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valentine\’s day

“Die, Cupid, Die”: Valentine’s Day and Saving Your Marriage
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

“Die, Cupid, Die!”,  Dave cried out.  He was frustrated.  The biggest sticking point in their marriage?  His wife was proclaiming, “There is no chemistry here.  I don’t have those feelings for you.”

Let me be clear:  Dave was not in disagreement.  He said he wasn’t feeling “all gushy,” either.  But his solution and his wife’s solution were a radical departure from each other.

Dave wanted to work on the marriage, rebuild their connection, and respark the flame.  His wife, “Sue,” wanted to divorce.

Sue reasoned that “If you don’t feel THAT way, there is nothing you can do.  You either feel it or you don’t.  If you don’t, then you need to get out.”

What happened to that feeling?  Why did it disappear?  And can it come back?

Dave was working hard to save his marriage.  Sue was working hard to end her marriage.  Neither seemed too interested in the questions I was pondering.

Ponder with me for a few moments.

Why are we so preoccupied with those feelings of attraction?  Is it built into our DNA?  Or is it a rather recent issue?

My answer:  both.  We are wired for this attraction.  It is certainly a wonderful method of making sure there are future generations!  We know that the drive to have sex is rooted very deeply in our brains, at the most primitive level.  This is the reason that we see such reckless behavior that is motivated by sexual attraction and desire.  People put their lives, their health, the jobs, their relationships, and anything else, on the line in pursuit of that desire.

But romance and how important it has become, that is a rather recent phenomenon.  Families have been a part of human existence from the beginning.  Living together, in a unit, was a method of survival.  Relationships that started as sexual attraction developed into units of preservation — nurturing and protecting children and adults.

The emphasis on romance as the basis of the marital relationship, though, is much more recent.  Once survival was less the issue, other goals came into view.  Feeling connected, relating in loving ways, and sharing of lives became more important.

When a family is focused on surviving, getting nourishment, staying warm, and avoiding predators, there is little room for a couple to have long “relationship talks” about “how we are doing.”  The focus is survival.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs verifies this.  We have to have our basic needs met before we can be bothered with higher levels of relating and meaning.

For many of us, those basic levels of survival have been met.  This allows for another, higher,  level of relating.  But higher levels of relating are often corrupted and cheapened by humans.  We humans tend to overshoot potentials and often strip the deeper meaning for a “quick fix.”

Let’s take an example:  self-esteem.  Originally, self-esteem was the notion of feeling good about doing good.  In other words, self-esteem was feeling positive about taking positive action.  Along the way, we forgot the second half.  Self-esteem became “feeling good about one’s self.”  Over time, this became more and more divorced from actions.  It was just about having a feeling.  This is, you will note, a very short step from being narcissistic — feeling good about yourself (regardless of your actions/inactions), and seeing yourself as being superior to others (a rather simplified definition, but let’s go with that).

Research has shown that self-esteem (as culture now defines it) has nothing to do with life success, higher earnings, or any other positive life indicator.  In fact, research has demonstrated that juvenile delinquents have a higher-than-average level of self-esteem.  I would take that to mean that there may actually be a negative association, not a positive one.

Human nature:  take an idea with potential, go overboard, and destroy the positive in the process.  Dumb it down and make it nearly worthless.

Which brings us to the notion of romance.

Recent times have brought more and more of an emphasis on the importance of the feeling.  The feelings associated with romance have long been there (tied back into that whole “sexual attraction” wiring).

My very wise Grandmother several times remarked, “Chemistry is not a big deal in marriage. . . unless it isn’t there.”  In other words, that feeling of attraction, when it is in a good place in a marriage, is not the measuring stick of how a marriage is going.  But if it is not there, it can be painful.

Let’s add some fuel to the fire and corrupt what should be a healthy, nurturing aspect to a marriage.  We live in a culture that inundates us with messages:  romantic movies where the romance is always there, books with the same premise, songs that emphasize this one facet of love, the marketing of Valentine’s day as the penultimate expression of romance (with flowers, jewelry, dark dinners, and “lubricated” fun at the end).  Unfortunately, as is usually the case when merchants and marketers get their grips on it, reality vanishes and fantasy is substituted.

Reality:  a couple that is overwhelmed with a house, children, bills, work (including 24/7 connection to email, messaging, and phone calls), and guilt over the undone things (eating well, exercising, reading, etc., etc., etc.).

Should it be any surprise that the typical couple loses touch with that romantic side of life?  Is it a mystery that a couple might stop feeling that “gushy” feeling of attraction?  Absolutely not.  It is dangerous and counterproductive, but rather expected, unfortunately.

