Romantic marriage is not an oxymoron. We can do this and what it requires is regular attention. Romance is like your car in some respects. If you do not change the oil and rotate the tires for example, the vehicle slowly loses its performance capacity.
By the way, romantic to me means a feeling that I have when I think of my spouse, which is a mixture of affection, love, appreciation, gratitude, irritation, (after all, no one is perfect) and desire, to name a few. To keep that feeling I need to remember what I am grateful for from Julie regularly, many times a day. That thinking pattern will keep my romantic appreciation alive. Romantic appreciation is definitely linked to the pleasure centers of my brain.
At times, I feel resentment, or hurt, or anger too. That is human, and the great humbler for me is that my wife feels that same mixture of feelings, also. I do not get to complain that her feelings are unjustified. That is not fair.
John Gottman,Ph.D. in his workshop called The Art and Science of Love, which is based on his 30 year study of couples, describes and prescribes exercises for couples to use to build a romantic marriage.
The tools are based on what the couples he calls the Masters of Marriage do fairly naturally in their interactions.
So romantic marriage can be built by doing exercises like Discovering Your Partner's Love Maps? Yes.
In fact, I have used those exercises as part of my work with domestic violence counseling referrals, in hopes of indicating to the folks involved that power and control can become mutuality, and I have watched folks involved in contentious interactions move quickly into some mischievious and playful kinds of interactions as they remember the answers to the questions.
The one thing that couples seem to forget is that without regular attention, regular practice, the relationship begins to sputter like a car that has some deposits in the fuel injector.
Romantic marriages sputter too.
Gottman can also predict with 96% accuracy how long a marriage will last based on the number of times he sees behaviors like stonewalling, criticism, defensiveness, and contempt, so it would appear that we are good at practicing anti-romantic marriage also.
Robert Epstein,Ph.D. has written just this past month in Scientific American Mind about how couples in India whose marriages are arranged by parents or marriage brokers achieve such longevity.
Epstein points out that those couples may have met once before their marriage, and yet their stay together rate is 95% compared to our 50% stay together rate using our romantic marriage model which involves the intervention of the Fairy Godmother to help get Prince Charming and Cinderella together.
Epstein says that those Indian couples grow together in intimacy and appreciation through regular practice of exercises like soul gazing and heart rate synchronization, and he says we can copy them.
Our romantic marriage can be attended to, steered, created, and modified frequently, which means even several times a day.
Frequent modification is what parents have to do. What worked with a kid in the morning may not work in the afternoon, and the parents may need to renegotiate their romantic marriage to accomadate parenting.
However, when couples do that frequent renegotiation, maybe with a square of dark chocolate or two, romantic marriage stays viable.
Helen Fisher,Ph.D. has done some very interesting work on romantic love and how it impacts the brain.
She says that brain based reward systems get turned on which flood us with hormones and neurotransmitters, which fuel the explosion of long phone calls, and pining poetry, and all night love making which are some of the hall marks of romantic love.
She says that humans fall into four basic personality types based on the natural presence of one or more of the hormones or neurotransmitters found in the romantic love stage, and that we should attempt to begin romantic marriage by finding a compatible personality to begin romantic marriage with.
This hearkens back to what Indian parents and marriage brokers do in arranged marriages.
They seek stability and compatibility first and foremost, and leave it up to the couples to build a romantic marriage.
Only in the U.S. are we going to study it and create a test for romantic marriage.
Having said that, we Americans are moving to the internet to meet potential mates at an increasingly rapid pace, particularly in the last quarter of 2009.
If you go to Chemistry.com, you can take Professor Fisher's personality quiz for a spin to see if it is a viable romantic marriage qualifier for you.
My favorite tool for helping couples to understand the need for regular practice of their romantic marriage skills is Heartmath, or heart rate variability biofeedback. You do need a computer to start Heartmath.
I have taught this easily learned skill individually to both partners in a marriage and then hooked them up to computers next to each other, achieve a coherent heart rate variability, and then hold hands to get an experience of the 'heart beat of the relationship'.
That heart beat is impacted very rapidly by the thoughts of both participants, meaning if one of them begins to fret about the unpaid natural gas bill, that partner moves out of coherence and if one partner is not coherent, then neither is the romantic marriage.
Couples get it that each thought they have impacts the heart beat of the relationship and that coherence, which feels really good individually and when it happens in the marriage, must be attended to.
Incoherence is not bad or good per se, but if I let the marriage heart beat become incoherent for too long, it will become a habit.
I suggest that couples time their incoherence, and which means they will have many more opportunities to activate those neural pleasure centers.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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