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Understanding Biology And Evolution Increases Your Likelihood Of A Happy Marriage

Hoca

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Recently, I posted the below few sentences on Facebook, and people accused me of “hinting that you should cheat.” The reality is that understanding our biological underpinnings and why they arose evolutionarily is one of the most powerful ways to protect against infidelity and marital dissatisfaction! Read on to understand why.



Many people are dissatisfied in their marriages or with their partners because the honeymoon stage has ended (learn all about this stage here), and they feel a very natural lessening of drive and focus. They may start to be attracted to other people. A great example is this post. Women tend to have lower sex drives after the earliest honeymoon stage (which is designed to be long enough for us to meet a partner, have a baby, wean the baby and move on), at which point, evolutionarily, they would be attracted to a different man to breed with in order to maximize the genetic diversity of our species. Men tend to have lower romantic drives after the honeymoon stage, as they too are no longer “drunk” on new love hormones, and would also ideally (from an evolutionary perspective) move on to other women. This change is particularly dramatic in lower libido women and emotionally avoidant men, who acted more out of character when their hormones were racing in the honeymoon stage.


Often, the most transformational change occurs in couples therapy when partners learn about the biology behind the honeymoon stage ending. Instead of a man thinking that his wife “bait and switched” him with a higher sex drive earlier in the relationship, or a woman thinking that her husband “love bombed” her purposefully and has now intentionally switched off the spigot of his romantic attention, both partners recognize that biology is at play. It doesn’t mean that your partner or your relationship are at fault when you move out of the honeymoon stage, and shouldn’t mean that you should leave them or cheat on them, even if you fantasize about doing so. Instead, you can both recognize that you are in a different phase now, the disillusionment stage, which follows the honeymoon stage to a greater or lesser extent in all couples. If you work through the issues that arise in this phase, including the waning of giddy new love, creating a new identity as a couple, having kids, balancing career and family, and more, you can end up in a close and loving long term relationship. A happy marriage will make you feel bonded in an even deeper way, as discussed here and here.

Some people find it very threatening to think about the fact that their partner could be attracted to another human being while still choosing to be faithful. If this is how you feel, this anxiety is likely due to childhood experiences that made you feel that you were unworthy of love and attention. I discuss fearful avoidant attachment here and scarcity mindset here, both of which can be transformative listens if you struggle with anxiety and jealousy in intimate relationships.

If you were implicitly taught that your attachment figure could not be trusted to care for you, then you likely feel both angry and jealous regularly within your intimate relationships now. You don’t trust that people could choose you over other options, because you did not experience this as a child. Therefore, you think your best chance is removing your partner from any situation where they could possibly interact with another person, as they would likely prefer that person to you. Working through fearful-avoidant attachment in therapy can help you grow more calm and less controlling and jealous in your relationships, as well as understand and heal the origins of your self-worth issues.

The ability to hold multiple ideas in your mind at the same time is a characteristic of openmindedness. This is one of the healthiest and most protective traits for a happy marriage. A major reason that people come in to couples therapy is that their partners are closedminded, whether in bed or out of it. I discuss closedmindedness in multiple posts, like here and here. People who are closedminded are defensive, bad at empathizing, and feel anxious and angry when encountering ideas that are new to them. None of these are welcome traits in a partner, or in a family member or friend for that matter. Getting outside your comfort zone by learning about new ideas (whether they are about different political viewpoints, differences in how your partner experiences and expresses love, or the evolutionary reasons that monogamy can feel difficult at times) is a way to learn and grow as a human. This growth and ability to hear about different views without becoming angry and anxious is the point of education.

Long term relationships can be a wonderful source of love, comfort and joy, not to mention the happiness that comes from building a life and raising a family together. I discuss all of that in the episode “What Does The Post-Honeymoon Stage Look Like For Happy Couples?” and many other posts and podcast episodes. However, if you don’t think that they can also be challenging, for myriad reasons including our evolutionarily-driven impulses, then you are setting yourself up to fail. This naivete will make you think that your partner is the problem, versus understanding that we are wired to be attracted to others and move on, and thereby work on mindfully and purposefully staying connected to our partner. I discuss ways to do this here, here, and here among the hundreds of other posts and podcasts I have on how to be a better, more understanding and loving partner (to your husband and to your wife).

When you understand that monogamy can be difficult, and isn’t going to be an idealized fairy tale at all times, you can make a conscious choice to intentionally create a loving marriage. Understanding that, after the honeymoon stage, it is totally natural to be attracted to other people or to feel less “in love” with your spouse at every moment, can in fact help you weather the ups and downs of marriage together. It is very similar to how rates of child abuse drop when young mothers are given education about the developmental stages of babies and children (there are many studies on this; one is here).

A mother who thinks that her baby is being purposefully “bad” when they cry is much likelier to blame the baby and act abusively. When she is taught that all babies cry, and what the cries might mean, and how to respond contingently, she has awareness and tools at her disposal. Her stress is normalized and the way that she thinks about her baby changes. I have seen a very similar process occur in clients when they learn about the biological underpinnings of their dissatisfaction or boredom with their partners. This knowledge prevents breakups or cheating, the exact opposite outcome of what people fear will happen if we are made aware of our natural impulses to stray and move on.

If you have ever felt that your partner wasn’t “the one” because you don’t feel the same as you did in the honeymoon phase, or felt guilty for having a dream about another person or mad at your partner for having one, or felt consumed with jealousy and anxiety at the idea of your partner being able to think another person is attractive even in the past, therapy can help. And couples therapy can definitely help couples who are struggling with the transition from honeymoon phase to a deeper, more long lasting attachment phase. Biology doesn’t make us choose any action over another… but minimizing its impact on our impulses and desires is putting our heads in the sand and actually increasing our likelihood of dissatisfaction and infidelity. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Information Shouldn’t Make You Anxious, And If It Does, Read This!
 
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