My article on affairs (Let’s talk about affairs) sparked quite a lot of response with several people writing to tell me their deeply personal stories.  Here is the follow-up.

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From the emails I received, it is apparent that there is a distinction between between love and “in love”, that butterflies-in-the-tummy, breathless feeling. We long for it, because it reminds us of our youth and perhaps a headier time, free of cares and reality.

Someone wrote: “Don’t judge me too harshly. I love my wife but I am not in love with her. I need more before I am too old. This is why I look outside my relationship to feel alive.”

My instant retort (which I did not send) was: We all want more. But it is the more that kills us. More is like cancer cells, which were originally ordinary cells who could not stop making more and more. I once gave someone all of me for the best part of two years, but he wanted more and more, and in the end he lost something very precious in the process: someone who would have cherished him for life, in sickness and health, through everything.

For me, it was the time to get out and run like hell when someone wants more despite you having given your best – if you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life feeling not good enough, when in actual fact, you are fine just as you are, to the right person. 

But really, that self-righteous reply would serve no purpose.  Far better to tackle the issue of how to be in love with your spouse.

I turned to science, to an biological anthropologist, Karen Fisher, who looked at the brains of people who are still in love (as opposed to love) with their spouses after being together for 30 years. She put couples who are still in love with each other (instead of loving each other only) into brain scanners and found out that the area of the brain that makes dopamine (“happy chemical”) called the ventral tegmental area was active in those couples who are in love.  This busy factory that makes dopamine and sending it round the brain creates that  euphoria, excited, heart-beating-faster, etc etc etc feeling…..*drum roll* you are in love.

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The brains of couples in long term, happy relationships also show activity in the regions of the brain linked to three areas:

  1. Empathy
  2. Controlling own emotions, such as  stress
  3. And “positive illusions”

To be honest, I was rather surprised by (2), because a few days ago, I was lamenting the fact that my partner does not share his work stress with me (“How to reset your wife when she is falling apart”). It annoyed me a great deal, but perhaps my partner knew intuitively that unburdening on me is not going to help our relationship.

“Let’s focus on us, hey, Jac?” He often says.  “Hold the space safe for me.”

I have learned that I don’t ever want someone to use me as a dumping round ever again, but at the same time, I do not want my partner treating me with kids’ gloves. Balance is hard to achieve.

“Create my beautiful world for me,” my partner would say cajolingly whenever he comes home and he loses himself utterly in me, his world of work a whole universe away from the magic of our beloved island. He wants to know everything about the days of my small life, the inconsequential, rather than vent the stresses he is carrying in his head which is killing him. I am still not comfortable with that, but the thing about being a couple that I am learning is respecting each other’s position, and “positive illusions”.

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Positive illusions, according to the author of the study Karen Fisher, means being willing to overlook the annoying things about your partner. I think that is so true!  If I think about the good he has brought into my life, his faults are quite tiny in comparison, though we must work on the things that we cannot peacefully accept…..and this is where my partner and I are at at the moment.

We tend to diminish our partners by picking on their faults rather than thinking about the wonderful things they bring into our lives, forgetting that our partners are real people rather than an illusion of perfection. Real people deserve real love, instead of being judged harshly for being human.

I think my partner and I need to work on this, which ties in with empathy.  He needs to be more tolerant of me when I stress about which shoes to wear, because with him, an evening walk could be any of these three things: romantic dinner in an expensive restaurant, 7km run, hike through a waterfall, swim in the ocean. I too, need to be more tolerant of his impatience at what he perceives to be my physical weakness and laziness, because it is more about his own fears than me.

And here’s the thing: my partner and I are an imperfect match – we are too alike, too fiery, and we set each other off – but because we are madly in love, we somehow make it through each skirmish and grow stronger in our relationship. Though who knows what the future may bring.

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You can watch this short clip on Business Insider’s website by clicking on this link.

These are my seven tips for being in love with your partner in a long term relationship:

(1) Make memories OFTEN. It doesn’t have to be anything grand. An evening walk together, hand in hand, or sharing an ice-cream, or long kiss under a beautiful tree. Funny, long after we forget a person, we remember the memory.

(2) Flirt outrageously.  Nothing to get the heart going faster than a dirty text coming in whilst you are at work.

(3) Invest in yourself. Like keeping your skin nice and moisturised, hair in good condition, etc.   Once, on impulse, my partner walked into a shop in London and bought the scent, Vetiver from Guerlain (first made in the 1950s), and he blew me away completely when he wore in on a romantic date. Probably because he never uses aftershave or cologne (“Not me, Jac, sorry”).

(4) Surprise your partner. Oh my! I once had a call asking me to return home immediately because there was a leak in the house, and upon rushing back, I found my partner sitting in the darkened room, in a dinner jacket complete with bow tie, waiting to take me to dinner. The ball is now in my court: it’s my turn, and I have been thinking about how to surprise him.

(5) Time apart from each other. If you are secure in your relationship, the time apart is good so that you don’t take each other for granted. For me, it is also a good test of the stability of your relationship – you must feel confident enough about yourself, your spouse and your relationship to feel at ease with being apart.

(6) Do new things together. Our new thing two years ago was boxing, and since then, there were many little new things that we do together like boogie boarding and beer-making (though he detests beer).

(7) Do not have full sex. Go for heavy petting instead, stopping short of the act. You’d drive each other wild.

Related article: Seven ways of making your spouse your porn star