Our grandparents married and their marriage was for life. There weren’t many other alternatives, even legal ones. The average number of years of relationships our parents had far exceeded ours. We now spend an average of 16.5 years married, according to the latest statistics. Our society has changed, although our need to be loved remains the same.
We now have access to endless possibilities thanks to dating apps or activities that exist to meet people regardless of age. We will probably rework our emotional lives into different patterns and without the need to get married. We can say that we live in the age of liquid love, where novelty, passion and freedom have gained more power than the search for stability, according to the metaphor of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. This means that in many cases, and especially if there are no children, it seems easier to break up with our partner than to fight for her. But despite all this social transformation, our deepest desires remain the same.
Part of us continues to yearn for the quiet pleasure of security that routine provides, and another part of us longs for novelty and change. Therefore, we need to redefine the concept of a couple. We are no longer worth what drove our grandparents or parents. Society is different and so are we. We need to find “the balance between security and stability together with desire and passion,” advocates Nuria Jorba in her handbook Parejas imperfectas y felizes (introductory article Arpa, 2022). And the starting point is clear: let’s stop looking for the perfect or ideal partner.
Many people fall into the myth of emotional relationships. We grew up with romantic stories and movies that end with the main characters meeting, but rarely go further in time. The couple begins when the infatuation ends, according to psychologist Arun Mansukhani. When we fall in love, our brain generates a chemical cocktail that makes us idealize the other person. Dopamine, serotonin or endorphins, among others, lead us to unforgettable sensations, even addictive for more than one. But they are not eternal. When they plummet, the true reality opens up before us: the differences that made us curious are now sources of tension that worsen in a society of liquid love. The emptiness after falling in love can make us replace the person with another to relive past feelings. Therefore, we must understand that the playing field begins when the romantic love engendered by chemistry is overcome and the couple’s love awakens.
Another important aspect is to determine what we want, what type of relationship suits us best and what depends on us. Joan Garriga in her book Good Love in Couples (Destiny, 2013) suggests that the best couples are those in which the relationship flows without much emotional turbulence or wear and tear. To do this, Jorba offers a personal reflection for those with or without a partner, which consists of responding to what we would like from the other person in three areas: their personal profile (that they like sports, that they empathize… ), the dynamics that are generated (sports every week, emotional conversations…) and how we would like to feel (secure, attracted…). After completing this list, we need to think about what is up to us about what we want to happen. Many times a passive role is assumed in relationships. We long for the other person to act or that, just by the fact that they appear in our lives, everything we seek happens by magic. However, love is a decision, as Erich Fromm would say. Building a healthy emotional connection means leaving the passive attitude for a more active one where we make the other person want to be with us too.
The above is possible only if we understand that the partner can be an important part of us, but it is not everything. Or as Garriga said, “The couple can give you happiness, but they don’t have the power to make you happy.” The latter depends on the person himself, on self-esteem and personal security, as well as on our ability to regulate our emotions. On this last point, Jorda offers an interesting differentiation. When faced with problems, we need a balance between self-regulation (playing music, writing, going out for sports…) and co-regulation (chatting with a friend, talking to your partner immediately after an argument to resolve it…) . When we rely only on co-regulation, or when we constantly need external support to deal with our problems, we are more prone to emotional dependence, according to Jorda.
In other words, in the age of liquid love, learning to live with loneliness is a good recipe for a good relationship.
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