Solving The Mystery Of The Two Year Syndrome

People describe it in different ways…the point when the honeymoon recedes and reality enters, when the things you found so cute and charming about each other turn into the very things that begin to irritate, when the real work of relating to one another begins. In fact, many therapists recommend waiting for two years before making any decisions about marriage. Why do so many relationships implode or simply peter out at the two year mark? One frequently heard though superficial explanation is "I've fallen out of love." Okay, from a biochemical perspective there is some truth to it. The transition from "falling in love" to "being in love" is difficult for many people. They're hooked on the chemical rushes of infatuation. They'd prefer to find someone new and hope this time they can make that blissful state last forever.

Why Quitting Now Might be the Right Idea

There's potential value in this impulse. Three to six months into a new relationship (the point when the most intense of these chemical rushes are subsiding) may be exactly the right time to end it. It’s when you see the other person more clearly and have no idea what you originally saw in him or her. So, if you've realized this person is definitely not who you want to spend a longer chunk of your life with, go ahead: do it now. It's better not to wait for habit to set in.

On the Other Hand

However, if your desire to quit the relationship has more to do with the "thrill being gone" than any new sharper perspective on how the two of you don’t fit well together, it may be smarter to pause and reconsider your motivations. The desire to run may have more to do with the underlying chemical changes going on in your current relationship.
Singles who perennially play the field may be in danger of becoming "infatuation junkies." These men and women covet the highs that only a new love interest can deliver. They seek the "perfect" boyfriend or girlfriend more than a real relationship with another imperfect person. Only you can figure out whether your relationship with a partner is durable enough to go the distance. But don’t forget to take the chemistry that goes with different phases of love into account when you weigh your thoughts and feelings.

Love After Lust Cools: What's in it for You?

It's known by a variety of names, including the attachment system, and companionable love. In committed love, you move into a less frenetic biochemical circuit, a flatter curve. Like the chemistry of attraction, this one runs in myriad pathways between your brain and body—different, not better or worse. It’s not true that as long time lovers, you won't experience lust again. Surveys say that married people have sex more often and are often more sexually satisfied than singles. But sex and romance are no longer the primary drivers of your relationship. You're thinking beyond Saturday night. You're getting practical.

There is a new body chemistry underlying your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations about this person you’ve opted to stay with. Instead of the rushes of attraction, there’s a steadier flow of endorphins sailing into your synapses and bloodstream. Endorphins are chemically very similar to morphine. Need I say more?

The Calm of Long Term Love

Two lovers in an ongoing relationship trigger the release of endorphins in each other. This hormone resides at the nerve endings in the brain, and travels between synapses, pooling in specific areas of the brain to create the peace-loving, anxiety-reducing effect of endorphins. The best news is that in a steady relationship, your level of endorphins builds up over time, courtesy of all that good love.

Wait, there's more. On top of the calm-inducing endorphins that need only your partner's smiling face to come rushing into your system, the two of you still have lots of oxytocin—the hormonal superglue that pushes us to bond with a lover and stay bonded—pumping through your systems from the extra hand-holding and cuddling you do everyday.

Plus you still get to enjoy the major chemical benefits that go with sex. The body experience of coital sex does not change from the attraction phase to the attachment phase of a relationship. In other words, if it was good before it will still be good. In fact, many couples say their sex gets better as intimacy deepens.

For most people, keeping passion alive in a long-term relationship takes intention and work. With the distractions of kids, work and the draw for some to diversions requiring less intimacy (Internet porn, TV et al), they have to consciously make time for romance, and find new ways to rekindle sexual sparks with a partner. They have to commit to not take each other for granted after years of togetherness. Long term love is not easy, but it is heaped with rewards.

Stay tuned. In part two of this article, I offer some strategies for rekindling long term love.