Against all odds, and with the stress of a decade of two children, a mortgage and a demanding career – I am very much in love with my wife. This is more than enough time and impetus for the rose-coloured glasses to come off and the honeymoon to be well and truly behind us – and yet somehow this unlikely love continues to bloom and blossom, blossom and bloom. So what’s the trick, I ask myself?
The truth is I don’t know and the whole thing makes no sense to me, but I have been attempting to understand what makes our relationship work of late so I can keep doing it. It seems to me that what we mean when we think of the state of ‘being in love’ as opposed to simply loving someone (like your friend, mother or sibling) is in many ways a kind of enchantment.
When it’s fresh it is thoroughly intoxicating and our brains light up in very similar ways to what happens to people in the grips of an addiction or peaking on a substance like cocaine. The depth of trust, intimacy and connection that comes with time is of course the maturation of that process, yet we also yearn to keep the magic of that enchantment alive.
The Enchantment of Love
It does feel like my wife and I have been choosing to hypnotize our selves into a state of love, lust and laughter for the last few years – so consciously casting the spell may be a prerequisite.1
One of the central ingredients in the cauldron of my intoxication seems to be playfulness. Married life is full of drudgery – dishes, bills, laundry … the list really is endless – but in order to consistently immerse oneself in the full love bubble of a second honeymoon I find a little fun every day to be a crucial component.
Play-full-ness is about novelty and the unexpected – it’s the adult version of peekaboo and it delights and shocks us back into connection and the moment. It is the nemesis of “choredom” and apathy.
From a neurological perspective perhaps this is because play stimulates MAO inhibition in the brain which then allows the bond-forming love molecule of oxytocin to stay around longer – either way it works for us.
Play is also the first rung on the ladder of flirtation and seduction I feel, and something my wife Maya and I do with free abandon is to shamelessly flirt with each other every day. It’s so much fun and doesn’t need to ‘go anywhere’ other than producing a little hit of positive brain chemistry.
Personally as a libidinous man I suspect I would be up for daily sexual encounters – but the realities of family and work mean this just isn’t going to happen. Flirtation and little micro-doses or erotic tension however go a very long way to maintaining the polarity and keeping the spark alive.
It’s all on the same continuum of playfulness in my mind and it feels like a foundation stone that our love rests solidly upon. Having our own ongoing private jokes about just about anything keeps us laughing, especially about the things that would otherwise make us cry, or lead to a fight.
Sex definitely dispersed the tension that constant comprise inevitably builds and reboots the bond too – but playfulness also functions this way. We are joke-making monkeys – and that’s one of the ways we stay in deep relationship.
Skin to Skin contact
The other trick appears to be regular skin to skin contact in any form – regardless of whether it’s a cuddle, a tickle fight, a massage or sex. From a medical perspective this is what builds the oxytocin that bonds people together – so if you don’t want to bond with someone don’t rub your skin against them regularly or for long periods of time.
Obviously as the years roll by you need to keep finding new ways to do this which can be challenging and confronting when it comes to sex – but its so worthwhile and it’s a subject others have written on deeply, so I’ll move on.
The last point that I have been able to identify is giving the gift of ‘otherness’ to your partner. By this I mean not turning them into a 3rd leg, handbag or extension of your self. Otherness is what we crave, hence the attraction to novelty, yet in relationship we tend to merge our identities in an attempt to find security.
Freedom to be Separate
This process is stifling to everyone concerned, but the freedom of letting my wife be ‘other’ -to be free and separate – is terrifying at times. We’re all looking for that sweet spot between freedom and security, but fear seems to shift the balance towards security in my experience.
Practically this means time apart, it means not doing some things together, it means letting your partner make decisions you disagree with, and it means dealing with your jealousy and insecurity as a sacred offering upon the shrine of your relationship.
There are obviously many, many other ingredients in the Art of Staying In Love from trust to communication and from radical honesty to compassionate diplomacy, so I’d love to hear your collective insights and experiences.
Like the Art of Happiness, I believe it is a skill we can all cultivate and the more we do the better for everyone concerned.
This article is reprinted from the author’s page and is used with permission.
Over the last 15 years of clinic practice I have had the opportunity to research and practice some of the most respected traditional medical systems; these include the Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and Persian traditions. I have also been fortunate enough to work in a series of community health and international aid initiatives. https://www.doctorjimi.com