The Joint (Ad)Ventures of Well-Educated Couples

What it really takes to create and sustain an exceptional and lasting marriage.

Can the Cocaine-rush of New Love Be Sustained for 50 Years?

Cannibalizing Your Relationship to Sustain the "New Lover's" High

In the first chapter of my book, to make my argument that new love is like smoking crack cocaine, I looked up the specific effects of smoking crack cocaine on the website I then substituted the phrase "falling in love" with "smoking crack cocaine" and noted how accurately this describes the new lover's high:

Falling in love…"leads to enhanced mood, heightened sexual interest, a feeling of increased self-confidence, greater conversational prowess and intensified consciousness…It offers the most wonderful state of consciousness, and the most intense sense of being alive [that] the user will ever enjoy.”

In describing the life course of relationships, I also talked about the transition from the cocaine-rush phase of a relationship to the "testing phase." In last week's blog post, I pointed out that no romantic relationship can sustain the endless continuation of unfounded idealization that is the hallmark of the cocaine-rush phase. As such, I suggested setting realistic expectations in order to live into the testing phase without facing the troublesome thought, "I thought he/she was my soul mate, but after that fight, I guess I was wrong. I’d better keep looking because I haven't found IT yet."

Typically, the law of diminishing returns applies in the realm of love relationships. The reason we never forget our first kiss is that this was the first time our partners stimulated a massive dose of cocaine-like chemicals that produce the lover's high. Over time, a kiss generally has relatively diminished power to produce the same explosion of feeling. Likewise, over time, we don't get quite the same zap to our brains when our partner tells us for the 500th time (should we be so lucky in another sense!), "I love you sweetheart."

So, the general truth and underlying assumption is that no relationship remains in the cocaine-rush phase forever. There are exceptions to every rule however. It IS possible in some cases to sustain the cocaine-rush phase of a relationship for 20, 30, 40, 50 years into the relationship. The cost, however of doing this, is that the relationship must feed on itself, consuming everything that would otherwise make it a secure, healthy, loving union.

In other words, a cocaine rush phase can be sustained when there is constant (and dramatically fluctuating) threat of loss of the relationship. Periods of intense affection and feelings of intimacy are interspersed by destructive fighting, infidelities, and intentional flight from intimacy. A primitive panic is constructed and triggered at various intervals, leaving one or both partners feeling abandoned, rejected, and cast off. (Often in these scenarios, even the one who leaves reports these kinds of feelings during these periods of chaotic detachment). Following the panic and a number of hot emotions (usually rage and/or a sense of betrayal), fear of loneliness and an intense longing to repair the shredded bond will emerge.

The subsequent reunion of the two partners then stimulates a repeat of cocaine-rush processes – breathless ecstasy to be reunited, love blindness, blanket (usually temporary) forgiveness of colossally hurtful and massively destructive behaviors that occurred during the separation. Over the years, the couple cannibalizes everything that would be healthy in the relationship – a sense of steady and secure love, mutual respect, and common purpose. It's like spending your life in the desert in order to enjoy the sensation of drinking from the occasional cool oasis.

Shauna Springer, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, relationship and lifestyle researcher, and author of Marriage, for Equals: The Successful Joint (Ad)Ventures of Well-Educated Couples. more...

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