“Monogamy,” in this day and age, is quite a mysterious and puzzling and subject.
As early as I could pen the words, “I love JTT Forever and Ever,” in my Rainbow Bright Diary, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of unending love. As a child I wondered how Winnie and Kevin seemed to have loved each other since second grade, but look what happened to Hillary and Madonna and Cher! And don’t get me started on the tragic complexities that were Courtney and Kurt, or Nicole and OJ. And what exactly did “Shoop” mean, and how did Salt-n-Pepa know this particular gentleman was “A Mighty Good Man”?
Now, as a wife and family therapist, I wonder professionally and personally what exactly do we need to know about monogamy to ensure we are on the right side of the frightening relationship-failure statistics? What should we be plastering on the billboards of 20-somethings these days (aka Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter)? What should we be teaching our children if we don’t want them to experience the pain and agony of relationship demise?
If you are interested in actually maintaining a monogamous relationship, you might want to check out these eight facts about the institution of long-standing love:
1. A decline in satisfaction at the beginning is normal.
It is normal and statistically expected to experience a decline in marital satisfaction during the first years of marriage. There are many reasons why a decline in marital satisfaction in the first few years is normal. Google “normal rebound,” “emotional erosion,” and “motivational erosion.” An early-on decline in satisfaction is not necessarily an indication that the relationship is unhealthy or a reason to throw in the towel.
2. Certain qualities predict successful monogamy.
Researchers questioned couples to attempt to pinpoint the common aspects of people in marriages that last 15 years or more. Here are the characteristics of long-term couples as discovered in two different studies:
- Ability to change and adapt to change
- Ability to surrender to things that will not change (i.e., accepting aspects of your partner as-is)
- Assumption of permanence (i.e., the marriage will last a lifetime)
- Balance of power/Mutuality of decision-making
- Enjoyment of each other’s company
- Cherished, shared history
- Relational values of trust, respect, understanding, and equality
- Sexual and psychological intimacy
3. Certain communication patterns predict relationship demise.
In his “Love Lab”, researcher John Gottman and his team observed over 3,000 couples to pinpoint behaviors that predicted divorce and breakup with 95% accuracy. See this article for more details about the not-so-obvious signs that a relationship is in trouble.
4. Certain behaviors predict successful monogamy.
his “Love Lab,” researcher John Gottman and his team also observed couples during conflict, and found that these behaviors existed in the happiest long-term couples:
- Five positive exchanges/communications for every one negative exchange/communication
- Wife approached husband during conflict, and does so “softly”
- Husband allowed wife to influence him
- Wife used humor to soothe husband
- Husband was able to use positive feelings to soothe himself
- There is a general culture of gentleness, soothing, and meeting negativity by neutral effect
5. “Love” is not sufficient to sustain a relationship.
“Love” is at first a biological, chemical, and hormonal experience of attachment and infatuation for another person (the complete roses, sunshine, and fireworks deal.) This lasts anywhere from a few months to about two to three years. Put bluntly, this biological infatuation stage exists to ensure that two people can stand being around each other long enough to reproduce. Love after the infatuation stage is a mindset of commitment and respect for the other person that is not always butterflies and rainbows and the ability to behave consistently with this mindset. A feeling of love is not sufficient to sustain a happy relationship long term. There must also be behaviors consistent with commitment and respect.
6. A mindset of commitment matters greatly.
To go along with point number 5, two separate studies found that the assumption that marriage will last a lifetime (i.e., automatic commitment to push through the icky parts together) are in the top three aspects of relationships that last 15 years or more. In a third study, “Marriage as a long-term commitment,” and “Wanting the relationship to succeed,” were in the top six reasons men and women gave for their successful 15-plus-year marriages.
7. Some people are biologically/genetically less wired for monogamy.
Two aspects of temperament that research has found to be typically less suited for monogamy include thrill seeking and impulsivity.
8. Forget about love.
Yes, you read that right. Happy couples like each other. One study asked 351 couples married 15 years or longer to list the main reasons for their marital success. Husbands and wives both put “Liking spouse as a person,” or “Spouse as best friend,” as one of their top two answers.
Best of luck with your monogamous relationship endeavors!
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