Relationship counselors give advice for finding -- and keeping -- love

Thursday, February 9, 2006

As Cupid sharpens his arrow in time for Valentine's Day on Feb. 14, beware -- lest infatuation, instead of love, strike you.

Licensed professional counselor and interfaith minister Russell Elleven says that while Valentine's Day is a popular time to get married or to become engaged, he tells the couples he sees in premarital counseling to be realistic about love

"Although this doesn't sound romantic, I hope people will take some time to really prepare for marriage," says Elleven, who also teaches technology and cognition at the University of North Texas in Denton. "When people go into marriage with unrealistic expectations, the only place they can go is down."

He observes that when Cupid does first strike, couples may feel giddy with love -- but it's really infatuation that educators and therapists call "limerence." Elleven says limerence, which can last anywhere from six months to two years, is a normal part of romance, but it does diminish with time.

"You feel like you can't eat and you can't sleep, believing, ‘This is the person who meets all my needs,'" he says. "People get married in a state of limerence believing this is the way it will always be, and it isn't . You have to adapt over the course of a marriage."

Elleven's UNT colleague Nate Cottle says another mistake that people make about love is being less consciously selective in choosing a spouse.

"Sometimes they will move in with someone they wouldn't necessarily marry," says Cottle, an assistance professor of counseling, development and higher education who teaches a romantic relationships class at UNT. "Most people today want everything in a mate. They want their soul mate. So they are looking primarily for love. They don't think about some of the concrete things that come along later on, such as how does this person handle money, do they want children and how many children, how will they deal with differences in religion and how do they deal with in-laws."

He notes that romantic couples in movies are rarely shown dealing with day-to-day realities of marriage.

"We always see right up to the wedding or right up to the couple's first passionate kiss. We always assume this bliss goes on forever, but real life comes back into play," he says. "The good couples learn how to retain that bliss and work through those problems. The research really bears that out. Couples who are unhappy one year can be incredibly happy the next year."

Elleven says keeping romance alive is also important throughout marriage.

"I teach couples that Valentine's Day should happen a lot of times during the course of a year . If your relationship is depending on Valentine's Day, it will be difficult. You will have a relationship that is not what it could be," he says.

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