As one woman so poignantly told me, “I thought we had just placed our marriage on pause.  After the kids and work, we would get back to us.  But instead, he thought it meant we were done.”

Relationships don’t go on pause.  Marriages cannot be set aside, expecting the relationship to be alright when both decide to return.  It is like not exercising a muscle for years, then being surprised to one day notice the muscle has atrophied and is weak.  Relationships are either growing or they are atrophying.  There is no pause.

At the same time, thanks to the cultural messages we all receive, the over-emphasis on romance and romantic feelings causes people to believe that if the feelings are absent, the marriage is over.

Can a marriage survive without those feelings of connection?  As those family units of long-ago demonstrated, survival is possible.  But thriving is not.

The real question is, can those feelings return to a marriage that has been allowed to decline?  Absolutely (and probably easier than most imagine).

My colleague, Dr. Bob Huizenga, notes that when one spouse requests more romance or more sexiness, it comes from a place of neediness — of the one making the request.  Men are often urged to be more romantic.  Women are often urged to be more sexy.  But the one doing the urging is doing so from a place of neediness, ” I NEED  you to be more romantic/sexy.”  It is not about a shift in the relationship, but an attempt to get a “hit” of something.  Kind of like a drug.  In fact, very much like a drug.

Another colleague of mine, Dr. Bob Grant, talks about the difference between adrenaline-connection and endorphin-attraction (you can hear my interview with Bob Grant HERE).

Adrenaline-connection is the type of attraction experienced at the beginning of a relationship.  It is the gushy, butterflies-in-the-stomach, “I can’t stand to be apart” feeling that happens in the early stages of the relationship.  And it is the feeling that Hollywood has sold us as the indicator of 1) a TRUE relationship, 2) an ever-present feature of a good relationship.

Unfortunately, sustaining that level of connection is impossible.  Our neural system develops a tolerance for the adrenaline (just like a drug), and the feelings subside.  This can feel like a disaster, if someone does not expect this.  Sometimes, people take this as a sign that the relationship was not meant to be.  Yet, it is a normal stage of development.

Adrenaline-connection is all about “what am I getting out of this?”  It is a desire for ME to feel that gushy feeling.  It is a desire for ME to get that hit of adrenaline/dopamine.

Endorphin-connection is the connection of a maturing relationship.  It is based in acting lovingly toward a spouse.  It is based in “What can I put INTO this relationship?  How can I show love?”  It is not about neediness, but expressing love and commitment.  From that, the feelings of connection grow and mature.

Do you see the shift?  Instead of going after that maturing, endorphin-based connection, we elevate the adrenaline-based connection that is unsustainable.  We built an entire holiday and industry on that idea.

Saint Valentine, the saint whose day we celebrate, was imprisoned for an act of civil disobedience.  He continued to marry couples, in spite of an injunction against marriages.  The king had decreed that weddings were illegal, as he wanted young men to be unencumbered by families, so they could go fight his wars.  Valentine believed in love and commitment.  He continued to marry couples.  And he paid the price.

His sainthood was about committed love — not just a simple romantic notion.

So how do you respond to Valentine’s Day, if you are trying to save your marriage?

First, don’t get suckered into the cultural messaging.  Marriages do not perish or revive around a moment of romance.  While I am all for building feelings of connection and love (from which those romantic feelings will emerge), I do not believe you can jump-start a hurting relationship by making a grand romantic (or “sexy”) gesture.

Second, you don’t have to ignore the holiday, either.  Your spouse is noticing.  So, you want to do something that expresses your love and commitment.  A simple arrangement of flowers with a note of appreciation for the love you have shared over the years can be a way of demonstrating love, honoring the holiday, and building some connection.

Third, never fall for the “romantic getaway,” “big relationship talk,” or “romantic gesture” as the way to win him/her back over.  It works in the movies, but they do have a script to follow!  It does NOT (or will rarely) work in real life.

Fourth, change the equation in your head:  look for how to put love into the relationship, not how to make things romantic, hoping it will bring love back.  The endorphin-connection is created by loving acts.  It builds and strengthens as a couple acts in loving ways toward each other.

So, what happened with Sue and Dave?  In a unilateral move, Dave continued to focus on acting in loving ways.  He didn’t try to win Sue over.  He simply kept being loving, showing his commitment to the relationship.  At that point, Dave would tell you that he was acting on his commitment, not on an abundance of feelings of romance.

At first, Sue was resistant.  She simply did not trust Dave’s actions.  For awhile, Sue was constantly on-guard, trying to guess what was motivating Dave.  She simply could not understand the reason for his actions.

