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Staying in love requires energy and a true appreciation of your partner.
When we meet our soul mate, we are so optimistic about our future. Most of us feel that, at last, we have met someone who will understand us at the deepest level.
However, time tends to erode our romantic euphoria and we grow complacent towards our partners. Our greatest challenge is to learn how to stay in love. Sustaining love is about understanding your partner's love 'currency' and actively building – rather than just sharing a life together, say Ian and Mary Grant in this extract from their book, Growing Great Marriages.
Build up your relationship love bank
The love bank is a record of our emotional deposits and withdrawals. Pleasant interactions result in deposits, and unpleasant ones in withdrawals. Attention, affection, acceptance, approval, fun and surprise will all help to top up your bank accounts, whereas criticism, arguing and indifference empty it out.
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Couples quickly learn that love is fragile and that it is the little things that count. This means that we need to make as many positive love deposits as we can; disciplining ourselves to reduce the love withdrawals, while building the habits of love and emotional wealth.
Know your spouse's love currency
The highest value love units rarely cost money. The idea that people who have resources and can afford to do things like going away on weekends will find it easier to deposit in each other's love banks is not true at all. In most cases, women don't need diamonds but rather affection, openness and honesty. Men thrive when they are offered recreational companionship, sexual fulfilment and admiration from their wives.
Your spouse's 'currency' is what deposits the most love units and will become obvious when you ask the right questions and are honest with each other. 'What can I do for you that makes you feel the best?' is a question that educates you on how to make each other happy.
Re-learn romantic love
We need to keep our bodies physically fit, no matter our age, and the same applies to romantic love. We need to practise it and work on it and, as happens with physical fitness, we will begin to feel better as we discover new and enjoyable ways of spending time together.
Recreate your first date, or dream up a surprise you know your spouse will love. Think about what you did when you were first enchanted with each other and use all your creativity to snatch moments together.
Researchers have found that couples who vary their usual date-night routine, by visiting new restaurants or trying new activities that both of them enjoy, can increase their marriage satisfaction. The new experiences actually stimulate areas in the brain associated with romantic love the same areas that were first stimulated when you were dating!
Watch out for 'flooding'
After many years of studying couple relationships, professor John Gottman, from the University of Washington, concluded what counts is not the number of fights or how in love a couple says they are, but simply the ratio of praise to blame. Couples who say five positive things to each other for every negative should be okay. If the ratio drops to two to one, they are in trouble.
During conflict, couples may experience what Gottman calls 'flooding' a state where we become overwhelmed by our partner's negativity. This can lead to physical symptoms like an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and secretion of stress hormones. Laboratory trials have shown men are likely to start 'flooding' at much lower levels of criticism and that they stay in a 'flooded' state for longer.
The best way to prevent this is to set boundaries on what you will and will not say to each other, even in times of high emotions. One highly charged conflict can cause real emotional pain and wipe out 20 warm interactions. Make a pact not to go there. The damage to each other's self-esteem, and the hurt and pain will burn for a long time and leave open wounds.
For the full story, see the April 2010 issue of Good Health.
Interview with Good Health editor Catherine Marshall
For the complete story, see the May 2010 issue of Good Health.