Relationships, love, couples --humans "get together" for sex, companionship, utility, and well, for damned near any reason. Let's call it love. Love is supposed to reign supreme in coupling, but we know the reality. Not all is tender affection and romantic attraction.
Our bodies fall in love. Chemicals flood our frames, and we dive head first. Here is how a human experiences love.
First, our minds are struck by a beautiful, special human. Just coming in close contact with the person causes Mother Nature to suddenly release dopamine and adrenaline that result in a cocaine-like high. Then, drunk on the "love potion," we lust as the steroids of androgen and estrogen kick in. And then, as if that isn't enough to race our motor, our testosterone levels soar and push our longings to reproduce. If we are lucky enough to physically bond with our lovely object of our affection, the hormone oxytocin, released at orgasm, also pushes us in directions of attachment and bonding. And, finally, another hormone, vasopressin, increases our desire for a monogamous relationship, and voila, coupling occurs.
Many couples seek marriage, partly because in 21st century Western societies, bigamy is illegal and sexual relations outside marriage are generally frowned-upon, though there is a minority view accepting (or even advocating) open marriage.
However, divorce and remarriage are relatively easy to undertake, and this has led to a practice called serial monogamy which involves entering into successive marriages over time. Serial monogamy is also sometimes used to refer to cases where the couples cohabitate without getting married.
Being In a Dyad
A marriage or a friendship between two people is known by sociologists as a dyad (Greek for "two"). A dyad is the smallest possible social group. A pair of humans in a dyadic relationship can be linked via romantic interest, family relation, interests, work, or other social interactions. Based on equality, asymmetrical (unbalanced), or hierarchical (master-servant) relationships, these pairs exist under many different structures, yet the strength of all dyadic relationships is evaluated on the basis of time the individuals spend together, as well as on the emotional intensity of their relationship.
Being Permanently Dyadic Proves Tough
Why is it so difficult for dyadic lovers to maintain healthy alliance in terms of the critical factors of shared time and emotional intensity? Answers relate to the complexity of peer interaction in romance, intimacy, and sexual relationships. Social science has a name for that fading dynamic -- "disillusionment."
Lovers initially put their best foot forward, ignoring their own doubts and any shortcomings in the relationship. But, in time, hidden aspects of their personalities emerge, and idealized images give way to more realistic ones. This can lead to disappointment, loss of love and, ultimately, distress and divorce. The cries of "Oh, my God, I've been so disillusioned!" are common in a society with a near-50% divorce rate.
Why so many breakups? Well, a dyad cannot run on a "one way street." Any dyadic relationship becomes unstable if one of the two participants fails to complete the myriad of unselfish, loving duties required to keep cooperation strong and romance flourishing. Since both persons must make personal sacrifices to make a dyad work, when one of the two participants fails, the dyad falls apart.
Dyadic relationships are dependent upon both partners and their commitment to the shared dyad. The couplings, therefore, are fragile and problematic -- prone to egotistical intrusion. Negative valence (intrinsic aversiveness) received from any of the cognitive schemata can result in a negative relational outcome. Almost always, the "love potion" weakens as negative valence strengthens.
Why so much hurt in an uncoupling? Dyadic communication typically deals with a lasting, trusted sharing of ideas between the two persons. It involves the mutual investment of intense, personal information over long durations of time. This creates a deep impact on the participants.
Dyadic communication not only involves two persons engaging in face-to-face dialog in outward, mechanical ways, rather it brings the two persons into a sphere of inter-influences whereby each influences the other. This intense communication can actually create a community of spirit between dyadic lovers. Body, mind, and soul bond.
How Intense Is a Dyad?
Peter A. Andersen, PhD created the cognitive valence theory (CVT) to answer questions regarding intimacy relationships among colleagues, close friends and intimate friends, married couples and family members. Intimacy or immediacy behavior is that behavior that provides closeness or distance within a dyad relationship. Closeness projects a positive feeling in a relationship, and distance projects a negative feeling within a relationship.
Intimacy or immediacy behavior can be negatively valenced or positively valenced. Valence, associated with physics, is used to describe the degree of negativity or positivity in expected information.
