In the last two posts, we considered the oft repeated sentence, “I love you, but I’m no longer ‘in love’ with you.” Unfortunately, many stories that begin with that sentence end in divorce. The assumption is that if the initial passion, romance, and energy is gone then the relationship is doomed for a lifetime of drudgery. Given that fate, divorce does seem like the better option.
However, many couples have experienced a “lull” after the infatuated, chemically driven love of the early years dissipates and they’ve successfully found their way to the mature and deeper love that comes with intimacy, trust, and commitment. Not all couples will experience this lull. Some will successfully make the transition from attraction to satisfaction. However, many couples in our culture have very little training, modeling from their parents, or preparation when it comes to marriage, and they naively assume that the heart-throbbing romance of dating and newlywed life will keep their love alive forever. It will not. Love must be deliberately cultivated, carefully nurtured, and intentionally fueled or the fire will die.
How then can we keep love alive in our marriages even after the honeymoon is over and when real life has taken over? I believe there is great hope for couples to experience genuine, deep, and abiding love if they will do the deliberate work. Cruise control won’t work. Regaining and sustaining “that loving feeling” takes sacrifice, vulnerability, intentionality, and intimacy. But there are steps that we can take to experience relationships filled with excitement, anticipation, and eagerness even after some of the novelty has worn off. In fact, it can be better than we ever imagined possible.
Five Ways to Keep Love Alive
In the previous post, “What is Love,” we considered the nature and definition of what true marital love involves. While there are many types of love, and each type has its own significance, in its simplest form, relationship sustaining love is described by sacrificial, selfless actions that have the highest good of another at heart. Real love is to consider the best interest of another above oneself and to be devoted and committed to doing all that one can to promote that interest.
However, this does not mean that love is all task and duty and no fire and passion. However, the fire and the passion are often the results and the benefits from the devotion and commitment. Feelings follow your feet. Act first, and the feelings will come.
This is so counter cultural. We want to feel warm and mushy inside before we do anything. I can’t imagine Christ feeling warm and mushy for his church before he laid down his life for them. His sacrifice was not based on feelings. His sacrifice was based on a commitment and a promise. In marriage, our sacrifice must be based upon these things as well.
Again, this does not resign us to a “call of duty” kind of marriage. Marriage can be fun, exciting, sexy, energetic, anticipatory, and even a little ooey gooey. You can “feel” love for your spouse. Going back to our post two weeks ago, emotional bonding will raise your oxytocin and serotonin levels and make you very happy with one another and with life in general.
Furthermore, you can even feel “in love” with your spouse even if you’ve been married for decades. In fact, I would argue that the longer and stronger your relationship is and the deeper your intimacy grows, the more “in love” you’ll feel.
Here are five ways to keep your love alive and well for years to come.
1. Play Red light. Green light.
This is the classic child’s game of stopping when the light is red and going when the light is green. Here is my take on it when applied to marriage: Stop doing the stuff your spouse hates and start doing the stuff your spouse likes. Sounds simple enough, right? Why don’t we do it?
Because we love ourselves more than we love our mate. We like to do what we like to do, regardless of whether or not our spouse likes it. If it were up to us, we’d give ourselves green lights all the way to our destination. However, if we ignored the red lights, we’d be sure to crash. The same is true in marriage. We can’t ignore the red lights our spouse gives us. If we do, we’re sure to sap the life, energy, and romance out of our marriage.
So, if you want to fall back in love with one another, here’s two tips: First, discover what your spouse likes and do more of it. Second, discover what your spouse doesn’t like and do less of it.
Start playing this “game” immediately. Don’t even tell your spouse you’re doing it. See if he or she notices a difference in you after a week or so. See if you notice a difference in him or her after a week or so. Push the brakes on everything that bugs your spouse. Put the pedal to the metal on everything that makes your spouse smile.
Isn’t this the way it was when you were dating? No wonder you had such intense feelings for one another back then. Remember, in early love, actions often follow feelings because our hormones and neurochemicals are trying to hook us up. In mature love, feelings follow actions in order to reward us to stay with people who are good for us. So start by acting. Your feelings will follow.
2. Learn a new language.
While it might be relationally and mentally healthy to learn a new spoken language together, the language I am referring to here is your spouse’s love language. A “love language” is simply how you best express and receive love. It’s how you say or hear “I love you” in the language of you.
The “new language” that we must learn is the “love language” of our spouse. We are fluent in our own love language. It is what comes most easy to us when we wish to express love to someone. However, the best way to communicate our love to our spouse is not in our native love tongue, but theirs. You might say, “I love you” by sending her flowers. She may see flowers as a cop out. In her language, if you really loved her, you’d weed the flowerbed. We must speak love and affection to our spouse in the way that they find most meaningful and significant.
Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, is one of the best guides for understanding the different ways that people communicate love to one another. In his book, he identifies five separate categories of “love languages.”
- Acts of Service (doing things like weeding the flowerbeds)
- Words of Affirmation (saying things like, “You’re hot!”)
- Quality Time (Spending time together doing things you both enjoy)
- Physical Touch (Cuddling, holding hands, sex)
- Gifts (Giving items that say, “I was thinking about you and what you’d like.”)
While your spouse may like all of these things, he or she will like some of them more than others. And there will be one or two which really say, “I love you” to your spouse. Discover his or her language and speak it often.
3. Meet Your Spouse’s Most Important Emotional Needs
Emotional needs are those desires that, when met, leave us feeling satisfied and when unmet, leave us feeling empty. We all have various emotional needs, but we have only a few that we would classify as absolutely crucial to our happiness. Emotional needs that many people believe are most important to them include admiration, affection, conversation, family time, financial stability, attractiveness, recreation, help around the house, honesty, sex, etc. Everyone usually has about three to five of these needs that are especially important to them.These most important emotional needs are so strong that, when met by someone we’re not married to, they can make us feel so fulfilled that we can fall “in love” with that person. How much better it is for spouses to have these most important emotional needs met by one another in marriage and to experience these “in love” feelings for one another.
Ultimately, no human being on the planet can meet all of our deepest needs. Many of our deepest needs are spiritual and it’s an unfair expectation to expect our spouse to “complete” us. However, as far as we are able, it is the spouse’s role to discover and deliver when it comes to trying to meet his or her mate’s most important emotional needs. Even if we fall short, the attempt itself will create more loving feelings in us for our spouse and will certainly help create these feelings in our spouse as we do our best to make them happy. There is something to be said for the adage, “Happy wife, happy life.”
Similar to the issues surrounding love languages, we must be careful not to try to meet the needs that we would most appreciate being met, but the ones that our spouse would most appreciate being met. This means you must pay attention to your spouse. You must ask him or her questions and listen to the answers.
Do not underestimate the power of meeting your spouse’s most important emotional needs. You and your spouse can fall “in love” with one another, but not by focusing on romance and love. It will happen as a result when you focus on meeting each other’s most important emotional needs. When our needs are met by someone, our brains reward our emotions. This is nature’s way to encourage us to form bonds and connections with people who are emotionally good for us.
Do not underestimate the power of not meeting your spouse’s most emotional needs either.
4. Avoid “Love Busters”
Three separate times, in three separate books, by three separate authors, the Bible says that “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This means that there are offensive habits, words, or actions that “love covers.” Sometimes I get a little cranky. My wife loves me enough to just “cover it.” Sometimes my wife get’s a little snarky. I love her enough to just let it go. This kind of love is necessary in any family, church, or community. Nobody is perfect. Most of the time, we just need to be patient, loving, and gracious with one another and let love cover over our faults.
However, “love busters” are a different breed altogether. While love covers over a multitude of sins, “love busters” throw the covers off. “Love busters” are those things that people do (or don’t do) that destroy love. They make it impossible to live with someone who is not willing to change.
“Mistakes” can turn into habits. “Occasional offenses” can turn into regular occurrences. Getting cranky or snarky once in awhile can turn into a character trait and a personality style. When it comes to romance, nothing kills that lovin’ feeling as much as “love busters.”
Dr. Willard Harley, Jr, best selling author of His Needs, Her Needs, and Surviving an Affair, sees “love busters” as falling into six categories.
- Selfish Demands: Attempts to force the other to do something with implied threat of punishment if he or she refuses.
- Disrespectful Judgments: Attempts to change the other’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior by trying to force your way of thinking through lecture, ridicule, threat, or other means.
- Angry Outbursts: Deliberate attempts to hurt the other because of anger, usually in the form of verbal or physical attacks.
- Annoying Habits: Repeated behavior (mannerisms) that unintentionally causes the other to be unhappy.
- Dishonesty: Failure to reveal to the other correct information, or leaving a false impression, about emotional reactions, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future.
- Independent Behavior: Activities of a spouse that are conceived and executed as if the other spouse did not exist.
If any of the above “love busters” are alive and well in your marriage, then your marriage will soon be dead and gone. There is no way that anyone can feel “in love” with someone who is habitually committing “love busters.” Of course, people stay married for many years for many reasons, but they can forget about romance, passion, emotional intimacy, and relational excitement. “Love busters” are the boner killers of marital love. You must commit to identifying these love busters in your marriage, investigate their core motives and cause, and replace them forever if you hope to bring back love and keep it alive in your marriage.
