsA few years later, John Alan Lee, Ph.D., released his seminal colors of love theory providing a model of six different love styles in which one expresses love to a person. Lee found that there are three primary love styles (eros, ludus, and storge); and three secondary love styles (mania, agape, and pragma) that reflect some combination of the primary styles. The characteristics of each love style and its assigned color is listed below:
Review Lee’s colors of love to see which love style best describes you and your partner. Interestingly, fifteen years after Lee first published his color of love theory, he said that love styles are, “not like horoscopes” noting that a person’s love style will often change over time, depending upon his circumstances and personal history. For instance, a ludic lover in college might be an erotic lover when he matures, much the same way a storge lover might become an agape lover over time. Even if they seem simplistic, Lee’s concepts have stood the test of time and have been verified by many other researchers as accurate descriptions of the way people do express themselves to those they love.
Sternberg’s “Triangulation of Love”
A Yale professor, Robert J. Sternberg, Ph.D., theorized that love involves three ingredients: intimacy, passion, and commitment, and described six different types of love expressions, differing to the degree that intimacy, passion, and commitment are either present or absent in various combinations. Look at the following list and compare Steinberg’s love formulas to your own and your partner’s.
Much like Lee, Sternberg believes that the expression of love between lover and beloved can change over time and that people must take action to get the love (levels of intimacy, passion, and commitment) and affection they want. He also believes that we pair off most successfully with those who meet our love narrative. So, whether we believe in fairy tales or horror stories, we tend to pick our lovers to match the lead characters in our psychological love dramas.
Linking Attachment with Love Styles
Researchers and scholars have conducted numerous experiments and have written thousands of papers suggesting much of our adult behavior in relationships has its origins in how we perceived our mothers (or caretakers) and ourselves when we were toddlers. Love experts have accumulated evidence that demonstrates that the way we relate to others, in fact the way we love—our love style, if you will—is deeply influenced by how we were attached to our caretakers as infants and toddlers.
Here is the basic theory on human development and attachment as conceived by John M. Bowlby, Ph.D., and his student, Mary D. S. Ainsworth, Ph.D. Infants are totally dependent upon their caretakers to meet their needs. If a baby is able to count on mom to come when called in times of distress, it gives the child confidence in mom’s ability and willingness to provide comfort again, whenever needed. Feeling secure (or having a safe base), this baby feels at ease venturing out to explore the world, knowing that mom is available when and if she’s needed. Over time, the baby, securely attached to mom, gains an ability to regulate his own emotions (is able to self-soothe), as a consequence of mom’s constancy. When the process goes well, the securely attached infant forms a positive internal working model (IWM) of how the world is organized: mom is reliable, baby is secure and forms a positive concept of self and others. But what of the mothers who were not dependable or consistent caregivers? The attachment theory predicts that their children became insecurely attached (either ambivalent or avoidant). The difference between the two types of insecure attachments is that the “ambivalently attached” insecure kids tend to be clingy and dependant and constantly attempt to provoke mom’s attention, and then turn away from her. The avoidant or dismissively insecurely attached kids tend to be independent, showing little interest in the mom who’d let them down before. And what does this mean to humans twenty to sixty years later? A lot, judging by the results of studies over the last two decades. According to the work in the labs and in the bedrooms across America, the level of your infantile attachment directly affects the quality and strength of your intimate relationships.
Marital Needs in a Nutshell “Mutual attraction and sexual interest can get couples together, but, if partners fail to satisfy each other’s needs for comfort and security, dissatisfaction will likely result.” Cynthia Hazan, Ph.D. and Phillip R. Shaver, Ph.D., leading researchers in the area of attachment and love styles.
So what does attachment theory mean to you, your mate, and your relationship? It provides you with more information to assess your situation, perhaps providing some insight as to why you and your partner behave the way you do. Here’s what we’ve learned: avoidant (dismissive) insecurely attached adults show a propensity to become ludus lovers (the game players, uncommitted, not looking for anything that would promote closeness or any possibility of dependence). Also, not surprising, adults categorized as ambivalently (or anxiously) insecurely attached are often dependent and clingy and tend to become manic lovers. Finally, to no one’s surprise, those securely attached as babies tend to have a positive self concept as adults, believe others are capable of meeting their needs, and tend toward erotic and agape love styles. In any case, identifying the unconscious attachment injuries from childhood—and the resulting relationship-sabotaging effects—can help you and your partner reach understanding and find recovery and, ultimately, a better relationship than you ever thought possible.
Changing Attachment Styles
William James once said: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that man can alter his life simply by altering his attitude of mind.” Similarly, insecure attachment styles (whether ambivalent or avoidant) can be overcome through subsequent positive experiences or conscious work on the issue. Without insight into to the problem, lovers can suffer needlessly due to how they were treated as toddlers. With knowledge as to why they act and feel as they do, people with insecure attachment styles can learn a new way of relating, creating a positive internal working model about themselves and others, eventually accepting their innate worthiness and the reliability and trustworthiness of others who love them.
©2007-2015. Marie H. Browne & Marlene M. Browne. All rights reserved.