Many dads fear “the talk” relative to conversations with their kids about love and sex. I can understand this discomfort, but I wish dads would focus more on the characteristics of a healthy relationship than the biology of sex. Even if they leave the topic of sex to teachers and moms, there’s still a lot to be said about love and relationships.
“What’s that Boiling on the Stove?"
Falling in love is a lot like the boiling pot I remember in the biology lab where my boyfriend (now husband) worked when we were in college. I often visited him there and regularly noticed something bubbling in a large pan on the stove, but it was usually boiling so hard the contents were indistinguishable. When I asked about their make-up, I got an unexpected answer.
“Road kill,” my boyfriend responded, rather matter-of-factly. “Some of the biology students cruise the country roads early in the morning to find freshly dead animals. They bring them back here, boil the meat off the bones, and then reconstruct the skeletons to study.” Not the answer I had expected, but falling in love can be a lot like that.
When we become attracted to someone, a.k.a. “fall in love,” a chemical cocktail invades our brain and temporarily transforms us. The neurotransmitters of attraction and infatuation (e.g., like dopamine, phenylethylalamine and norepinephrine) flood our neural pathways and lead us to be overly optimistic, discount potentially negative information, and cling to a euphoric state with unquestioned certainty that we’ve found our soul mate and the world will be blissful forever. Eventually the impact of these hormones subsides, and other hormones of connection and bonding (e.g., oxytocin) take their place. When that occurs we find ourselves in a more rational, calmer state of being. Until it does, however, we can make some very unwise decisions regarding our love life.
What kinds of behaviors do we overlook or rationalize during our euphoric state? Lying, cheating, controlling, and blaming others for his or her problems are good examples. An inability to keep a job, having a perpetually negative attitude, big mood swings and substance abuse are also red flags. Failure to take responsibility for one’s children and believing others are out to get you are also danger signs often condoned in the “falling in love” stage. Looking back, most people admit there were signs of bad behavior early in the relationship, but they were overlooked under the influence of the “love cocktail.”
Slowing to a Simmer
Although it has been said that a “watched pot never boils,” as we can already see, it might be better to watch what goes into the pot before it comes to a boil . . . or wait until it slows to a simmer before deciding what to do with the contents.
“The Seven Principles of Smart Love”
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of Relationships and Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, identify seven key factors to consider before making a serious commitment to someone. They include “ 1) Seek a good match; 2) Pay attention to values; 3) Choose a real partner, not a “makeover” project; 4) Don’t try to change yourself to be somebody else; 5) Expect good communication and don’t run from conflict; 6) Don’t play games, pressure or manipulate someone; and 7) Have a bottom line.” Let’s consider each briefly.
Seek a good match. | Pay attention to values.
Beth and Josh could have saved themselves much heartache and frustration had they taken seriously the need for common interests after the heat of early passion slows to a simmer. Given that having fun together is one of the things happy couples identify as key to their marital satisfaction, it’s helpful if they enjoy doing some of the same things. It is equally important they have some friends in common, friends who like both of them and will support their relationship. Finally, having similar values in terms of shared beliefs mutual respect, and commitment is essential.
Choose a real partner, not a “makeover” project. | Don’t try to change yourself…
It goes without saying that trying to change your partner, or changing yourself just to please him or her is not a good idea. First, you are unlikely to be successful in the long run, which will be frustrating for both of you. Secondly, most people have a deep need to be accepted as they are. If you are trying to change your partner, then your love is conditional. Moreover, trying to change a core part of yourself for your partner is likely to leave you feeling hollow, empty and very lonely over time. It is definitely not a good way to feel loved and stay connected.
Expect good communication. | Don’t run from conflict. | Don’t play games …
Some differences are inevitable and when they occur what matters most is the ability to communicate well and solve problems as a team. Most people would agree that screaming, yelling and hitting are unacceptable, but fewer are aware of the damage conflict avoidance can do to a marriage as the years unfold. One person said it well when she exclaimed, “We’ve been pushing things under the carpet for years and now we have a very lumpy carpet.” A “very lumpy carpet” results in bitterness and resentment that becomes harder and harder to resolve as trust and respect deteriorate.
Have a bottom line.
Before you allow yourself to become seriously involved with someone, establish your “bottom line,” that is, the standard for how you wish to be treated in a relationship. What are the things you need and want? What are the deal breakers? Setting limits is healthy for you and for the one you love. It is also fair and honest.
Take Your Time
Determining whether or not a potential mate is a “smart love” takes time. It’s wise to see the person in a variety of situations over a period of several months, before allowing yourself to become too attached. It’s prudent to allow the hormones of love to stop boiling so that you have a better chance of knowing what you’ve got, than you do when the relationship is still steamy. It’s even better to learn more about a person before you allow yourself to get emotionally engaged. There’s a lot of time for regret later on.
Falling in love is often the easy part. Staying in love is harder, but a lot less work and more fun if you choose the right person from the start.