If a partner perceives a lover's actions as negative, then the interaction may repel the partner away from the lover. If the partner perceives a lover's actions as positive, then the interaction may be accepted and may encourage closeness.
Affection and intimacy promote positive valence in a relationship.
CVT uses non-verbal and verbal communications criteria to analyze behavioral situations.
A. Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication is the process of communications by sending and receiving messages without speaking. Intimate relations may be affected by the use of nonverbal communications. Nonverbal communications are transmitted through messaging that utilizes the following:
1. Haptic Communication (touching, hugs, kisses and caressing someone)
2. Body Language (physical appearance, posture, gestures and eye contact)
3. Oculesics (or eye behavior, including pupil dilation)
4. Kinesics (facial expressions and receptive contact from others) and
5. Chronemics (time spent with someone else or waiting for someone).
B. Verbal Communication
Verbal communication or dialogue communications also plays an important part in a dyad relationship. While nonverbal communication provides a forum conducive to wordless conversation, verbal conversation can provide the monologue or dialogue to vocally express personal feelings, emotions and supplement nonverbal actions.
Research has shown that only 7% of all communications is directly related to verbal communications. Research further reports that 38% of communications are by the tone of voice and 55% of communication is determined by body language—posture, gestures and eye contact.
(Mehrabian, A., & Ferris, S.R. "Inference of Attitude from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels." The Journal of Counseling Psychology, 31, 248–252. 1967)
In truth, a large group of people do maintain stability in unhappy dyadic relationships. It seems the major difference between the unhappy couples and their happy counterparts is simply that they have a lower level of satisfaction across the board. It's not that they're happy about their dyad, it's just that their discontent doesn't spill over and spoil the rest of their lives.
Many in such "unhappy" relationships are content, finding their pairing a reassuringly foundation that allows them to devote their attention to career, to children or to other pursuits. Other people in these "unhappy" relationships are slightly dissatisfied, but stay together because rewards outweigh drawbacks. And, others do eventually leave such marriages in search of a "fine romance."
Is the Dyad Doomed?
Are humans beating their heads against an impenetrable wall of communication nightmares as they enter into romantic dyadic relationships? All the challenges of providing sufficient positive valence with adequate doses of verbal communication, haptic communication, and chronemics are daunting and nearly impossible to maintain. Why complicate chemical attraction and sexual interaction with ardent emotional attachment, courtship, and marriage? It it time for a change in norms?
Besides, in today's hedonistic society, people demand consistent pleasure with intrigue and enchantment as guaranteed side effects. Any feelings of lack of romance in a dyadic partner is likely to send the relationship spinning uncontrollably into the Valley of Negative Valence. It seems people "want it all" and they "want it all the time." When they can't feel "it" any longer, most leave the dyad and search for another, more adventurous union.
Aren't divine dyads really doomed simply because of their complicated composition? Odds are, a fire of passion will dwindle rather quickly despite all human attempts to maintain the blaze. British psychologist Michael Eysenck describes the human pursuit of happiness to a person on a "hedonic treadmill" who has to keep working just to stay in the same place. The hedonic treadmill ensures that very few individuals can be very happy for very long.
Although a majority of people believe humans would be periodically bored, depressed or angst-ridden in a recreated Garden of Eden, not all accept this view.
The End of Romantic Pain
David Pearce, British utilitarian philosopher, believes suffering is the result of Darwinian genetic design, but in his Hedonistic Imperative, Pearce contends physical and mental pain can be avoided and suffering will be completely eradicated in the future. He says, "Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically pre-programmed well-being that are orders of magnitude richer than today's peak experiences."
(David Pearce, The Hedonistic Imperative, 1995)
Pearce believes that states of sublime well-being in permanent bliss are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. He predicts that the world's last unpleasant experience will be a precisely datable event (within the next 1000 years), and the feasibility of its abolition turns its deliberate retention into an issue of social policy and ethical choice.
Pearce sees a time when "undiluted existential happiness can infuse every second of waking and dreaming existence and pervade every aspect of one's body and psyche."
BLTC Research and the Abolitionist Society, following Pearce's abolitionism, promote replacing the pain/pleasure axis with a robot-like response to noxious stimuli or with gradients of bliss, through genetic engineering and other technical scientific advances.
