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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Married to Your Lover... the Science Behind Marriage Part 2

While querying EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE I discovered that not everyone considered marriage romantic. In fact, I have a very curious rejection stating that the publisher would not read stories about married couples because they only published Romance. I find that worrisome. Marriage should be romantic, shouldn't it?

I guess it isn't for everyone. But even the child of the most bitter divorce can find True Love and long term happiness, trust me on this one, my parents had a divorce for the record books.

While I can't claim I'm a relationship expert of any kind, I have been happily married for ten years now and I unapologeticlly write monogamous couples. Don't get me wrong, not every character I write will wind up living Happily Ever After. I write science fiction, not romance, and that means that some of my characters won't get HEA. But when I do write a couple they inevitably trend toward marriage.

For most authors this is a NO FLY ZONE. Marriage is where the book ends. In recent years I've seen a few authors tread into this dangerous place and start writing committed couples, sometimes *gasp* with children! Personally, I think it's fabulous because married people with children occasionally like to read about parents being the heroes instead of teeny boppers and twenty somethings.

Fictional or not, there is a scientific explanation for how marriages can work and what makes them fall apart. Keep in mind, there a mind boggling number of variables in any relationship (that's why they are so fun to write!) and this blog post isn't long enough to cover all of them, so consider this the highlights. If you need to, go ahead and skim the Science Behind Love series and the intro to this series: The Science Behind The Vows.

Date Night: It sounds trite (and impossible when you have children) but getting out of your routine and doing new things with your significant other triggers the first stage of love (lust). You need a change of scenery to break up the monotony and trigger that dopamine rush.

Biologically speaking, the reasons romantic love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine that accompanies passion and makes us fly. Cocaine users describe the phenomenon of tolerance: The brain adapts to the excessive input of the drug. Perhaps the neurons become desensitized and need more and more to produce the high—to put out pixie dust, metaphorically speaking. [reference]

Marry Before You Move In: This once sounds counter intuitive. You'd think living with someone would be a good way to judge if a marriage works. The statistics don't back this idea up [reference - reference 2]. Why? When couples choose to live together before marriage there are several variables to consider:
1- The couple does not believe marriage is anything more than a legal fiction and will remain happily committed without a piece of paper (probably won't divorce/separate)
2- The couple cannot marry for any number of reasons (laws, parental disapproval, ect - 50/50 chance for divorce/separation depending on why they can't marry)
3 - The couple wants to "try things out" or "aren't ready to commit" (80% chance or higher of divorce/separation)

Why is couple three doomed? They went into the relationship with a cut-and-run attitude. They moved in under the influence of the first stage of love, and never managed to progress to the next stages.

Communicate Openly and Honestly:
The silent treatment is a top ten red flag for a doomed relationship. Even fighting (nicely) is better than the silent treatment [reference]. The happiest couples have learned to act like adults and sit down to discuss conflicts. Toxic fighting that includes name calling and put downs is just as bad as the silent treatment, just keep that in mind.

This is what trips up Evan in EVFIL. He isn't 100% honest with his wife and it comes back to bite him in the butt.

Regular Sex:
If someone opens a conversation with "My spouse and I haven't had sex in over a year..." they have either been living in different countries for a year (think military types) or they're headed for divorce. The trick to maintaining a long term relationship is keeping the cycle of lust - attachment - commitment going [reference].

Attitude: While all these other factors influence the early stages of love Attitude has the deciding vote [reference]. Couples that are able to laugh off their differences and accept each other's foibles last longer than the ones who approach marriage with a checklist, a ransom note, and a set of demands. Anyone who reads the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews will recognize this as Curran's failing. He tries to approach his bride-to-be with a list of demands, and her reaction is not the answer he was looking for (although I would argue it is the correct response).

Fiction With Committed Couples
CORDELIA'S HONOR by Louis McMaster Bujold
MAGIC BITES by Ilona Andrews (well - the series...)
AMELIA PEABODY series by Elizabeth Peters

The Wedding photo courtesy of and copyright to Hardi on DeviantArt

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