Make Love Happen: Post-Romantic Stress Disorder
My writing critique partners looked skeptical when I talked about falling in love as being a kind of hijacking of common sense by our own bodies and the hormones they produce. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t read Post-Romantic Stress Disorder and other books and articles with information, fact-based, provable stuff. fMRI brain scans have revealed to science the hormones that produce the feeling of being in love. Scientists, psychologists and researchers have been tracking those effects for a while now. But I wrote all about it here.
And then I promised to write about what to do when those hormones calm down and the “in love” feeling goes away and you think you don’t love your partner anymore. Not true! And the same brain that produced those hormones is capable of helping couples stay together to create stable, mature love. We just have to make new pathways, cultivate new habits, and retrain ourselves from certain prevailing myths about what love is and what it is not.
First, recognize the signs of trouble when they start. Next, do something to subvert the process. Here’s the breakdown. The first sign is criticism. Do you criticize your mate or does your mate criticize you or do you both pick on each other? Stop it! Learn how to disagree constructively instead of destructively. Let go of nastiness and instead try for empathy and compromise. Don’t discuss when angry or tired. Wait until you are well-rested and ready to play nice. Then calmly say your piece with “I” statements so feelings don’t devolve into contempt and your partner doesn’t feel defensive and withdraw from communication.
Those bolded words are the steps in the process of walking away from intimacy. There’s a final warning sign, but by the time dissmell happens, it’s too late. Your relationship is doomed. Dissmell is a severe reaction, a disgust of your partners’ body odor. It could be a mouth like an ashtray, sweat that stinks, feet that make you faint when socks are removed, whatever the odor, if it offends you to the point of criticism, it needs to be addressed. Or you need to hire a lawyer. Because disgust can’t easily be turned around.
Hell, none of this is easy. But dissmell and disgust really are the death knell to a relationship. I should know, because it happened to me. I thought my partner (not my husband, but a former partner) was right and there was just something wrong with me that only he could see. I blamed myself. That’s a shame response and it happens when a relationship is out of sync because of childhood trauma. It’s all so buried and unconscious and insidious.
I’m well out of that relationship and have since done loads of work on my self-esteeem, which really for a relationship with anyone else to work, you have to be right with your own self first. You have to love yourself and out that shame that may be holding you back from true intimacy. Because intimacy is more than sex and cuddles. It has to do with trusting your partner with anything, including the things that have shamed and wounded you. Sharing these things builds intimacy, which puts the marriage back on the right track.
Here are a couple of other intimacy builders: make time for each other. My husband recently started taking off one day a week to spend just with me. Try new things. Be adventurous in ways that appeal to both of you. Listen, we are both 59 and there are still so many things we want to do. But we came up with something really wild, something so out of my comfort zone, but something I really want to do. We’re going to take lessons together. I can’t say what kind because my friends who don’t like guns will shoot me (hint).
Be spontaneous. Friday night a note popped up in my mail about a concert for one of my favorite bands. Problem was it happened to be the next night. And my husband had to work the morning after. And we were sure tickets would be sold out. And we already had a perfectly good plan to go out to dinner. But I thought about that spontaneous thing: getting excited about new and different things actually releases some of those same “in love” chemicals our souls crave. So we went for it. And we had a great time.
I’m not going to tell you the obvious things like to be kind and considerate because you know that already. It’s really easy to hurt the one you love because they are always there, right? But what if you develop some interests apart from each other? Everybody needs alone time and everybody needs something just for them. So build that into the relationship and suddenly your partner seems much more intriguing. Like someone you could really fall for all over again.