The Power of Marital Love: Psychology Today
Coche: No Ordinary Life, Psychology Today Blog October 2014
On October 19, I joined other speakers in a lively and educational day devoted to informing us all about best knowledge in the pursuit of happiness. TEDx Cape May invited me to speak, so I gathered information from Positive Psychology, the scientific foundation for information on well being and optimal living, and shared a bit about my work with couples . The research is correct when it informs us that love actually does have the power to motivate people to work diligently to reconstitute damaged relationships, especially marriage.
As an interpersonal architect : I help people design the space between them so that it works better. Some years ago I met Clem and Marie, whose marriage was dangerously near a divorce that neither wanted. With a familial history of deep depression, Marie had taken to staying home day after day. Clem became afraid of her seething anger and had withdrawn. Marie had lost respect for him since his voice was not active in the marriage. They asked me to help, saying, “We’ll do anything to get our marriage back.” We love each other and cannot recapture the passion and delight we felt when we met.
I began to lead them through a process that had many steps, some fairly simple to execute, others exquisitely complex and challenging:
1. MEDICATION. With help from a competent psychiatrist, we adjusted Marie’s meds so that her blood levels could balance her moods. Deep clinical depression had robbed Marie of the capacity to change her behavior at will, and properly handled medication formed the first step in helping her recapture her life.
2. COMMUNICTON. Clem and Marie learned advanced couples communications skills that I have taught hundreds of couples over the last three decades. Four skills helped them be able to talk through all levels of their confusion and pain. They learned to listen actively to the emotional substance in their partner’s discourse, to speak their own emotional reality, to problem solve keeping the welfare of both partners in mind, and to negotiate tricky decisions.
3. POSITIVITY. Putting research to work from positive psychology to work daily allowed relief from the pain of their marriage. Because the relationship had become so strained, I taught Clem and Marie how to infuse each day with a collection of happy moments. Often brief, these pleasant times helped them remember how good the relationship could be. They were busy with careers but had to make time for frequent happy moments each day because well being comes from a collection of pleasant times spent alone or with someone else. They liked to garden, boat, walk, bike and made time. They also had to revive the pleasure of touch, a much harder task. When a marriage breaks down, touch can become dangerous. They had to retrain their brains to consider touch neutral and safe before they could trust it to be pleasurable, then passionate. The held hands, gave foot and shoulder massages and slowly their bodies remembered the magic they had felt with one another as touch became pleasurable, then passionate.
4. COUPLES GROUP THERAPY. To give them the necessary intense behavioral treatment that could heal the damage suffered earlier in their lives, I invited them to join a psychotherapy group for couples . The group acted as a hall of mirrors for Marie’s anger and Clem’s withdrawal. Other members provided them with feedback . “Marie, you sound so angry, no wonder Clem withdraws. Clem, speak up if you want Marie to respect you.” But the group was also supportive, and this combination really helped turn the marriage around.
The result of the hard work and multi-level treatment was tremendously satisfying. In a recent interview, Clem said “Sex is great. Marie and I will never be apart.” And Marie said “I trust and respect Clem. He is my treasure.”
THE MAJOR TRUTH OF SCIENCE. This story reveals major truths for us all. We know from neuropsychology that love is THE primary need, as Dr Helen Fisher says. To love someone is part of our genetic programming and is necessary to human well being. Positive psychology tells us that the foundation of happiness is engaging with others. We also know that emotional and physical touch are powerful ways to engage with another. And we learn that engaging with others is indeed the greatest source of happiness. As we form and grow relationships with others, we seek and find life meaning that creates our greatest sense of well being.
Dr Chris Peterson had it right when he said “Other people matter.” And furthermore, he reminded us that we are among the people who matter most. For this is the secret of happiness.
To Consider: How can you reach out and touch someone you love? Can you touch their heart with your words and your tenderly offered physical contact? Are you one of the other people who matter the most? And how much does that mean to you?
To Read:Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology . 2012. Oxford University Press. Christopher Peterson
Summary: Join Clem and Marie in the psychotherapy that helped them transform their marriage from dangerously near divorce to passionate and deeply meaningful. Learn the educational and therapeutic steps that allowed deep sadness to transform into both pleasure and satisfaction together.
Subtitle: Clem and Marie Recreate Marital Passion Through Touch