What is love and sex

What holds couples together

If Friedrich Nietzsche was right and the syphilis hadn’t damaged his nerve tracts too badly when he did his Zarathustra wrote down, then all lust wants eternity. Unfortunately, all pleasure doesn't last forever: after three to four years, sexual habituation leads to the body's own euphoria drug dopamine being only sparsely released from the nerve cells. The desire for each other and with each other has fallen asleep. Or it is directed towards other, newer and more exciting objects of desire.

Because the hormonal lull is not a permanent condition. If the man chooses a new sexual partner, his dopamine level immediately rises again. Suddenly he is passionate and full of devotion again aflame. The phenomenon has hardly been researched in women, but surveys show that in the USA, for example, 70 percent of women over 35 have cheated at least once. Why is it that in Germany, for example, only every third marriage is divorced? And what holds couples together when the dopamine surge persistently fails?

Sex is overrated

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It doesn't have to be a bad sign if after four years of partnership there is little going on in bed. The connection has been scientifically proven: Unless all interest in one another has already died out, the rarer intimate contacts in a longer couple relationship even indicate that both partners feel secure and do not need constant proof of love. You don't have to fear that someone will leave the relationship anytime soon. The economical sex speaks for a firm bond and little fear of loss. If you want to have sex with your long-term partner all the time, science warns, you are not so sure of your cause and therefore have to make sure that the relationship is still going on.

"Long-term security and frequent, good sex are mutually exclusive," says the psychotherapist Kirsten von Sydow from the University of Hamburg. You just know each other too well for that - and then it's hard to surprise the other. Therefore, from a scientific point of view, it is absolutely understandable when couples talk about their »mature love«, a »new phase of the partnership« or that »sex is overrated anyway«: They have reached a particularly stable stage in their relationship - or are at a standstill just before the breakup.

"Early attachment experiences are reflected in sexual behavior, in the way we have relationships, and in the corresponding desires," says Karl Heinz Brisch, specialist in psychosomatics and attachment expert at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. If sex only serves to build up a cracked sense of self-worth, it neither stabilizes the relationship nor is it particularly satisfying. "Melancholy sex is very common," says Kate White, a therapist at the Bowlby Center in London. She means the sad togetherness when both feel that closeness can be pretty bleak. Hence the advice for a long-term partnership: better little than bad and listless sex.

Stably unhappy

Would you like more tips for long-term relationships that you might not find in any women's magazine, but in scientific journals? Continuous mutual misfortune and resignation often have a stabilizing effect, especially in rural areas: Julia Berkic from the Bavarian State Institute for Early Education has examined couples in southern Germany who have been married to each other for an average of 28 years. They were by no means all satisfied and had made their relationship anything but comfortable. On the contrary: more than a third described themselves as “stable, unhappy” or “insecure and resigned”.

These married couples had settled down in chronic disruption - which sounds bad for anyone who still believes in romantic love. They kept silent, ignored or even despised one another, but nevertheless could not break free from the entanglement into which they had brought financial hardship, accusations of guilt and moral inhibitions. Children together, joint projects such as building a house or dependencies in professional development kept them together, although there was nothing else that could hold them together for a long time.

Insecure and loyal

Of course, there are also more pleasant »protective factors« for a reliable togetherness: Those who experienced security and security in the family as a child are less likely to separate later. He also perceives the partner more attentively and is better able to respond to his wishes and longings. This further stabilizes the bond.

Such people are rarely found - or they are already taken. Therefore it doesn't have to be the calm partner that nothing can shake. If you want to celebrate a silver or gold wedding, you should even consciously look for an insecure or ambivalent partner. The fear of the decision to leave the other is so great, the conflict between different possibilities so agonizing that a separation is out of the question.

Fearful, hesitant women may have their first sex earlier and change partners more often - because their own insecurity drives them to other men again and again. However, once they are tighter, they are reluctant to part. And men who avoid conflict and avoid making decisions are good for stable relationships anyway. "An insecure man and a safe woman - that is often a pretty durable package," says Julia Berkic. "Men who shy away from any argument naturally have a great reluctance to leave their wives."

True greatness

True greatness

There are also a few outward appearances to consider: research has shown that tall men taller than 1.90 meters are less jealous and more generous than smaller ones. They doubt the loyalty of their partner less and they also know that they have better chances of success with women. From this relaxed position, their relationships often last longer. For women, a mean height between 1.68 and 1.76 meters is promising. In addition, studies have shown that women with these dimensions stay the healthiest and have the most children - and can therefore be sure that they will be courted again and again.

The true size of a partner can also be seen in small gestures: even holding hands stabilizes a relationship. This reduces the feeling of threat, motor and emotional tension and even the perception of pain; all of this strengthens togetherness. Incidentally, this also applies to friends: for example, the brain researcher James Coan from the University of Virginia has found that on a mountain tour, the flatter the ascent, the longer and better you know the friend or partner who is accompanying you.

Smell and feel

A classic test of whether a relationship is right is possible in the first few moments of making contact: You have to be able to smell each other. In the literal sense, because those who like to smell each other stay together longer. From an evolutionary point of view, this makes sense, as a smell that is perceived as attractive indicates that the potential partner has a significantly different immune system. If the two work together, this means that the defense systems in the common offspring mix and these would therefore be more resistant to various germs.

Regrettably, the hormonal status and thus the smell of men and women change over the years. Why and in which direction is still unknown. If she can no longer smell him - or he - after long years of relationship, this is a warning sign. It can point to an imminent separation, even if the weapons have not yet been sharpened in the battle of the breakup.

Stress? Just don't talk!

It is important to prevent such crises, and science also helps here: In stressful situations, men are best at their wives or unmarried partners if they massage their necks and otherwise remain silent, reports Markus Heinrichs from the University of Freiburg. This kind of affection lowers the stress hormones, and pulse, breathing and blood pressure come back to normal. On the other hand, if men try to calm stressed women with words, this has hardly any positive effects on the body.

For men, the opposite rule applies: if they are under pressure, they want to talk to their partner and get a signal of understanding. If they feel supported and strengthened in this way before a difficult task and also assured of their close bond with their partner, they react less strongly to stress and are more robust in the event of subsequent psychological stress. You are less afraid and then do not react as nervously even when dealing with difficult tasks.

Love heals all wounds

Dealing with arguments is also decisive for the durability of a relationship. A team of researchers led by psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser from Ohio State University has found that mutual stress even prevents wounds from healing. To research this, couples were given small wounds on their arms. First, they received supportive advice from psychologists on how they could better solve any couple problems. In a second series of experiments, they were asked to talk about a sensitive topic in their relationship, which almost always resulted in an aggressive discussion.

Regardless of how the couples behaved during the consultation or in an argument, the wounds of all of them healed better after the helpful discussions. The blood coagulation and the immune system were activated, stress molecules could hardly be detected in the body. After the dispute, however, the body's alarm and combat system ran at full speed: the wounds healed more slowly and hostile pathogens could not be fought so well.

Particularly interesting: In couples who also behaved in a friendly and affectionate manner during the argument, wound healing was hardly affected. On the other hand, those who acted hostile and hurtful, angry and aggressive towards the other, the wounds persisted longer. The progress of wound healing among the brawlers among the couples was only 60 percent compared to those who also showed their appreciation when they disagreed. So arguing constructively is healthier and lets the partner live longer - also not entirely unimportant for a relationship that should last a long time.