The Joint (Ad)Ventures of Well-Educated Couples

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

How Long Can We Maintain the Rush of New Love?

Some couples go to extremes to be exceptions to the rule.

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To make the argument, in my new book, that new love is like smoking crack cocaine, I researched the specific effects of smoking crack on cocaine.org, which provides addiction help. I then substituted the phrase "falling in love" for "smoking crack cocaine" and noted how accurately the site's language 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 wrote about the transition from the cocaine-rush phase of a relationship to the "testing phase." 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.

The law of diminishing returns typically 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 the massive dose of cocaine-like chemicals that produce the lover's high. Over time, a partner's 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, perhaps 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.

But there are exceptions to the rule.

It is possible in some cases to sustain the cocaine-rush phase of a relationship for 20, 30, 40, even 50 years into a relationship. The cost of doing this, however, 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 in such relationships are interspersed with destructive fighting, infidelity, and intentional flight from intimacy. Primitive panic is constructed and triggered at various intervals, leaving one or both partners feeling abandoned, rejected, or 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 (such rage 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 upon reunion, love blindness, and 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—like 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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