Why romantic love tends to come with an expiration date

Study suggests women in long-term relationships may experience a decline in their love for their partners due to the multitude of daily chores, but there are other factors that contribute to the elusiveness of love but it is indeed possible to sustain passion for many years

Shani Gal|

In a recent study set out to explore the enigmatic aspects of love, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh attempted to learn why people, most often women, fall out of love after a few short years.
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Their study involved 3,900 adults in committed relationships, who were asked to document their emotions and company every half hour. The findings led the researchers to a striking conclusion: women experience a more intense surge of love at the start of a relationship, but after three years, this sentiment diminishes by a staggering 55%.
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הורות חד הורית
הורות חד הורית
Who has time for love?
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In contrast, men only encounter a modest 9% decline in their feelings of love over time. In essence, women seemingly cease to love at a faster rate than men. The researchers attribute this disparity to the additional responsibilities that women bear, including work, home, and children. These demands divert their attention to other matters, while men often have more opportunities to relax, unwind, and find contentment in their current circumstances.
Aaron Ben-Zeev, a philosophy professor at the University of Haifa, says that there are numerous studies indicating that women initiate divorces twice as often as men, particularly if they are satisfied with their work.
"When they are content with their jobs, their self-esteem rises, which strengthens their confidence in their ability to establish their own lives and reduces the significance of the price of divorce - because there is always a price - for them." Additionally, he notes that women often have higher expectations of love and relationships, which can lead to greater disappointment.
"Another study showed that women who completed a doctorate were more willing to be with someone who is 'good enough' rather than women with a secondary education. "This suggests that educated women, who are satisfied with their work, are more capable of initiating a separation with the belief that they deserve better or are so fulfilled by their careers that they place less importance on feeling married to their prince charming and being less dependent on supportive relationships.

Have we mentioned love?

"So, women are more inclined to end relationships, but what causes them, and actually also men in relationships, to stop loving one day?" Roee Tzur, a clinical social worker, psychotherapist and couples therapist, suggests dividing relationship systems into three categories: marriage, love, and romantic love.
"When people talk about how to maintain love over time, I assume they are referring to romantic love, because in order to stay married, you simply need not get divorced, which is very easy. Then there is love, which can overlap with romantic love, but they are not exactly the same. You can love someone and even live with them, and it can be like being partners or family. This is a love whose foundation, contrary to common belief, is not accepting the other as they are, but rather trying to support their development, their improvement, and helping them become the best version of themselves. It requires sensitivity, maturity, consideration, and empathy."
"If we look at this kind of love among couples, it seems that it is also a game because many times people go through changes. Over the years, they are no longer the same person, and the relationship becomes less suitable. They share less of what they are going through, show less concern, give fewer compliments, or care about showing consideration. The other person is no longer as important in their lives."
Professor Ben-Zeev agrees. "Everyone wants to thrive in their own lives, and if the relationship does not allow for that - and may even hinder personal development - then people will not stay. There is a concept in psychology called the 'Michelangelo Effect.' The famous sculptor said that when he sees the material, the marble from which he creates, the figure already exists within it, he just brings it out. It's the same in relationships - each person has good and bad qualities, and the aspiration is that your partner brings out the best in you and not the worst. It's about feeling that when we are with them, we are better people. But if we don't bring out the best in each other, the relationship cannot last. People don't want to stay in relationships where they feel stuck."
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Love doesn't always last
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Tzur argues that because of this reason, one of the important indicators that help predict the likelihood of a relationship lasting over time is the ability for self-awareness combined with a desire for personal growth. "A person who does not engage in self-reflection usually struggles to take responsibility, accept criticism, acknowledge places where they are not perfect or where they are responsible for difficulties in the relationship. They are also usually not interested in personal growth or allowing their partner to bring out their maximum potential. Therefore, the most destructive thing for love and a relationship is the phrase 'This is who I am, and that's it' - it's like a dead end because there is nothing to do with it."
Another measure that, according to Tzur, helps maintain love is how couples handle their conflicts. "It is one of the most important skills in a long-term relationship," he emphasizes, "because conflicts and disagreements will always exist. The question is how couples distance themselves and then come back together. Are they people who know how to set boundaries, meaning they know how to communicate and express where and how they were hurt? Or are they more people who undermine the relationship, and then they may become silent, passive-aggressive, or, on the contrary, attacking and irritable."
"This relates to another question that needs to be asked in a relationship: Are the partners more in competition with each other, or do they work in collaboration? People who are more empathetic and tend to collaborate will listen to a partner who raises something that bothers them. They will be less preoccupied with their own hurt and where it annoys them."
Prof. Ben-Zeev highlights another crucial aspect for the longevity of a relationship - criticality. "We often tend to give more significance to the qualities we perceive as negative in our partner rather than their positive qualities, or we may treat everything that is important to us as equally significant without prioritizing. That's why, even during the dating stage, it can be helpful to identify three to five qualities that are deal breakers for us, as well as three to five qualities that are deal makers. Subsequently, we should aim to assess the negative qualities with less intensity and the positive ones with greater intensity. If we accept that everyone has flaws, choosing the right relationship means deciding what to focus on and what to let go of. It's impossible to be upset about all of your partner's imperfections, so it's important to concentrate on what truly matters to you and try to overlook or assign less importance to what is not significant in your eyes."

