• Part of an essay in progress

How adding the biology changes the equation

Posted February 3, 2014 9:11 pm  


Daniel Jones, the editor of the NY Times’ Sunday, Modern Love column, had a lead article in the Style Section on Feb 1, 2014 about the most common themes in the 50,000 stories that have “crossed [his] desk” over the years: In Long-Term Marriages, Good Enough is Great.  One of the most common is that of “marital malaise,” or the search for lost excitement and passion in a long-term relationship.

Jones expounds at length on the the many problems with the three alternative approaches to the challenge: sneaking around, resignation (from bitter to appreciative), and working to reinvigorate the marriage. Of the third group, many end up in the appreciatively resigned group, a group whose members are, as it happens, “among the healthiest and happiest of the marrieds,” according to Jones. People in this group “realize that passion does not equal love, and that the loss of one doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of the other.” A sensible conclusion and well put.

But in all this discussion, there is no mention that the diminishment of excitement and passion in marriage has a biological foundation. The loss of passion is not just the result of the humdrum nature of work and childrearing but is the way human beings are programmed to respond over time. Does it help to know this? I think so. Seeing a problem in perspective is almost essential to solving it. Being ignorant of the norm sets you up to viewing your own situation as a measure of personal inadequacy. How much of the drama around the diminution of passion is due to the sense of failure people experience, to the notion that they are not measuring up to the standard of romance they were led to expect of themselves and of their partner?

Being aware of the biology behind the pattern does not mean that we should not try to keep the flame lit. As we age, we know we will lose physical agility and mental acuity, but–hopefully–we work at staving off the decline as long as we can. Why not view sexual charge in a marriage in the same light?


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