Do You Need To Be In Love To Have A Healthy Marriage?

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Love

American individualist culture says that if you're not wildly in love with your partner, then something must be horribly wrong with your marriage. It isn’t.

As a couples' therapist, I get a call from at least one concerned couple who are "drifting apart" or who have "fallen out of love" every month.

But not being totally in love is the key to a healthy, satisfying, and lasting marriage.

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Why is staying "in love" in your marriage a terrible idea?

Do you remember the intense, all-consuming, and euphoric experience of falling in love with your partner?

Your racing hearts, sweaty hands, and insatiable longing for one another? It was likely passionate and effortless, and it just… flowed.

Known as "romantic love," this is nature’s best trick to nudge us in the direction of procreation and partner bonding.

Not only does your body release a concoction of hormones to give you a drug-like high, it also switches off the neural pathways responsible for fear and assessment, leading you to believe that your partner is perfect when, of course, they’re not.

In other words, romantic love "gets us in the door."

If you were to stay in the heights of love, your marriage would be doomed. It would be impossible to make good decisions, focus on work, maintain other relationships, or look after children.

You’d be preoccupied, impulsive, and extremely tired from the non-stop adrenaline (and from having sex all night).

What's the best kind of love for a healthy marriage?

After being besotted with each other for about six to 24 months, most couples no longer feel desperately in love. At this point, healthy couples transition to "companionate love," characterized by less-intense feelings of affection and tenderness.

In many ways, companionate love is more like friendship. Couples connect over shared values, mutual trust and respect, and their liking of one another.

Research supports that companionate love is a stronger predictor of life satisfaction than romantic love. It doesn’t matter if the transition to companionate love happens pre-marriage or post-marriage, as long as it happens.

A healthy marriage relies on you and your partner forming an intimate team — a base from which you can work on other aspects of a strong relationship, like emotional regulation, effective communication, joint problem-solving, balancing autonomy with closeness, and nurturing a pleasurable sex life.

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So, what can you do to guarantee a healthy marriage that doesn’t involve being in love?

1. Be prepared for companionate love.

When you recognize companionate love as both natural and inevitable, you’ll be less surprised or disappointed when those "in love" feelings start to subside.

Talk to your partner about the difference between romantic and companionate love. Perhaps you can each recall an experience of this from past relationships.

Together, you can align expectations for your relationship and agree to welcome the companionate step of your coupledom with open arms.

When you're prepared for companionate love, you fully expect that when the love drug wears off, you're more likely to notice each other’s flaws and may argue more. You become mentally ready to work harder to stay connected.

Learning how to disconnect and reconnect is essential to the development of a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, many couples aren’t prepared for this progression, so they either break up or stay together but are dissatisfied, with a widening gulf between them.

2. Engage in proactive loving.

Change your focus from "being in love" to "doing love" to ensure your marriage lasts. Mona Fishbane’s term "proactive loving" refers to taking responsibility for one’s self and co-responsibility for the relationship.

In other words, healthy relationships require action.

Make time for intimacy and eroticism. Tell your partner regularly what you appreciate about them, get them flowers, give them a back rub, send them flirty texts, and really listen when they talk.

For inspiration, think back to the butterfly-period of your courtship: What did you do differently back then?

A powerful intervention I use with clients is to ask them to fake being madly in love for an evening to see what comes flooding back.

The key to proactive loving is to be proactive! This means "just doing it" — performing loving actions — even if you’re not in the mood.

When your relationship is more companionate and you keep waiting for the feeling to strike you, it may never happen. Amazingly, the very act of doing loving actions can trigger feelings of love and desire.

To reiterate, you don't need to be hopelessly in love with your partner to have a healthy marriage. In fact, staying in the infatuation phase would be detrimental to your life.

If you’re married and still head-over-heels for each other — no need to worry. Savor being loved up while it lasts, and relax in the knowledge that if it changes, your marriage can still be perfectly healthy.

And if the love bug is long gone in your relationship, embrace the companionate love stage and focus on the actions you can take today to deepen your connection.

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Talia Litman, MFT, is a New York-based marriage and family therapist who works with motivated couples and individuals to transform their relationships and sex lives. Email Talia to learn more and follow her on Instagram.