With her denim shorts rolled up and her shirt hanging loose, Maria still managed to look well groomed.
"I just finished my run, and I feel great." Her smile lit up the room.
I smiled back at her and asked "Is it the run or is something else?"
Brushing her long grey hair back off her forehead, she looked radiant. "I have a lover." She said.
Taken by surprise, I asked, "A lover?"
"Yes, all the hard work that we've been doing in here is paying off. Sean is a changed man, so kind and considerate."
"I think you've changed too." I said.
She sat up straighter and said, "Yes, I stand up for myself now and he's respecting me more. And that's sexy to me."
"So you're into each other again." I said.
"Yup. Sean and I made love last week, twice. I've almost forgotten what a great lover he is. I just talk about it and I tingle all over." Maria's unmade-up face shone.
"So you're having a love affair with your spouse."
Maria was back on cloud nine, that heady place when she and Sean first fell in love. In time, love and lust had faded and they both thought that they could never get those feelings back. But, they did. By resolving some of the rocky patches, Maria and Sean had fallen in love with each other again. Here's what was going on inside their brains.
With matching mirror neurons, Maria and Sean once again reflected love and erotic desire to each other. At the same time, their mirror neurons were triggering those amazing brain chemicals: the dopamine rush ─the brain chemical that promotes ecstatic pleasure created by excitement, passion, spontaneity, eroticism ─ along with the oxytocin, vasopressin, endogenous opiods, and testosterone ─ that enhance attachment, loyalty, trust, romance, and lust. Serotonin and GABA the good mood neurotransmitters were also flowing freely.
All of this would have seemed impossible only nine months ago when Maria and Sean came into couples' therapy in an attempt to renew their twenty-one year troubled relationship. A functioning alcoholic, Sean sobered up during the marriage. Although it was Maria who picked up the pieces, Sean's heaped hostile criticisms, and angry complaints onto her slim back. She carried her burden as best as she could.
Mild mannered, abhorring confrontation, Maria deflected the harsh words. She immersed herself in her career as a massage therapist, her family, and friends, and created a separate life. An erudite college professor and author, Sean's biggest complaint was that Maria was shallow. His alcohol treatment was followed by intense psychotherapy and he insisted that he was in touch with his feelings, and that Maria was not.
Maria thought he was imperious and condescending, however, she did not say anything. But feelings don't disappear, and often she acted in passive aggressive ways. For example, she put his favorite tie into the washing machine and ruined it, or she burned his French toast when he was in a hurry. His reaction was more rage.
In therapy we worked on resolving the clashing interactions. We began by visiting the past where we encountered the old family ghosts that haunted Maria and Evan; the goal was to transform them into ancestors.
Maria's never saw her mother show emotions. Not until her father died, did she see her mother sob and even then, her sobs were subdued. Her father, on the other hand, drank and was verbally and at times physically abusive. Her mother was the controlled sober adult, and her father was the out- of- control child. At an unconscious level, Maria repeated the past; she became the all suffering good mother, and Sean became the contrary child.
Sean's father was a frustrated baseball player who never really made it, and wanted more than anything that his son would fulfill his dreams. He criticized Sean and called him a sissy, but Sean resisted him and became more and more scholarly. His mother, a stoic, but submissive woman did not come to Sean's defense. In a sense, Sean grew up feeling lonely and not good enough. Drinking gave him a feeling of importance, and when he stopped, his sense of superiority stemmed from his condensation of Maria.
In therapy, we worked on disentangling from the old childhood interactions that were encroaching on the relationship. We then worked on changing the communication dynamic. As Maria began to empower and respect herself, she confronted Sean. With interlocking mirror neurons, Maria's change created change in Sean. He began to respect her and was gentler, and kinder to her. He also realized that he had resented Maria's mothering role in helping him sober up. Now that he behaved like an adult who controlled not only his drinking but his temper, Maria and Sean liked themselves and each other better.
Although Sean wanted sex, Maria was not ready yet. She loved Sean and was committed to him, but she was still too hurt and angry to feel any sexual feelings for him. We then worked on empathy and forgiveness, which went a long way.
The journey back to lust and erotic passion began at a distance. Like two teenagers, Maria and Sean texted each other, called, emailed, and revealed what they were feeling. With matching mirror neurons, triggering the dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, endogenous opioids, they were getting ready to go for it. They recalled what, when, and how they turned each other on in the past and talked about it. Excitement was mounting.
Maria toyed with the idea of what she would wear, like a fur vest, boots and nothing else when she greeted Sean and she told him about it. He told her what he would do to her and what he wanted her to do to him. They were beginning to make magic. That very afternoon, they made mad passionate love and vowed they would have a life-long love affair with each other.
For more details on how to fall in love with your spouse all over again, read my new book, The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship
(Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011).