- Replace selfish demands with thoughtful requests.
- Replace disrespectful judgments with respectful persuasion.
- Replace angry outbursts with self-control and accountability.
- Replace annoying behavior with self-discipline and train yourself to behave in ways that consider your spouse’s interests above your own.
- Replace dishonesty with complete radical honesty and complete transparency.
- Replace independent behavior with joint agreement between you and your spouse.
If you and your spouse love each other, but are not “in love” with each other, chances are there are some “love busters” taking root. Weed them out before it is too late. You can rekindle what has been lost and there is great hope for renewed love and affection between the two of you, but you must start today.
5. Hack your Neurotransmitters
We now come to a fifth way (and a fun way) to keep love alive in our marriages. This one is more about trying to return some of that “euphoria” of the early and more uncertain days of dating and courtship. Just because “mature love” is deeper, more satisfying, intimate, trusting, vulnerable, committed, loyal, transparent, and all of that jazz doesn’t mean we can’t still have some sizzle.
There are specific things that you can do to create spark and even get a little bump in norepinephrine and dopamine. No, we’re not going to be talking about buying sexy underwear, lighting candles, or massaging your partner with chocolate sauce, although there is a place for that. Remember, you can’t manufacture romance. Romance follows after you’ve deliberately applied the principles above.
You can, however, “hack” your brain chemicals. In my post, “Love, but not “in love,” I wrote extensively about these neurochemicals that tell the body how to feel and behave in certain situations. The neurotransmitters of norepinephrine and dopamine that are unleashed in our brain when we fall “in love” with a new suitor are the exact same neurotransmitters that are unleashed when we narrowly escape an automobile accident. They are also the same neurotransmitters that are unleashed when someone get’s up to speak publicly. This is why if feels so darn good once you’re into the flow of your speech, or after your recital is finally over. You’re on drugs.
Public speaking, according to every survey available, is the number one fear of people, right before the fear of death! Think about how you feel when you get up to speak. Your heart races. Your palms sweat. You have butterflies in your stomach. Your breathing gets shallow and rapid. You literally feel the same way you felt in High School when the girl you were “in love” with walked into the gym at the school dance.
So what if you could “hack” this adrenaline high that you get in uncertain situations in ways that connect them positively to your spouse? For example, what if you did Toastmasters with your spouse and you took the stage together to give a speech. You’d have the normal public speaking jitters, but you’d be right beside your spouse. Your brain and your body wouldn’t know who to blame for your crazy feelings of excitement, heart pounding, and shallow breathing. After a few times, your body will actually start to associate feeling good with being with your spouse, with or without the speech. This is what I mean when I say “hack your neurotransmitters.”
Here are some ideas:
- Do something new together: New challenges increase dopamine. Doing new things with someone else creates a sense of connectedness and bonding. Learn a new skill together. Take a class together. Go to a new restaurant. Try a new vacation spot.
- Do something daring together: Go on a rollercoaster ride. When you get off, tell your wife you love her. She will be awash in feel-good juice from the ride and her brain will attribute you and your words for making her feel so good. Next, go skydiving, cliff jumping, or mountain climbing. You may get addicted to the rush, and to each other.
- Do something creative together: Paint, craft, sculpt, make a movie, or play music together. Creativity ignites pleasure centers in the brain and gives us a sense of fulfilment and serenity. Hack into this feeling and let some spill over onto your spouse.
- Do something invigorating together: Running, working out, and playing a sport together releases testosterone in both him and her. You’ll find yourself having cravings for one another that you just can’t logically explain. Even your sweat will give off pheromones so powerful that you’ll be irresistable to each other.
- Do something sensual together: By sensual I mean something that involves the senses, like cooking. The smells, the tastes, the textures–it all increases your body’s sensory inputs and heightens your experiences. Mix all of these heightened sensations with bumping and brushing up against your spouse in the close proximity of your hot kitchen and you have all the ingredients for an amazing recipe of romance and excitement.
You can keep love alive. Your marriage doesn’t have to be routine. Monogamy does not equal monotony. Even if you’re among those who love each other, but are no longer ‘“in love” with each other, there is hope. Your love can mature into something deep, lasting, and far superior than the fleeting attractions that brought the two of you together.
But like anything worthwhile, it takes deliberate action and sacrifice. You can’t coast along and expect to be wild about one another in your twilight years. By following these five steps, you can keep your love alive and enjoy falling “in love” with your spouse all over again.