Can romance last?

25 11 2008

The popular notion that romantic love fades after you’ve been married a while is so pervasive in our culture that we almost expect it. Ask people if they think married couples who have been together for several decades can still feel the powerful feelings fore each other that they had as newlyweds and I’d bet that most people would answer an emphatic no.

Journalist Sharon Jayson of USA Today recently reported on some new research that is just emerging that may prove that you can maintain those strong feelings over time. A team of scientists including lead author Bianca Acevedo, researcher Arthur Aron, at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, and neuroscientist Lucy Brown of Albert Einstein College of Medicine used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to scan the brains of people who said they were in love after two-plus decades of marraige.

According to a presentation the team did at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., the brain scans of the people who had been married for a long time lit up in the same places as those of newlyweds. “If you ask people around the world whether romantic love can last, they’ll roll their eyes and say ‘probably not,’ and most textbooks say that, too. We’re proving them wrong,” says Helen Fisher.

This has major impact on stepfamilies, ladies. As I have said over and over again in my book, in radio and print interviews, our first priority is to develop a strong relationship with our partners. Why? Because the relationship between you and your husband is the weakest link in a stepfamily. Without maintaining that strong bond, you might as well sign the divorce papers now. Seriously. It’s that important.

So what are some things you can do to build a bond with your partner that can withstand the onslaught of stepfamily stress? How can you make your romance last?

Declare that you’ll always be newlyweds.
Arne and I did this early on. I know, I know. It sounds cheesy, but look! Now I have research to back me up! When one of our friends asked us how long we could call ourselves newlyweds, we answered, “Forever.”

Be civil to your spouse.
For a story I wrote called Civil Unions for Experience Life magazine, I interviewed P. M. Forni, PhD, author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct and cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. Here’s what he had to say: “Many people think good manners aren’t needed among family and friends, that manners are like a formal jacket that you only put on when you leave home. This is unfortunate, because by using good manners – which is to say by being polite, considerate and kind – you show that your respect and love for your spouse are not just empty words but rather a daily commitment to action.”

Go beyond the golden rule.
Dr. Forni’s advice was so good, I have to include another one of his ideas here. We’re taught to “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” as children, but there’s a problem. What I might want done unto me, might not be what my husband would want done unto him and vice versa. “Sometimes, for example, a husband may not have a clue that one of his behaviors is bothering his wife,” says Forni. “It doesn’t bother him, so from the point of view of the golden rule, he’s blameless. But he’s completely unaware that she has a different sensitivity.” Instead, listen to each other and found out how your partner wants you to show your love.

Take breaks from talking about stressful topics.
I mentioned this briefly in a post last week: Don’t let talking about the ex consume you and your partner. If you find yourself discussing bio mom repeatedly, reserve a specific time each week to negotiate issues that involve her. This is especially hard to do if you’re involved in a custody battle or fights over money as one reader commented on last week’s post. But if you’re in a high-conflict situation between households, this is important. A stepmom I interviewed for my book talked about how the first year of her marriage was so stressful due to a custody battle that she nearly didn’t make it to her first anniversary. Bio mom is not in your marriage. Don’t let her have that kind of power.

Spend time together.
This one is the most important. Need I say more?

So how do you make sure your bond with your partner is a strong one? What things do you do together? What rituals do you have? Share them with your stepmom sisters can we can benefit from your wisdom!

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