Recently I attended a couples’ therapy training program, which was terrific–research-based, positive, practical. And unexpectedly depressing, as they showed videos of elderly heterosexual couples holding hands and talking tenderly about their 50-70 years of wedded bliss. How many us can identify? Never mind the sexual orientation–how many of us have that many years in that kind of loving relationship?
I guess it’s good to aspire to a lifetime of love with a dear partner, but you know, that’s not how it goes for most of us. Census data show that over half of all adult women are single (including never married, divorced, and widowed). Of course, in the lesbian population the variable is confounded by serial monogamy, as many who are now partnered shall become single, and vice versa. But I think it’s safe to say that for most of us, our lives don’t look like those videos.
In the midst of the jarring disconnect between tender images and real life, I remembered an uplifting perspective from Dr. Barbara Frederickson, a professor, researcher, and rising star in the field of Positive Psychology. In her book Love 2.0 she offers an upgraded definition of love: a passing moment, “a temporary upwelling of positive emotion,” shared with another person, with a sense of being “in sync,” and caring for each other. Frederickson calls this “positivity resonance,” and she presents impressive evidence of its psychological and physical benefits.
When you and another person are sharing a sunset, feeling in sync with each other in mutual awe, that’s positivity resonance. Experiences like this add up to a life rich in love, full of loving moments you create with friends, lovers, or whoever. In fact, Frederickson says you can have loving moments with a stranger at the airport if it involves shared positive emotion and a sense of being in sync and caring for each others welfare.
I encourage you to use common sense about strangers at the airport, but you get the idea.
You can see how this perspective helped me recover from the 70-years-0f-wedded-bliss video. Love isn’t confined to marriage, and longevity doesn’t insure love. This is something most of us know, but often seem to forget. And Frederickson outlines a very practical plan. For example, she suggests taking a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect on the three longest social interactions you’ve had that day. Ask yourself how connected or in sync you felt during each interaction. Did you turn toward the person, give them your full attention? Or did you turn away, giving only partial attention? This is a way to become more mindful of the quality of your social interactions, so you can make more conscious choices, have more loving moments if you want them.
Human connections are important–vital even–for all of us, so it behooves us to learn how to have better ones. What helps married couples can also help any kind of relationship. Particularly, think about turning toward, away, or against your partner’s efforts to get your attention (Gottman, 2000). For example, if she says she’s feeling blue, saying “tell me more about it” (turning toward) is much better than “sorry to hear, but gotta run” (away) or “you’re such a downer” (against). Obviously this is important with your wife–and it’s also important with other people you care about. Again, it’s about being mindful of how you’re connecting (or not) and making conscious, intentional plans to make more love in your life.
Speaking of making more love, sexual intimacy could be the total epitome of positivity resonance. Think about it…good feelings… responding to each others biochemical responses…enjoying the mutual moment…no wonder we yearn for that! Hopefully we can turn toward a romantic and sexual partner, but love isn’t confined to that small arena. Enjoy it when you can, and also keep being mindful of other loving moments in your day.
So have a loving day, and many more.
Frederickson, Barbara (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Do, and Become.Hudson Street Press: NYC.
Gottman, John (2000). Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. Random House: NYC.
Glenda Corwin, Ph.D is a clinical psychologist who specializes in lesbian sexual issues. She is the author of Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same Sex Couples (Seal Press, 2010). Dr. Corwin writes for the Huffington Post: Gay Voices, Epochalips.com, as well as her own blog on www.DrGlendaCorwin.com. She presents frequently at professional conferences, and is a regular guest on Barb Elgin’s LesbianLoveTalk radio program.