Is it all about romance?

All these parameters can help maintain a stable and close relationship, but according to Tzur, in order to also sustain the romantic feeling, that is, the passion, an additional "push" and even more effort are needed. It may sound somewhat daunting, but it is a completely realistic goal when one is aware of the lurking enemies, both from within and outside.
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Sometimes people grow apart
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"Obviously, passion and excitement fade over time as we become accustomed to our partner," Tzur specifies the factors that dampen passion. "In addition, in the families we grow up in, we learn what it means to live with people with whom we will never have sexual relations and still love them. Therefore, many people struggle at some point to be close to a person who is also the parent of their children and still maintain passion and openness with them. It's truly not simple. That's why many times it seems that couples who go on vacation without their children suddenly rediscover that place, as if they are becoming somewhat strangers to themselves in a certain sense."
"With time, we get to know our partner more and more. There is something very stable and secure about it, and paradoxically, it becomes more difficult for us to feel passion. If I were to ask you with whom it would be easier for you to discover something about your sexuality - with the same spouse you are married to or with a guy you just met - you would probably answer that it would be easier with the stranger. We are very entangled with each other, so we need to try to maintain some separateness. It's even advisable to feel a bit of fear of losing, that the partner is not in your pocket, that he is not taken for granted, that he has alternatives, and that he is attractive to others. To know that he has his own private world, and that we still appreciate him for who he is and not just for who he is for us. The key is to feel close but not dependent."
The dependency that Tzur speaks of is not only expressed in daily needs, like who will walk the dog and who will put the kids to bed, but also in the small nuances of communication between partners. "Let's say your partner wants to have sexual relations and you're not interested. If he is more dependent, then you might see that he feels hurt or pressured, or he may manipulate you because he needs something from you. But if he approaches with more confidence, he can say to you, 'I really desire you, and I intend to try tomorrow as well.' In such a situation, you will feel that you have someone by your side who has self-control, and in the end, you might even want to respond to his advances. But for that, you need to maintain some level of separateness that allows us to desire and not just to be in need. Romance is built on choice. Passion cannot come without free will. It's like fire - if it doesn't have air, it cannot burn over time."
Tzur mentions another thing that could harm romantic love - the resentments we develop towards each other over the years. "We accumulate a lot of anger towards the other side, and we don't always talk about it and release the tension, and then we don't feel like engaging in sexual relations. Passion comes from appreciation. Many times, if we have resentments, we don't have the desire to have sexual relations with our partner."

A bit of love won't hurt

To maintain the fire of romance, Tzur suggests maintaining a light and liberated atmosphere, "being open with your partner, sharing with them what is important to us, what we love in our sexual relationship. We live in a very consumer-driven world, and romantic love also has consumerist elements. Anything that meets consumer criteria, whether it's a person or a product, eventually becomes worn out with time and is often replaced with something else. The same goes for sexual desire. If we only look at it from a consumerist perspective, it seems exciting at first until it fades away. But we can avoid that if we approach it with creativity, from a place where we learn and teach our partners, being open and unafraid to be childlike and inject humor."
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Stop looking at your phone!
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"In certain aspects, we need to work on it and remember that just as it is easier to maintain balance than to try to regain it, it is also easier to maintain desire than to try to revive it after years."
Maintaining it all amid a hectic routine isn't simple. "Indeed, it is important to acknowledge that passion can undergo various transformations. In the initial stages of a relationship, when couples are just getting to know each other, there is a fiery attraction that arises from the encounter of two strangers. They are deeply drawn to each other, and this intensity can be challenging to replicate as time goes on. However, there is a different kind of passion that emerges from intimacy, from understanding and appreciating what the other person desires, from the shared knowledge of intimate details that no one else knows, and from the love that has been cultivated and nurtured over the years. This form of passion is equally significant and valuable."
How can you tell it's irreparable? "When both individuals or one of them reaches the realization that there is no further resolution possible, that there is a significant gap in values, in desires, it can be a complex situation. There are no definitive signs, and I would never advise a couple who approaches me to get a divorce. Ultimately, the decision lies with each couple. However, many people struggle to differentiate between the desire to let go of a specific aspect within the relationship and the desire to end the entire relationship altogether. Some individuals may have numerous grievances about the relationship, and in such cases, they might want to bid farewell to a particular dynamic within the relationship, and it's possible that we can assist them with that. On the other hand, there are also those who simply want to say goodbye to the relationship as a whole.
"The divorce rate in the United States stands at 75%, and in Israel it exceeds 50%. Despite these statistics, why do people still choose to get married? There are two primary reasons: firstly, because of our belief in love, and secondly, because the feeling of loneliness can have a detrimental effect on us. If we did not experience loneliness, it is likely that many individuals would not feel the need to pursue relationships. People have an inherent desire to avoid being alone, and they hold onto the belief in love. Despite the fact that this 'technology' of love often encounters obstacles, people continue to embrace it and will likely do so in the foreseeable future."
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