Here is a brief description of this reality according to Pearce:
"The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how nanotechnology and genetic engineering will eliminate aversive experience from the living world. Over the next thousand years or so, the biological substrates of suffering will be eradicated completely. 'Physical' and 'mental' pain alike are destined to disappear into evolutionary history. The biochemistry of everyday discontents will be genetically phased out too. Malaise will be replaced by the biochemistry of bliss. Matter and energy will be sculpted into life-loving super-beings animated by gradients of well-being. The states of mind of our descendants are likely to be incomprehensibly diverse by comparison with today. Yet all will share at least one common feature: a sublime and all-pervasive happiness.
"This feeling of absolute well-being will surpass anything contemporary human neurochemistry can imagine, let alone sustain. The story gets better. Post-human states of magical joy will be biologically refined, multiplied and intensified indefinitely. Notions of what now passes for tolerably good mental health are likely to be superseded. They will be written off as mood-congruent pathologies of the primordial Darwinian psyche. Such ugly thoughts and feelings will be diagnosed as typical of the tragic lives of emotional primitives from the previous era. In time, the deliberate re-creation of today's state-spectrum of normal waking and dreaming consciousness may be outlawed as cruel and immoral."
(David Pearce, The Hedonistic Imperative, 1995)
Science fiction and crazed speculation? Pearce believes the Hedonistic Imperative is bio technically feasible and does not mean humans will live "an eternity spent enraptured on elixirs of super-soma or tanked up on high-octane pleasure-machines." Neither does he believe they will become insensible addicts to drugs.
Pearce says, "Instead, an extraordinarily fertile range of purposeful and productive activities will most likely be pursued. Better still, our descendants, and in principle perhaps even our elderly selves, will have the chance to enjoy modes of experience we primitives cruelly lack. For on offer are sights more majestically beautiful, music more deeply soul-stirring, sex more exquisitely erotic, mystical epiphanies more awe-inspiring, and love more profoundly intense than anything we can now properly comprehend."
The imperative of pure well-being means society will accept a reproductive revolution of designer babies that will "hardwire happiness from the womb." But, in the transitional era before global paradise-engineering unfolds, chemical mood-uplifters will be essential too. It implies that doctors will use psychoactive drugs as tools for consciousness research and life-enrichment rather than for self-medication.
And, Pearce Says, "Hedonistic Love Lingers"
Reading this part of David Pearce's Hedonistic Imperative reveals what he considers to be the answer to the perfect romantic dyad. It sounds better than paradise -- an everlasting love fest and heaven on earth. Read it for yourself and let your loving ideals take a little magic carpet ride:
"Love will take on new aspects and incarnations too. For instance, we will be able, not just to love everyone, but to be perpetually in love with everyone, as well; and perhaps we'll be far more worth loving than the corrupted minds our genes program today. It's been said that when in love we find it astonishing that it is possible to love someone else so much, because normally we love each other so little.
"This indifference, or at best mere diffuse benevolence, to the rest of the population is easily taken for granted amid the harsh social realities of competitive consumer capitalism. Yet our deficiencies in love are only another grim manifestation of selfish (in the technical sense) DNA. If humans had collectively shared the greater degree of genetic relatedness common to many of the social insects (haplodiploidy), then we might already have been "naturally" able to love each other with greater enthusiasm. Sociobiology, and its offspring evolutionary psychology, explains our relative coldness of heart.
"Happily, in future it will be possible to mimic, and then magnify out of all recognition, the kind of altruistic devotion to each other which might have arisen if were we all 100% genetically-related clones. We'll all be able to love each other to bits. A delicious cocktail mix of oxytocin, phenethylamines and mu receptor-selective opioids - or potent god's-own wonderbrews not yet genetically-coded - can be automatically triggered whenever anyone one knows is present or recollected.
"Darwinian man, by contrast, will be seen as a mean-minded crypto-psychopath. Our successors will be far kinder. They'll combine absolute, unconditional and uninhibited love for each other with a celebration of the diversity of genes and cultures. At present this prospect seems some way off.