A funny thing happened to Dave, as he continued to stick with his plan:  he fell in love with his wife all over again.  He remember what first attracted him to her.  And that gave him the courage to stick it out.

One day, Sue began to feel some connection.  She smiled a bit more, was less snappy and defensive.  It became easier for Dave to keep on moving ahead.  Sue began to make some simple gestures.

As it turns out, their love had not died.  It was simply in hibernation.  Some warmth from both was all it took to bring it out of hibernation.







Marriage In Trouble: What To Do About Valentine’s Day!
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

what to do about valentines day when your relationship is in trouble.When your relationship is in trouble, those dreaded days keep rolling around:  holidays, birthdays, anniversaries.  And the smack-daddy of them all is coming quickly:  Valentine’s Day!  THE day devoted to romance — even if romance is a distant memory in your relationship.

Even anniversaries usually create less anxiety.  You can always give a card.  But Valentine’s Day — is it your chance to win back your love, or duck-and-hide?

Let me suggest that neither strategy is a winning one.

Here is the problem:  ignoring the whole holiday only reinforces the feeling that you do not care; acting on the holiday reinforces the belief you “just don’t get it.”  I know, because I hear both responses.  It can feel like a “catch-22.”  Be accused of once again ignoring the relationship, or be accused of being clueless.

Let’s be clear, this is not one of those dates you can hope your spouse doesn’t remember.  The cards, candy and gifts came out sometime around December 26.  At best, January 2.  Red and pink, roses and balloons, are unavoidable.  Commercials and come-ons are everywhere.  So, no, you cannot avoid it.

Even if you and/or your spouse have made jokes about the “Hallmark-created” holiday, there is still that tiny romantic piece of everyone that knows the holiday is coming.  You may not like the way it is celebrated.  But it is still celebrated.  And whether your relationship is healthy or on the rocks, the date is noticed — as well as your response.

And in many situations, your spouse is half-watching to see what you WILL do.  So, let’s just agree that doing nothing is a losing strategy. . . unless your spouse said “you had better not do anything for Valentine’s Day.”  If your spouse says that, you do have your marching orders.  Otherwise, stick with me.

As you may already know I have my concerns about romance as the basis for marriage.  But to remind you, it is not that I am opposed to romance.  Only that romance is not the LEAD feeling of marriage.  It is the after-effect of connection.  And connection is the fuel of any marriage.

Here is the conundrum:  you want to make a connection, and culture has taught us that you must “romance” someone to get to that connection.  You have to make that chemistry click.  But your spouse may not be wanting to have that romantic gesture.  But your spouse DOES want connection.

How do I know?  Because we ALL want that connection.  It is biologically wired in us.  That connection may feel awkward between the two of you, but that does not negate the desire for a connection.  (Thus the fuel for many affairs!)

Which brings us to my point:  it is important to mark Valentine’s Day, BUT it should not be the goal to win back your spouse.  No grand gestures or fantasies of sweeping him/her off his/her feet and back into your arms.  Probably not gonna happen.  And it is more likely to backfire and cause more distance (contrary to those fantasies).

The opportunity is there, though, to build a little bridge of connection.  Capitalize on that.  Don’t fall for the romantic piece, but for the connection piece.  Some candy or flowers and a nice card would suffice.  The card should focus, not on romance, but on connection.  Read the card and look for one that speaks to being connected.  Ignore the sexual innuendos and double meanings.  Drop the overly sentimental and sappy.

Definitely steer clear of those cards dripping with romantic notes and pictures.  Definitely side-step the sexualized romance in many cards.

Instead, look for one that tells your spouse that you treasure the connection and the time you have shared.  If you can’t find that card, then get a fairly blank one and write it.  What you want your spouse to know is that he/she is still in your heart, even when those romantic feelings are missing.

You can always express your gratitude for the years of love you have shared.  (In fact, feel free to borrow that:  “I am so grateful for the years of love we have shared.”

NO “looking forward to many more/looking forward to future romance.”

Your expression is about the love and connection you have shared.  You can share a (not overly romantic) memory from your relationship — a time you two stood together, connected, working as a team.

To repeat myself:  a simple card that expresses gratitude for the years of love you have already shared, with or without a token of love.  NOT 6 dozen (or even 3 dozen) roses.  But how about an arrangement of flowers she loves, his favorite candy, or something small that shows you really do get them.

Do remember:  there are two good things about Valentine’s Day when your marriage is in trouble:  February 15 will arrive, and dark chocolate is good for you!  Grab a piece, make your connection, then wait out the day.

