Maintaining a strong and enjoyable couple bond is very challenging. Maintaining a bond requires at least adult maturity (the capacity to satisfy two or more people at the same time) and a secure attachment. On the other hand, starting a new couple-bond is usually not that hard. We generally respond to anyone who looks healthy and shows signs of lighting up when they see us.
“Falling in love” might better be called “falling in joy.” Joy means we are glad to be together. This euphoric experience is one that stimulates the growth of our brain’s joy center. The glances, the gazes and the growing emotions of falling in love all describe joy building. Joy production is frequently called the “chemistry between us.” Most of the rest of “falling in love” is our fantasy about who we imagine our new partner will be. Usually, about 4 months later, the disappointments start as we discover that our new partner does not match our dreams.
The most real part of falling in love is the joy we build. This joy starts to form an attachment between two people but the real question is whether we can keep that joy. The stress hormone called cortisol is the natural enemy of new joy. Cortisol begins to wipe out our new joy any time we “fall out of joy” with our partner and do not get back to joy that same day. When you add cortisol overnight the “chemistry” starts to change.
One of the three things that determines our long-term enjoyment of a relationship derives from how we as a couple handles the “not glad to be together moments.” Since joy is being glad to be together then not being glad to be together is “anti-joy.” We dislike this anti-joy as much as we like joy. If we are still in anti-joy when we go to sleep, our bodies will circulate stress hormones overnight and erase any newly grown joy. This is our minds way of saying, “Don’t hold on to that joy. It did not end well.” So the first secret for “staying in love” is getting back to joy by the end of each day and every fight. There are six emotions that take us out of joy and we need help learning how to return to joy from all six. These six emotions are: sadness, anger, fear, shame, disgust and hopeless despair. You can read more about how to train your brain to return to joy in the “training the control center” section of this website. Returning to joy is also part of the THRIVE training.
The second secret to staying in love is to build some new joy every day. When people don’t return to joy they quickly stop building any new joy as well. There are many excellent ways to build joy but the best are eyes that light up to see us and a warm tone of voice.
Joy means, “I’m glad to be with you,” so the main problem with building joy occurs when I look at you and I do not like what I see. How can I be glad to be with you when you ____? [Fill in the blank.] To surmount this problem we need to see with our heart as well as with our eyes.
Anti-joy, also known as shame, is very useful in short doses because we are all capable of being noxious and unpleasant. We have our bad habits. We need to hear that when we do this-or-that, not even the people who love us want to be near us. Shame for two or three learning minutes is good. Shame overnight is badparticularly if we still do not learn that we are malfunctioning. To return to joy with a partner requires us to see who they really were meant to be and see their identity more solidly than we see the ways they malfunction. Then, when they get lost and forget to act like themselves, we can help guide them back to the person they really are. This means that we must see them through the eyes of our heart and always remind them look through their hearts also. (Munchies Vols. 3, 4 and 5.) No one can be glad for long to be with a malfunction. You can’t have a relationship with a defense mechanism. Our true joy is being close to real people who are acting like themselves. We must learn to see with our hearts if we are to encourage each other and return to joy. The third secret to staying in love is to keep heartsight clear and get quick healing for the times we each forget how to act like ourselves. Those who do not live in this spiritual way fall into resentment, accusations, blaming and criticisms.
The fourth big secret to staying in love is a growing sense of what it means to act like myself with my partner. It may seem strange that this is accomplished through story telling. When we tell what the Life Model calls “4+ stories” we synchronize our minds internally with our relationships externally. If some part of us or our relationship is out of tune we quickly find out and have a chance to fix it. Telling 4+ stories refers to the four levels of the control center plus our left hemisphere and is a major part of the THRIVE training. One important part of a 4+ story is telling what it is really like us to do when something happens that gives us emotions.Couples need to tell each other three stories about their day when they get home. This story telling about your life while you were apart goes a long way toward maintaining closeness during the day. Then couples need to tell three more stories before going to bed. This second set of stories is about things the two of you have done together in the past. These 4+ stories can include time with children or other people but they need to include the two of you. Consistently telling these six stories a day will produce a secure attachment. In thirty years you will still like being together.