"Another aspect of post-Transition love may be found even more surprising. Individual personal relationships may at last be bonded truly securely, should we so desire. Throughout the ages, dreadful pain has been caused by the soul-destroying cruelties of traditional modes of love. We acknowledge, in the main, that we hurt the most those we love. Yet we often simply can't stop ourselves from doing so. Before very long, if we really care enough, we'll actually be able to do something about it.
"Whatever their proximate causes, the distal origins of so many relationship break-ups lie, once again, in the competing interests of rival coalitions of genes. Just to take one example, two lovers, perhaps, who years before professed they would rather die than hurt each other, later part in tears and acrimony. The woman may find that with the decline in her reproductive potential over time she is no longer sexually attractive to the man who pledged his undying love. Her partner, quite possibly hating himself for his treachery, finds himself deserting her and their teenage offspring for a younger, sexier woman, and then fathers another family. Lives are destroyed; inclusive genetic fitness is served. Nature is barbarous and futile beyond belief.
"After the Transition, on the other hand, one will be able to love somebody more passionately than ever before. In the post-Darwinian era, one will be safe in the knowledge that one will never hurt them, nor be hurt by them in turn. True love really can last forever, though responsible couples should take precautions. If one desires a particular relationship to remain uniquely and enduringly special, then the mutually co-ordinated design of each other's neural weight spaces can ensure that a distinctively hill-topped plateau in the new hedonic landscape structurally guarantees that each other's presence is always uniquely fulfilling.
"Choosing how big a hit we get off each other's presence is not an exact science today. Of course, it is possible that, generations hence, exclusionary pair bonding may seem a quaint anachronism. It may be regarded as just one more vestige of the genetic past which is fated one day to pass away. The example above is recounted to show only how ill-defined worries that anything precious one wants to save will be somehow sacrificed in the post-Transition epoch can be discounted. We've nothing to lose."
(David Pearce, The Hedonistic Imperative, 1995)
But, Is Love All You Need?
Is Pearce's seemingly bizarre imperative morally urgent? If it were possible to insure hedonism, should adoption or rejection become, ultimately, a social policy issue? Pearce contends "passively or actively, we will have to choose just how much unpleasantness we wish to create or conserve - if any - in eras to come."
Yet, this concept makes genetic engineers appear to be akin to dog breeders intent on producing the perfect species of loving pet. We all know about scientists with bad intentions like the Nazi doctors who conducted unethical genetic medical experiments on prisoners during World War II? Typically, these experiments resulted in death, disfigurement or permanent disability, and, as such, are considered as examples of medical torture.
The ethical dilemma of a hedonistic imperative may be upon us.
I wonder if some social restructuring might not yield safer and more promising results. If romance and the dyad-parent-centered family are dead, maybe people would be happier living in a world more structured for "monadic" happiness? We certainly have bought into egocentricity and established personal bliss as a necessary feature of our existence.
Writer Kate Bolick believes marriage, an institution over 5,000 years old, is going the way of books, which aren't "going anywhere," she contends people are wrong in believing e-books are destroying literature. Bolick explains ...
"In fact, the opposite is happening. When we truly love a book, we aren’t content to have it only as an e-book; we are likely to seek out a physical copy. In this way e-books make 'traditional' books (which of course have only existed for 550 years) more valuable.
"In his essay 'On Reading,' Proust compares reading to friendship, and says about books, 'If we spend the evening with these friends, it is because we genuinely want to.' So it is with contemporary marriage. Now that we don’t have to get married, when we do marry, it’s because we genuinely want to."
(Kate Bolick, "Is Marriage Dead?" The Lavin Daily, February 28, 2013)
What does Bolick believe happened to marriage over the ages? When we lived off the land, two pairs of hands were better than one, so we married for survival. When ancient kings wanted to expand their empires, they married the daughters of their rivals.
Consider how differently we live today: In the 1950s, married couples represented 80 percent of all households in the United States.
In a 1962 Gallop poll, married women reported being very satisfied with their lives — but only 10 percent wanted their daughters to follow suit. Wait a little longer to get married, they whispered; go to school, finish college.
This is exactly what happened. Over the past fifty years, women have increasingly delayed marriage to pursue their ambitions, entered a workforce that is progressively more hospitable (though still problematic), and as a result forged identities apart from marriage and motherhood.