Does Romance Kill Relationships?
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

romance kill marriageI don’t know many who would doubt that the institution of marriage is in a crisis.  According to statistics, between 42% and 50% of marriages happening right now will end in divorce. Statistics about affairs are a little more shaky.  Conservative estimates place the number at about a quarter of people will have an affair by age 52. Less conservative estimates tag the number at 60% of men and 40% of women will have an affair during their lifetime.

Just 80 years ago, only 1 in 6 marriages ended in divorce. Marriages are now over 3 times as likely to fail.  So, what is the problem?

I am unwilling to place all the blame on romance, but I do believe there has been a significant shift in the meaning of marriage.  We have become an overly-sexualized and –romanticized society.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is a place for sexuality and romance, but not the role given today. The existence is not the issue, but the predominance.  The cart is, indeed, before the horse.

I spend my days working with couples and reflecting on marriage. What stands out to me is the many times I have heard a phrase like these:

“I just don’t feel the way I should feel.”

“I love you, but I’m not ‘in love’ with you.”

“I’ve lost the spark, and I can’t get it back.”

“I feel like we are just roommates.”

The common thread in all is that something is missing, the romantic feelings, the chemistry of a relationship. And many people assume that once these feelings are gone, there is proof that something is fundamentally wrong with the relationship.

Let me say this one more time, to be clear:  I am not against romance. I am not against chemistry. I think these are crucial elements in successful marriages.  But to make them the measuring stick of a marriage is extremely dangerous.

Here’s why:  the chemistry between a couple — the desire to be romantic, ebbs and flows in the natural rhythm of a relationship.  Couples naturally feel more and less intimate at different points in a relationship.

Many people can’t understand why that intense chemistry cannot continue throughout a relationship. They think the flame is dying — the marriage is in trouble. But recent research shows how right we are when we say “madly in love.”  The same parts of the brain that are overly stimulated in psychosis are likewise stimulated during the infatuation period of a relationship.

We experience an intense cascade of emotions and chemical reactions that create desire to be close. But when we spend our days thinking about the other person, yearning to be in that person’s arms, scheming of how to show our undying love,  then normal life is just about impossible.

The strong feelings of infatuation have to cool to a more manageable level.  But because of the strong messages we get from movies, books, magazines, songs, and self-help resources, we believe that our relationships should always be “hot and passionate.” We are either breathless or something’s wrong.

We need a different paradigm.  We need to recalculate and make sure what we expect is both sustainable and healthy.

So, here’s the truth:  romance and passion naturally emerge from healthy relationships. When couples are loving toward each other, when couples meet each other’s needs, passion is a natural by-product. Romance becomes the desire to show the passion felt toward the other.  It is not something to be conjured at certain times. It is not something we do, but something that emerges from within us.

When people believe that the lack of passion means the relationship is fundamentally flawed miss the point that the real issue is establishing intimacy and connection.  That is a much more manageable task than trying to rekindle passion. Passion cannot be forced.  It is a natural by-product of the relationship that is being tended.

So the real task is to move from the opposite direction. Here are some simple suggestions:

Focus on connection. When we work on being with someone, spending time, learning about him or her, and nurturing a sense of being a team, we kindle intimacy.

Focus on doing loving things. When we do loving things, we create loving feelings.  Think of how a relationship naturally develops. We do nice things for someone else, and feel good about it.  They reciprocate and feel good. That, in turn, fuels our desire to do even more loving things, and the relationship grows.  Here, the importance is in consciously loving.  Part of commitment that is involved in marriage is doing loving things, sometimes when you don’t feel the emotion. This is a matter of separating doing loving from the emotion of loving.

Focus on caring for the other person. Often, when we feel that our needs are not getting met, we are quick to turn the focus to self, and we ask “what am I getting out of this.” But that is a problem. When both retreat, asking the question, the answer becomes obvious – nothing.  But if you keep moving toward the other, there is a chance to break through. It tends to be a growing back-and-forth of each becoming more giving. But someone has to start it.

Focus on accepting the other person. The things that attracted us sometimes become the things that drive us crazy. But part of what makes things interesting is that that other person is different than you.  Revel in that.  Find ways of relishing the difference, the idiosyncrasies of the other.  Make it your job to not only tolerate, but to truly treasure the differences.

Don’t let romance lead the way!  Love and commitment are the true engines. And when those engines are running, the rest will follow.

