The Joint (Ad)Ventures of Well-Educated Couples

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

Excitement, Longing, and Passion in lifelong relationships

Thoughts from Readers on Sustaining Cocaine-rush feelings

I'm on a one-month hiatus from blogging as usual. In the meantime, some readers have offered some very thought-provoking perspectives on the possibility of lifelong passion and excitment in relationships. (Readers' identities have been removed).

Submitted by Anonymous on December 8, 2012 - 6:14pm.

I think the cocaine rush can be sustained as well if the couple doesn’t spend that much time with each other for example: one spouse has a military career, travels a lot for work, or just have both live almost separate lives creating longing. 

 

Response submitted by Dr. Shauna H. Springer on December 8, 2012 - 11:00pm.

Interesting thought - you could be onto to something here. Assuming that you and I have the same understanding of the "cocaine rush" phase of a relationship (?) which is distinct from the amazing feeling you would get from reuniting with someone you continue to love with a passion, I'm wondering if you've experienced what you are suggesting? I'd be curious to hear more if you're willing to share, anonymously or otherwise. 

Submitted by Anonymous on December 10, 2012 - 6:04am.

No, I have not personally, but I have had a few friends and a family member be in situations like this. For example, my sister was married to someone in the army and he was gone half of their marriage deployed. They had problems in the marriage but I think him being gone a lot added to the sense of longing so to speak. In addition I have known a few friends carry on long distant relationships and have been so convinced of true love and passion in these relationships.

When you can only see someone a few times a year I think it creates such a high that you can maintain it for longer periods of time vs. a couple that lives day in and day out with each other. In addition, since you don’t spend every day with them, I think you are able to keep that idolized version of them alive a little longer then you would if you were carrying on an average relationship. 

Submitted by Anonymous on December 10, 2012 - 6:15am.

Oh, yes and the cocaine rush is what I mean as well, I just consider it more of an obsession. But yes none of the relationships I mentioned seemed to make it past the idealization phase, even my sisters marriage that lasted 7 years. Out of those 7 years her husband was gone 4 of those years deployed. 

Submitted by Anonymous on December 8, 2012 - 6:14pm.

Dr. Springer, what you write is arrant nonsense according to the research. You wrote: "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." This is a wild assertion unsupported by data.

The seminal 2009 paper by Acevedo and Aron indicates that in a non-trivial percentage of relationships, long-term romance is well sustained in marriages. The fire and heat are there; what fades is the anxiety. www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/gpr13159.pdf   

 

Response submitted by Dr. Shauna H. Springer on December 8, 2012 - 11:01pm.

Ah, I can see that the issue you're having is that we have different definitions here of the "cocaine rush" phase of a relationship. I'm familiar with this paper and my point is not that long-term relationships in all cases lack heat and fire. Long-term marriage can be incredible - this is the promise of love and what I hope to steer others towards. When I speak of the "cocaine rush" phase, I'm talking about a mindset and phase that is very specific. I defined, described and wrote about this extensively in my book - the "cocaine rush" is not about feeling excited about your partner, thrilled to be with him/her, or having any number of passionate physical or emotional responses to one's partner.

The hallmark of the cocaine rush phase is that it is based on untested (and un-informed) idealization between two people. In the long term relationships studied by Acevedo and Aron in the article you reference, the anxiety has faded (but not the passion) because these relationships are no longer based in untested idealization, love blindness, transposition of the fundamental attribution error and other key aspects of the cocaine-rush phase of a relationship.

They are fueled by other processes such as those described so eloquently in the work of Dr. David Schnarch. In the area of sustaining passionate physical connection, I've been greatly influenced by the work of Dr. David Schnarch - based on your familiarity with the research, I'm guessing you may also be acquainted with his perspective on the possibility of a long-term physical spark in a monogamous relationship. If you are not acquainted with his work, I bet you would find it interesting. 

You have something intelligent and important to say, so I decided not to delete your post despite the harsh phrase "arrant nonsense" in response to what I've posted this week. In the future, please consider taking a more gentle approach when you post a dissenting opinion, whether it is in response to my work or the work of another blogger. I genuinely enjoy respectful discussion of ideas and this is what I want to facilitate with my blog posts. 

Submitted by Anonymous on December 9, 2012 - 4:35pm.

Point well taken, in both substance and style. Thanks for the clarification, and the gentle rebuke. Both were merited. 

Submitted by H--- on December 14, 2012 - 11:19am.

You can distinguish Aron and Acevedo's article by the way you define "cocaine-rush relationship," a term that you coined. But it seems to me that you would do well to coin a new term for what you are trying to describe. The point of Aron and Acevedo's article, as I understand it, is that the same brain areas (the VTA and other parts of the mid-brain reward center) that are activated in new love are the same areas that are activated when someone in a long-term romantic relationship sees his or her beloved. These brain areas are dopamine rich and are also the areas that are implicated when one experiences a cocaine rush.