By the early twenty-first century, married couples had dropped to 48 percent. And, 22 percent of Millennials are married, Today, one-quarter of all households now contain only one person. Married couples with children now represent only 25 percent of all households.
What History Implies
The history of marriage dates back as far as the ancient times. Studies revealed that marriage didn’t exist before. The usual practice was that the men in a certain tribe or horde had access to the women they like. When children are born, they belonged to the whole community. This is associated with the perception that humans want sexual variety. However, things have changed when sexual morality was developed and has since influenced the social life of the people.
The earliest marriage was believed to be "group marriage." The union was basically between groups of men and women, and there exists shared sexual relations. The group marriage allowed polyandry, and this existed in Ceylon, India, and Tibet many years ago.
The ancient people also turned to prostitutes, concubines, or male lovers to satisfy their needs for sexual variety.
With the introduction of agricultural civilization, the society demanded for stable arrangements.
It is said that the first union between a man and a woman took place in Mesopotamia at 2350 BC.
Marriage evolved since then and such practice was observed by the Romans, Greeks, Chinese and Hebrews. However, the union was never about love or religion. The primary purpose of the marriage was to ensure that the man’s children are biologically his, and so women were treated as mere "property." Marriage was not actually regarded one's love of kin. God and civil duty were far more important than love for a spouse. And, strong marital commitments were not regarded as the foundation stone of society.
Wives were expected to stay at home and attend to the children, as well as house chores. A husband could give back his wife if she was unable to produce children.
With the increasing power of the Catholic Church, religion was able to influence marriage. For a marriage to be considered as legal, a priest’s blessing was required. Around the 8th century, marriage was treated as a sacrament by the church, and that the ceremony is required for the couple to receive God’s grace.
By the year 1563, a canon law was written to show marriage’s sacramental nature. Many wives favored the blessings of the church. By that time, men already respected their wives and divorce was forbidden. The church still recognized the husband as the head of the family, and that wives must submit to the wishes of the husband. The church emphasized the importance of being sexually faithful. A lot of men were pressured of this great change since by nature, men wanted sexual variety. With the increasing awareness of social morality, men were able to adjust gradually.
(Mark Ridgwell, "History of Marriage," Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, 2013)
Forward to the Industrial Revolution and the United States. As men and women began to leave the farm for city work, they no longer needed to marry to maintain time honored social ties. And by 1800 more and more had begun to choose their spouses for themselves, live together before wedding, and divorce and remarry to make happier partnerships.
Today love, communication and companionship have become central to a partnership. We are shedding many of our past agrarian beliefs and returning to patterns of sex, love and marriage that our ancestors practiced a million years ago traditions that are highly compatible with our ancient human spirit.
This Marriage Revolution continues. Today some 91% of American women and 86% of American men would not marry someone unless they were in love with him or her, even if this person had every trait they were looking for in a spouse. People in 37 other cultures agree; they want the chemistry of passionate romantic love.
("Love Science," Match.com, 2013)
So, Is Romantic Love Just a Myth?
Ted Huston, Ph.D., professor of human ecology and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of a long-term study of married couples, blames our culture for perpetuating the myth of storybook romance and making marriage the key adult relationship, which is more likely to doom a marriage than strengthen it. He has few kind words for Hollywood, which brings us unrealistic, unsustainable passion.
In his research, Huston found that how well spouses got along as newlyweds affected their future, but the major distinguishing factor between those who divorced and those who remained married was the amount of change in the relationship over its first two years.
"The first two years are key--that's when the risk of divorce is particularly high," he says. "And the changes that take place during this time tell us a lot about where the marriage is headed."
What surprised Huston most was the nature of the changes that led to divorce: loss of initial levels of love and affection, rather than conflict, was the most salient predictor of distress and divorce. This loss sends the relationship into a downward spiral, leading to increased bickering and fighting, and to the collapse of the union.
"This ought to change the way we think about the early roots of what goes wrong in marriage," Huston said. "The dominant approach has been to work with couples to resolve conflict, but it should focus on preserving the positive feelings. That's a very important take-home lesson."
(Aviva Patz, "Will Your Marriage Last?" Psychology Today, November 6 2012)