Valentine’s Day & Marriage
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

I am sitting here at my desk, the morning of Valentine’s Day — a favorite holiday of some, feared by many!  In the background, my iPod is playing (by coincidence I assure you!), “All You Need Is Love.”

Ahh, romance is in the air.  Try going to the store and not being assaulted by pink, red and white.  Cards, candies, fragrances, stuffed animals, flowers, balloons, lingerie, oh my!  I sometimes am confused on whether romance is in the air, or the smell of money for retailers.

So much pressure has been put on this one day. . . and yet all the day should be is a reminder of romance and love.  And no, they are not the same.  Romance is the chemical drug that often has us disregarding logic and reason.  It pulls us into circumstances and chances that are beyond our rational decision-making — sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.

What should you do, this day, if you find yourself in the midst of a struggling relationship?  How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day then?  As I write this, I am responding to a question I have now been hearing from clients for over 3 weeks:  “what do I do about Valentine’s Day?”  Fearful of doing nothing and making things worse, people are also fearful of doing something and making things worse.  The proverbial rock and a hard place.

So, let’s boil it down again, without the “help” of the malls and stores.  Valentine’s Day is a chance to say “I care for you, I love you.”  It can also say “I am STILL attracted to you, believe it or not.”  So, here is my simple suggestion:  make it simple but thoughtful.  Generally, that means a card and a thoughtful token.  Not jewelry or lingerie if your relationship is struggling.

Why?  Simple:  too much pressure.  Instead, go with the distilled sense of what this day is about, the reminder of love.

First step, finding a card that doesn’t gush, doesn’t presume, and doesn’t pressure.  Something that says “I love you.”

Second step, finding a thoughtful token.  Perhaps a favorite dessert or a CD.  Maybe a thoughtful book (NOT one on fixing your marriage!).  Perhaps a box of truffles.  The big thing here is to not try and win someone over.  Instead, the hope is to remind them that you love them and you know them.  You know what he or she would like.  In other words, something that will make someone feel “thought of.”

2 steps, and you can avoid all the pressure that the stores seem to build in people struggling with their marriage.

And one last thing:  don’t get caught up in what you get.  That really isn’t the point.  The point is to show YOUR love.  So remember, the same struggle you are having, your spouse may be having — but without a good answer.  So give him or her some room and don’t take it too personally.  After all, this is just another day with a chance to show love.

Valentine’s Day Message: Why Marriages Last
150 150 Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.

Very frequently, I am asked by individuals, couples, even the press, “what makes a marriage last?” I chuckle a little because the answer is so simple (simple is NOT the same as easy).

But before I tell you the secret, I am aware that we are quickly approaching Valentine’s Day. At least in the United States, this holiday has become a retailer’s dream (and many an individual’s nightmare!). We have woven this whole ideal of romance into the fabric of this day.

Do you know who Valentine was? The facts are a little sketchy, but the theory is that it started with a Roman celebration where a lottery was held, matching girls and boys together for the duration of the celebration. Some of these became marriages. That celebration was, evidently, around mid-February, probably on the 14th.

Then enter Emperor Claudius. Claudius outlawed marriage, so that the young men eligible to be soldiers would not be encumbered by marriage. But a Catholic priest, Valentine, continued to perform marriages. He defied the emperor to honor love.

This led to his imprisonment and beheading. So his martyrdom was celebrated on February 14th, partly to overtake the Pagan celebration by honoring love in Christian terms.

Valentine was quite the counter-cultural! He refused to allow an emperor to prevent the union of two people who wanted to be together. And we have managed to bring back only the romantic, sexualized nature of relationships in our current celebrations!

So, that is the apparent history of Valentine’s Day, which leads me to the secret of a lasting marriage. You see, we have taken this holiday and made romance the cake, not the icing on the cake.

The secret to a lasting marriage? Two people who choose to stay married. That’s it. Marriages that last don’t necessarily have less conflict, more sex, more money, less anger, or anything else we assume. Marriages that last do so because each person makes a daily decision to stay married.

The commitment to the marriage, then, is the cake! From that commitment, a couple decides to work through difficulties. And since there is a commitment, a couple realizes they must come to some solution to the problems that arise in any marriage. Their solution just does not involve dissolution of the marriage!

When there is commitment, the cake, then romance really is the icing on the cake! It is not that romance and romantic feelings are unimportant. They just should not lead us into believing that their absence means a marriage is over.

Every marriage, successful or not, has times when passion wanes. That is the natural pattern of relationships. But those that share a commitment end up carrying the day when the passion is not the glue of the relationship.

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and commit to commitment in your marriage!

If you need tools to help you get to the icing on the cake, grab my ebook!

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.