So I certainly can see why "anonymous" thought that the term you have chosen applies to the phenomenon that Aron and Acevedo identified. 

Submitted by R------ on December 29, 2012 - 2:20pm.

I experienced what you wrote about. I separated from my wife and moved into my own apartment. She believed separation was going to lead to divorce. I even encouraged her to start "dating". With the realization of her actually starting a new relationship and with the real possibility of losing my wife I decided to move back home. When she accepted me back and ended her new relationship which involved sexting and dancing we ended up having the most incredible reunion. It was like an explosion of love and sex all at once. We were like young lovers all over again. In our 13 years of marriage we did not experience so much love making. I could not keep my mind off of her.

Of course the "Cocaine-rush" did not last and now I find myself wanting it again. 3 years later, I want to recreate the scenario all over again. When you write about the relationship having to devour itself that really hit home. I fantasize about wanting her to start a new relationship again and wanting to feel abandoned and jealous. Then having her end her new relationship and me winning her back and feeling the rush of "almost losing her" and experiencing that "Cocaine-rush" all over again. 

Submitted by Anonymous on January 2, 2013 - 6:23pm.

After reading the article and other people comments, and my own life experience, I believe that living together and the daily life is what kills the rush. I love my partner of four years, we live 5 minutes away and every time we see, maybe once a week, sometimes more and sometimes less, there is always a rush. 

Submitted by Anonymous on January 3, 2013 - 4:24pm.

I would very much like to hear a response to what H--- has said in response to your response to Anonymous, it is something I have wondered about also. In the Aron article, it is maintained that the original feeling of romantic love is sustained well into long term relationships - the dopamine rush of new love survives. So, surely this IS the romantic love of novel newly-in-love? I would love some clarification from the doctor. 

Response submitted by Dr. Shauna H. Springer on January 5, 2013 - 8:51am.

I've taken a holiday break from blogging and it's great to see some thought provoking ongoing discussion here. A few thoughts to add to the mix, since you asked... First, I definitely and absolutely believe that it is possible to feel passion and excitement throughout the life course of a good marriage. Over-familiarity between the two partners in the relationship seems to me to be the key to eroding passion in many, but not all, cases.

Differentiation and an ongoing appreciation of the reality that each partner would hypothetically find another mate on the open market but chooses to channel his/her sexual energy exclusively towards his/her partner works against this over-familiarity. There are many ways to keep this appreciation alive - continued personal growth by each partner individually, time apart in addition to together (e.g. solo vacations), maybe even for some couples, keeping some separateness in the home they share (actually, wealthy couples who could afford to do so - such as the Vanderbilts, even had their own master suites - such an environment, for some couples, might increase the pleasure of "conjugal visits").

Dr. David Schnarch has done some excellent work on maintaining lifelong passion - for anyone who is interested in this discussion, I'd recommend reading his book "Intimacy and Desire." My perspective lines up with him on how to achieve this in the sexual/physical aspect of lifelong love. Even though passion and lifelong love and attraction is possible,

I retreat from labeling this "cocaine rush" feelings because I think that this does a dis-service to what love can become in the later stages of an exceptional marriage. I think the two are qualitatively different in critical ways and that the love some create in the later stages of life long relationships is far better than the cocaine rush feelings. Here is an excerpt on this from a previous blog - 

In the final stages of marriage, the love that can be created is a deeper, more satisfying level of love than anything that anyone encounters in the initial cocaine-rush phase of a relationship. In one sense, to make a comparison between the experiences of love at these two relationship stages is like comparing apples and oranges. I would argue that love of a deep and meaningful kind is only possible when based on real knowledge.

If being loved is based on being known for who you are and cherished despite your flaws, then the feelings one has during the initial cocaine-rush phase of a relationship can’t be love. These feelings would be some combination of other pleasurable things like hope and attraction, and illusions of the soul-mate variety. 

What feels a lot like love in the cocaine-rush phase does not compare to the love that couples may enjoy in the final phase of an exceptional marriage. If you doubt that this is true, consider the difference between the giddy feelings of being in love with someone you've known for a short time and the feelings of love you would have for someone who has been your journeying partner for the past 60 years of your life—the person who has been by your side through thick and thin, who has believed in you and invested in you.

If this is difficult to picture, then, as an analogy, imagine the way it would feel to move into your dream home, full of excitement and thrilling plans for the future (in parallel to the cocaine-rush phase of a relationship). Now, imagine the feelings of love and attachment you would have about the same home after making every square inch of the home suited to your personal tastes and filling it with layer upon layer of joyful memories over the course of a full and rich life (in parallel to the tested romanticism phase). The feelings you would have in either case cannot be compared as equals, but I would guess that most of us would cry harder if the home full of memories caught fire. 

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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