Where did the magic go?

Deepa Ballal, September 10, 2016 Sep 9 2016, 20:59 IST
Just the other day, while my husband was finishing his lunch and I was busy folding the laundry, my 80-something grandmother asked me, "Aren’t you going to eat from his plate?” Amused, I replied, "Uhm, no, Grandma.”

Taken aback by my bluntness, she sighed and recalled how back in her day, wives eating leftovers from their husbands’ plates was considered romantic. "Men would intentionally leave much of their wives’ favourite food on the plate to express their affection,” grandma recalled with a wistful smile.

In an era where public displays of affection were taboo and women were confined to household drudgery, a simple gesture like this was believed to strengthen the relationship. Fondness quadrupled, it is said, despite the distance the couple had to maintain in public.

Now, the times have changed. Messages of love are posted on social media even when one’s partner is seated inches away on the same couch. The monotony of marriage takes a toll on the romance and leaves couples wondering, "Where did the magic go?”

"After 40, a relationship becomes more like a comfortable pair of socks that is no longer fashionable but something one has gotten used to. The zing of being young and romantic creates excitement that loses steam as time passes,” says Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist, PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Mumbai.

Responsibilities increase with age, as do the chances of physical ailments, turning the partners’ focus to other things. This reduces physical intimacy in couples, according to Dr Kanan Khatau Chikhal, psychologist and life coach. "Women in such situations are often grappling with their own inner conflicts and perhaps don’t feel so attractive anymore. The urge to get experimental in bed or in life in general decreases as well, driving the spark out,” she avers.

The hierarchy of needs

This theory of midlife crisis can be best explained by famous psychologist Maslow’s The Hierarchy of Needs, says Dr Anjali Chhabria, psychiatrist and founder of Mindtemple, a counselling centre.

According to Maslow, our basic physiological needs (food, shelter, sex) form the bottom of the pyramid, followed by our need for safety, love and validation and lastly, our need for self-actualisation.

"Assuming that by the age of 40, we have moved upwards in the pyramid, our need for sex and love are met and what becomes more important to us is either esteem or self-actualisation,” she explains.

Besides, age brings along physiological shortcomings like erectile dysfunction in men and menopause in women. "This causes dramatic changes in people’s sex lives. Awkward situations arise, forcing them to avoid sex altogether,” Anjali adds.Touch of love

In fact, it is considered normal for couples to eventually start sleeping in different rooms and not even touch each other when people are around. "Touch is an important way of expressing affection - be it holding hands, hugging or kissing - and means a lot in a relationship,” says Anjali. Through touch therapy, such negative feelings can be resolved, she adds.

Non-verbal cues, says Kanan, are just as important. "Maintaining eye contact, mapping matching body language and tone of voice are extremely significant in feeling love and being loved,” she says.

Rejig priorities

Couples who were inseparable in the early years of marriage are often found drifting apart and feeling loveless years later. A report published in Psychcentral.com has California-based clinical psychologist Dr Ryan Howes explaining this.

"At the beginning of a relationship, the excitement and anxiety of connecting with a new partner makes time together a top priority. When that urgency goes away and we start to feel comfortable, time for the relationship becomes a lower priority,” he says. With job-related anxieties and kids hovering around, romance does fizzle out. Having conversations about something other than children and money every now and then will help partners bond, Kersi suggests.

Love is a verb

Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People sites an encounter with a client who asks him what he should do about his marriage. He says that he’s tried everything and that there’s no love left between him and his wife. "Have you tried loving her?” asks Stephen. "I’ve told you, there’s no love anymore,” says the client. Stephen repeats, "But have you tried loving her?” The client begins to get mad before Stephen explains. "Love is a verb, it is an action. You must do things for her, listen to her, and be there for her. It’s not about what happens in return but what you do to love her.”Both love and romance are verbs, and are best understood when expressed.
Time is the best gift

Research has found that couples end up burning a hole in their pockets by splurging on holidays, the dream wedding, date nights and gifts in order to keep the spark alive. Happiness in this case does come with a price tag. That doesn’t mean only those with hefty bank balances can afford to keep the flame burning. Something as simple as buying her roses or cooking a nice meal you both can enjoy can bring a smile on your partner’s face.

Conflict resolution

Making friendship the basis of your relationship and learning to manage conflict goes a long way in cementing the bond. "We don’t carry our fights to the bed,” said an elderly colleague. Many a times, our obsession with counting kills the romance. Ashwini Nitin, who married her best friend, goes a step further and says, "One should even stop counting the years of marriage and focus on each day. Fill it with loving gestures and compliments to keep the romance alive.”

Enrol for a dance class, play board games or cook together. Much like a car that has run out of battery needing a jump start, activities like these could reignite the lost spark in a marriage.

Love thyself

But before trying to ease out the creases in the relationship you share with your spouse, looking within can prove to be a game changer for many.

If one is looking for more love, then one needs to love oneself more, says Louise L Hay, author of the best-selling book You Can Heal Your Life, "When you’re happy with yourself, all your other relationships improve,” she avers. And what does this mean? "No criticism, no complaining, no blaming, no whining, and no choosing to feel lonely. It means being content with yourself in the present moment and choosing to think thoughts that make you feel good now,” she writes.

After marriage, one has to grow even more independent than before. Pursuing a hobby or devoting some time for yourself is essential. However Anjali warns that if the passion is using much of the person’s time, creating a distance between the partners, it can have an adverse effect on the relationship.

Unlike in fairy tales, there are no happily-ever-afters in real life. A lot of work goes into sustaining a marriage or a relationship. Consistent effort to make your parter feel loved and valued, and seeking professional help when it comes to it can help you overcome rough patches.