Archive for Longevity

The Autumn of a Long Relationship

In his poem ‘To Autumn’ Keats describes this time of year as the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’ describing Autumn as having its own richness and ‘music’ that is different from, but as lovely as, ‘the songs of Spring’.

At the beginning, a new relationship can feel like an emotional Springtime – light and fresh and green. It can be a charged, optimistic and euphoric time and the world seems full of promise. But it is not just about hearts and minds, Helen Fisher describes falling in love as a powerful biological experience too. Novelty can stimulate our dopamine systems and a new love can mean we are infused with a constantly elevated level of dopamine. The area of the brain most activated by a new romantic love is the same one that is activated by cocaine and we can have the same craving for and feelings of elation from the very presence, sight, sound and smell of our loved one.

However, over time, the adrenaline begins to fade and this ‘honeymoon period’ ends. The Darwinian purpose of love is the survival of the species and the excitement of attraction needs to transform into an attachment that enables us to become long-term partners. Our emotional bonds deepen and strengthen. We feel caring and protective and concerned for the wellbeing of our partner and this closeness and connection creates a sense of emotional security. Now oxytocin, a different but equally powerful hormone, is released. The Autumn of a relationship could be described as ‘mellow’.

But both Helen Fisher and Esther Perel describe the dilemma that couples face at this stage of their relationship. Conflicting biological drives developed to meet our different human needs and they do not sit easily with one another. 

Perel identifies the clash between our pull towards the warm nurturing intimacy and sustaining emotional security of a committed relationship, and the co-existing human urge for playfulness, novelty, excitement, mystery and change. 

Fisher says these drives can cause confusion. ‘You can feel a deep attachment to a long-term partner at the same time that you feel intense romantic love for someone else, and at the same time feel sexually attracted to someone else again’.

We want the comfort of familiarity, being known, accepted and appreciated. However, unfortunately, that can also create an erotic flat-lining and a sense of boredom. There is a danger that everything predictable – while soothing and reassuring – can, over time, decrease the erotic charge between the couple. 

Attention, interest, admiration, affection, variety, surprise, excitement (in whichever way this is defined by each of them) is required for desire to spark.

Like Autumn, a long committed relationship bears fruit. It has colour, complexity, richness and depth which a couple can celebrate. Their own particular history is a patchwork of shared experiences. However, they will always need to continue to balance the flow between similarity and difference, independence and togetherness, energetic otherness and soothing familiarity. If they can revive the romantic behaviours that were naturally present at the beginning, then they can again enjoy the pleasures of both a dopamine and an oxytocin rush.

Counselling can help us understand how our brains work and allow us to consider and manage our unconscious impulses. A couple can grow to understand the way passion waxes and wanes and the importance of constant repair and reconnection. They can then consciously and openly make the choices that are best for them – and deal honestly and bravely with the consequences.

‘Autumn Leaves’ – Nat King Cole

Kathy Rees

Couples who live apart together. LATS

When setting out on any kind of committed couple, the hope is for a long lasting relationship. With long levity in certain areas of the world becoming more normal, it may be time to take a fresh look at how we perceive couple life. Most would agree that 24/7 together for possibly 50-70 years needs constant re shaping and re evaluating in order to stave off over familiarity and irritation ignited by habit.

The kind of couples people choose to be in has evolved from marriage, a law created to build up the population and a safeguard against lack of structure and safety, into all kinds of coupling, and if chosen, rearing a family. People choose to make their own unique couple without the more childlike safety of rules and regulations hampering their creativity.

One of the changes two people choosing to stay together from formation to death has to think about is longevity. People living to 100 is now no longer a rarity, rather it is becoming something which no longer is discussed as astonishing.

If a couple who choose to be together for life reach these bigger age numbers, certain prices have to be paid. Their bodies continue to age and their brains tend to lose short term memories which hitherto have been clear. Exercise and diet play a part in a long and healthy life but also peace of mind, caring for or being cared for in a kind and loving way can enhance a sense of well being and energy.

There are no set ways for these necessities to be achieved, it is up to the couple to work out a way to continue to want to be by each other’s side through good and bad times.

Living apart together is an option. This, of course, requires enough financial backing to put into place. A decision to live apart some of the time and together for the rest of the time can bring back what was present when the couple chose each other many years before.

Trust has to be one of the biggest assets to make this work. It enables each person to pursue outside interests, different groups of people, ideas, types of holiday, food, ways of running a home and where to live without loosing trust and admiration.

They can then be together for the things they love about each other and apart for the sometimes irritating differences. This can build up renewed respect and sense of self before the time comes when they may have to care for each other permanently.

This will allow them to use what they have built together over the years to be a reward at the end of life.

Clare Ireland

Longevity and long term couples.

We are told that in some parts of the world people are living longer. This may be due to the increased population figures, better health facilities in some areas, better diet in the West or more attention to self care in terms of health issues. This, in turn brings with it more long term couples. Couples can now find themselves in partnership for 70 plus years and not be a subject for discussion or amazement. This is a wonderful thing in some cases but in others can bring problems never faced before except in exceptional circumstances.
I am seeing more and more long term couples in my counselling room bringing diverse problems which, hard to define, are nonetheless presenting difficult situations for which there is little outside help. These are couples who have stuck together for whatever reason, many of which are good for both parties, but carrying with it some feelings of helplessness and estrangement.
Passions, rewarded in previous life stages, by sexual contact, are acted out in quite angry ways. Taking strong and opposing sides on present day situations which they cannot solve or in any way be a part of the solution. What used to be known roles have blurred. Women re entering the work place just when men have peaked and are looking towards retirement. Men who have been in positions of authority, suddenly flawed by a world increasingly run by technology and new generations of people who speak a different language and feel little of the respect shown by previous generations towards age and experience.
This can be isolating for the aging couple and in turn it throws them onto each other’s mercy. Instead of this strengthening them, it seems to cause a split. They become competitive and snubbing about the other’s isolation and they fight from different corners.
Often, I find that one side is passive aggressive, feeling they never press buttons thereby taking the position of the victim. The other, always on the attack, becomes more and more volatile yet ends the round feeling exhausted yet with nowhere to go and no one to explain how alone they feel.
Fear of death begins to take a leading position yet often remains unspoken. The fear is exposed by the accusation and denial, yet remains a ‘don’t go there’ subject. All the fear is released in useless repetitive arguments leaving each side feeling isolated
Never before have so many couples been in this situation yet the rules and regulations around them seem to have no boundaries or grounding common to all. They have to work out their own pathway and either weed the verges of their life together or live in loneliness in each other’s presence.
In many cases, their life is good. They often enjoy travel where the everyday is forgotten, they enjoy their mutual friends and families and seem happy to separate out into interests unshared without envy or mistrust. Their sexual contact alters and becomes something precious to both.
When lack of communication slowly seeps into their lives, feeling special to the other seems to have disappeared replaced by carping or shutting down which becomes the language. Even tactile language has gone.
It helps to go back to the beginnings of the couple and what they found in each other which felt so special. What they fell for at the outset will still be there somewhere buried under life experiences and time. When gently looking at who they were, what expectations they had about the other and the feelings of security and safety in each other’s presence, they can find it again. This brings a kind of mature strength which helps to find the bond and makes them a duo when facing life’s new challenges and inevitabilities.
Their joint history becomes the unique tie between them and is like a comforting place from which to cope with and care for each other. This could become the safe place to go to with kindness and understanding giving them back a unique partnership.
Clare Ireland