Is There Love That Lasts a Lifetime?

The short answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!"  A million times over, “Yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!”

So why does there seem to be an ever-growing plethora of terms such as:

"divorce" 

"starter-marriage" 

"conscious uncoupling?"

The Western-World culture has been answering this question with a common theme that has, in my strong opinion, been totally off-mark. Most of the advice offered has to do with finding someone that is “compatible” or techniques and tools for better communication and interaction. Finding someone who shares common values and ideologies is important, for sure. And, no doubt, the majority of people in our culture are accustomed to interacting with others in a communication style that is fraught with overtones of sarcasm, manipulation, and narcissism. However, there is a pervasive mindset that has far more to do with failing relationships.

In the 1960’s, as science began to be more involved in scientific fields such as: neurology, psychology, psychiatry, and sociology, a researcher by the name of Dorothy Tennov was attempting to further understand and describe what happens when someone “falls in love”. The word love, itself, didn’t seem to suffice. One might love pizza, love their dog, and love their fiancée. However, those three uses of love carry meanings that are obviously very different. She needed a term that differentiated this concept from other common uses of the word, so she coined the term:

 
limerence1.png
 

Haven’t heard of limerence before? You’re not alone!

A few years ago I was attending a conference on marriage. The vast majority of the audience of 400 or so was made up of professionals such as therapists, psychologists, counselors and social workers. Dr. Patricia Love (her actual name), a nationally recognized relationship expert, was the keynote speaker. Her speech that day kept referring to this other type of love but not once did she use the word limerence. I kept thinking to myself, “surely she knows the term”! So, at the close of the session, I made my way to the front of the room and introduced myself and thanked her for her important speech. Then I asked her why she never used the term “limerence”. Her reply: “Most of these people wouldn’t know what I was talking about”.

That reply has continued to trouble me, although I have to agree with her. It’s so troubling to me because, over the past 4 decades there has developed an overwhelming body of research on the subject. I strongly encourage everyone who intends to engage in a couple relationship, or anyone who has done so, to look into it! I just did a quick “google” of the word and came up with over 200,000 entries.

I’m not going to take the time here to go into detail on how neuro-transmitters are not in their normal state during limerence. I also won’t elaborate on how someone in limerence tends to behave practically identically to a cocaine addict. I won’t take the time to expound on how limerence seems to “trick” us into thinking we are getting someone totally different than what we actually get. Limerence is not a bad thing. It is just a human phenomenon that most people will experience, through a period, at least once in their lifetime.

What I want to focus on here is the fact that limerence runs a course that doesn’t last. The typical term for limerence is only about 6-18 months. In uncommon instances it lasts for up to 3 years and, occasionally, it can even last 5 years. Many want to know how to make it last longer than the basic 6-18 months and the answer is a pretty straightforward formula: To make limerence last longer, stay away from the one you are in limerence with. (I have yet found someone who has been successful in applying this formula)

In simpler terms, limerence is the illusion of being fully accepted… the basic reason we seek out a mate in the first place. The reason limerence is so powerful is because we have such a strong, innate drive to be accepted. When we believe we are accepted, whatever or whomever supplies that belief becomes irresistible. 

But, eventually, we discover that they have flaws and issues, and they discover the same about us. And so, the limerence begins to fade away, providing fodder for numerous songs and poems with phrases like, “you’ve lost that loving feeling” and “trying to get the feeling again”.

So here’s what it all boils down to: 

 
limerencelove.png
 

Sure, it feels great but it goes away. Real love CANNOT go away. If you truly love someone, that love is not based on how they make you feel. It is something you choose to do. Sometimes you have to recommit to that choice several times in one day. Someone who loves their child does not refuse to change their dirty diaper simply because they’re not “feeling it”.

Now the good news: There are couples who have lifetime love, who love each other more after 50 years of marriage than they did back during the honeymoon. This love is a much more profound love than two people who are in the throes of a wild affair. (By the way, there are recent studies that indicate many couples who have been married for 30+ years have similar neurotransmitter proportions to those who are in limerence) This love has been through some deeply troubling times together. This love has shared decades of events that have laid bare most of the facades, insecurities and warts we all try to hide. And the biggest reason it is so strong is that there is no longer an illusion of acceptance… the acceptance is real.

WTB? (Why The Blog)

A while back I was checking out a rental car at the Nashville airport. I was on business so I was paying with my business credit card. The young lady at the counter looked at the credit card and asked me what kind of business this was, so, I explained to her that I work with marriages. 

Her eyes grew wide. She didn’t utter a word, but fairly shouted with her look: Ah hah! At last, someone credible who can confirm that I’m right in my debate with my relative/friend/co-worker/significant other.

Sure enough, she said, “So, let me ask you a question. What do you think about people living together before marriage?

From that point, I could have written the script. I have an elevator speech for many such topics, and wasn’t three words in when she interrupted: “Tina! Come listen to this guy. He’s a marriage expert. I just asked him what he thought about living together.”

Tina, her co-worker, sidled down the counter and stood with her arms crossed, while a familiar-looking wave of emotions – curiosity? skepticism? hope? – flashed across her face.

Me: “Let me guess. You’re both living with someone, but you’re not married.”

They nodded in unison.

“And your parents are telling you it’s wrong.”

Yep.

Me: “Okay, without getting into the moral question, there’s a lot of data on the topic. And the scales just don’t tip in your favor.”

The first young lady spoke: “But that doesn’t make sense. You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive. Why would you make a lifelong commitment to marriage without really knowing what it’s like living together?”

I didn’t have the time, nor did I think I would have changed their made-up-minds in the moment, so I simply replied, “You should google the research on the subject. You will be very surprised!” 

In my experience, this example is indicative of the vast majority of our culture. It’s not that people don’t want to do relationships in a healthy way. People just assume that the cultural norm is intellectually and scientifically superior to all the ways of the past. Instead of keeping what is good from past ways and culling out what is not, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. We believe that the new mindset and practices are the result of moving toward greater enlightenment. 

At the same time, I am not an advocate for “going back to the old ways”. Many of the old ways were wrong. For example, it is good that we get away from practicing the sexism of our forefathers. However, much of our “moving forward” is not based on truth, as many would like to believe. A great deal of the way our culture goes about coupling is, at best, making assumptions that are vaguely correlated with empirical evidence and, more often, harmful concepts that have gained credibility simply because so many people are doing them. On the other hand, most of the voices that attempt to counter these harmful practices end up sounding more like irrational fear or clinging to tradition for the sake of tradition. The result is an increasing polarity of two opposing camps that are both losing out because of the blindness that is so often the result of efforts to discredit the other side, instead of trying to learn.

My hope is that this space will become part of a growing voice that actually wants what is best for us.

So, please engage in the conversation! But, please don’t use this space for ranting or vilifying others.