Flowers? Jewelry? Chocolates? They all make sweet gifts for your partner this Valentine’s Day. But how do we make love last all year?
In the movie, Hitch, actor, Will Smith plays Alex "Hitch" Hitchins, a Love Doctor or "professional dating consultant," who works with men to help them learn how to successfully attract and interact with women.
At one point in the movie, Hitch finds himself struggling with his own romantic relationship as he exclaims, "Why is falling in love so hard?"
Falling in love is the easy part. It’s staying in love that’s hard.
That’s probably why most movies focus on the romantic stage of relationships, not the inevitable other two stages that almost all long-term relationships go through. As the director of the SMART Couples Project at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, my staff and I often meet couples in our SMART Couple’s classes who are trying to navigate their way through these latter two stages of their relationships.
The first stage, according to Dr. Jeffry Larson, is characterized by romance and passion. It typically starts when the couple begins dating and can last through the first several years of marriage.
During the second stage, the couple may become disillusioned when they realize happy and stable marriages require hard work. Balancing work, school, children and finances can distract them and decrease the amount of time they’re able to spend time with each other to communicate and nurture their friendship.
In stage three, couples decide whether they would like their marriages to continue. By this stage, more than 40 percent of marriages split.
Those who choose to remain with their partners tend to adjust to married life on one of two pathways—with contentment or with resignation. Those in the latter group resign themselves to the idea that their marriage won’t get much better. But a growing number of couples have decided to work on their relationships by developing new knowledge and skills. Couples on both pathways are finding their way to our SMART Couples classes to learn some of the best-of-the best research-based information and skills available for couples.
Studies show that most couples reported being glad they stayed together even after experiencing serious trouble, especially those who were willing to work on their relationship together.
For those who are willing to work towards achieving contentment in their marriage, I and other researchers recommend four strategies.
Read relationship enhancement books together.
Use research-based online resources such as
www.smartcouples.org for reliable relationship information.
Attend relationship education classes.
Seek out marriage counseling.
Taking these steps shows our partners we are willing and committed to take the time and energy to invest in our relationships.
For more relationship tips or to sign up for a SMART Couples class in your area, go to www.smartcouples.org. Online classes are also available.
Victor Harris is an associate professor of family, youth and community sciences at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.