Too many women wake up in their marriages and ask themselves, "Is this it?" After years of sharing domestic duties, raising kids, and balancing careers, many of us can't help but wonder if we're living the lives we intended to have.
Whether you have been married for two decades or two months, dating and relationship expert Andrea Syrtash shows how to create a more exciting and more fulfilling relationship with your spouse—and more important, with yourself. After all, you can't expect to find passion in your relationship if you are not passionate about your own life!
With simple steps and fun exercises, Cheat On Your Husband (with Your Husband) provides the tools to help you combat boredom in your marriage and renew an easy, intimate connection with your spouse. Using real-life examples of couples who have benefited from her techniques, Syrtash debunks common marriage myths and shows how fun and fulfilling marriage can be.
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About the Author
Syrtash lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Michael.
Read an Excerpt
This Is Your Brain on Love (It's All about Chemistry. Literally.)
There's an old joke that after years of marriage, a man complains, "She changed!" and a woman complains, "He didn't change!" Just as change is a part of life, it's also a part of marriage--a very healthy and normal part of it.
When you first met your spouse, chances are you were in a different job, city, or situation than you are in today. You likely approached your relationship differently because 1) you were different, 2) he was different, and 3) times were different.
But have you considered that your relationship feels different because your brain chemistry is different?
In 2002, biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher joined Dr. Lucy Brown, a professor of neurology and neuroscience, and Dr. Art Aron, a professor of psychology, to conduct an experiment on the science of love. In the study, Dr. Fisher and her colleagues worked with 17 students who reported being madly in love. These students, all of whom admitted that they thought about their love most hours of the waking day (upwards of 80 percent of the time!), were brought into a lab where their brains were scanned while they completed a series of exercises.
Each set of exercises lasted for 12 minutes. First, Dr. Fisher showed each subject a photo of his or her object of affection for 30 seconds. Next, the subject would be asked to count backward (to clear the brain of the feelings of romantic love and passion). Finally, the subject would stare at a neutral photograph for 30 seconds, perhaps of someone he or she vaguely knew, before being asked to count again. The cycle was repeated half a dozen times, ensuring that Dr. Fisher and her team were able to accurately capture the person's brain activity.
What this team of experts discovered has revolutionized the way we think about love. The study showed that romantic love is not simply an emotion, as many of us would believe; rather, it is a biological and chemical response that starts in the brain.
One region that showed tremendous activity when subjects gazed at photos of their beloved was the caudate nucleus, a relatively small area in the center of the brain that is one of the oldest, most primitive parts of the human brain. Linked to cravings and to the brain's "reward system," the caudate becomes activated by stimuli we find highly desirable--like money or chocolate . . . or love. Dr. Fisher's experiment demonstrated that romantic love cues our reward system and affects us on the most primal level.
People often talk about how love lives in the heart and not in the head, but in reality, it is the brain that convinces us that the love we desire will make everything else in life feel perfect. Dr. Fisher argues that the drive toward love can be more powerful than the drive toward hunger. As it turns out, we are wired to pursue romantic love, as our brains perceive it as one of the greatest rewards life has to offer.
I often joke that during the first 3 months of dating, everyone is lying, because we tend to present the best versions of ourselves to potential mates. But there is some truth in this statement. At the start of courtship, when you are attracted and interested in someone, there is a tendency to mirror one another and to find uncanny similarities. Most of this "we are exactly alike!" response happens on a subconscious level (therefore, you may have actually believed you really did love hockey when you told your future spouse he or she should invest in season tickets). We are so eager to mate with the objects of our affection (especially when the caudate is activated) that our brains will do anything to keep us connected.
People in the early stages of romantic love demonstrate the obsessive thinking patterns that are common in people who have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). And the brain chemistry of addiction is also often displayed in the brains of people falling in love. Dr. Fisher's initial hypothesis, that increased levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine would be associated with feelings of romantic love, proved to be correct. Dopamine is a brain chemical linked to feelings of elation and joy. Norepinephrine produces an adrenaline-like rush usually set off by stress, but in the case of romantic love, the hormone manifests as giddy excitement that makes someone's palms sweat or heart race when she is around the object of her affection. Both neurochemicals contribute to increased focus and a surge in energy, which is why new love feels so intoxicating. According to Dr. John Marsden of the British National Addiction Center, who has also studied the brain in love, the effects of this love cocktail make us immensely euphoric and can be as powerful as a drug.
When we are in the early romantic love stage, we operate in a suspended reality in which adequate sleep and food seem less necessary (as if love is all the nourishment we need) and in which our judgment is clouded. The part of our brain responsible for experiencing fear (or being cautious), the amygdala, is less active when we are falling in love.
In other words, brain chemicals like dopamine that are generated when we are falling for someone are dope--fun and potentially dangerous. And, like the effect of drugs, the high we experience is fleeting. We cannot sustain the heady rush of romantic love once the onslaught of intoxicating chemicals subsides and our brains settle into a more stable, predictable state. With the right marriage ingredients, however, the pleasure center of the brain can still show tremendous activity even after decades with the same person. More on that later.
Let's return to you, when you first started dating your spouse-to-be, and when your caudate nucleus was shining brightly.
EVERYTHING LOOKS BETTER WHEN YOU'RE FALLING IN LOVE (INCLUDING YOU)
Think back to the time you first met your husband. What did your life look like then? What kind of job did you have? Where did you live? What were your interests? How did you look? And when you began a relationship with him, how did you feel? Nervous? Excited? Did you experience happy sleepless nights and increased focus, like the love-struck people in Dr. Fisher's experiment? Or did you grow attracted to your partner over time and through shared experiences with him?
When I first started dating Michael, I was a superhuman who required only 4 hours of sleep a night and very little (except for time with him) to be happy. During the first few months of our relationship, food tasted better, I had more patience, and the world looked positively rosy. I remember pointing out a tree to my friend and saying, "Isn't that oak fantastic?!" despite the fact that I'd walked by that same tree for years. I had never quite noticed it before.
When I was in the first phase of love, I was like one of those cartoon characters skipping through the neighborhood followed by animated birds and butterflies. I was on the trippy dopamine ride and prepared to do anything to make the relationship work. Michael was on the ride, too. We stayed up for hours talking, and he never appeared to be tired. Now that I've lived with him for a few years, I know that without adequate rest he's moody; but in those days, he displayed one mood--and it was happy.
My friend Raquel, who has been married for 6 years and is the mother of a toddler, admitted that she had a number of cli-ched moments when she first started dating her husband, Matt: "When I met Matt, he was so darn cute. I thought his smile was amazing--bright and shiny. On our first date, I came downstairs and it was like time stood still. We both looked at each other and it seemed that nothing was said for ages. It hit me--bam! There was chemistry."
And now? I asked Raquel if Matt still takes her breath away. Her voice dropped a couple of octaves. "He is cute and I'm used to it, I guess. It's just . . . Matt. I would be excited to feel desire again . . . but I'm tired." She paused and reflected, "I guess I don't see him with sparkles anymore. Now things feel different. I wanted him before and now I need him. He's a part of my life--like family."
Are we supposed to see our spouses like family? Raquel admitted that she didn't know the answer to that question. She finds it confusing, and even a little disconcerting, to feel a different kind of love than the kind she used to feel for her partner. She doesn't know how she should feel, and how could she? Nobody has been in her marriage before, and she has no frame of reference.
"I don't know what I expected marriage to be like," Raquel acknowledged, "so I don't know if my experience is normal."
I've always found the statement "I don't know how I should feel" strange. Should and feel don't go together. How do you feel?
I often say that everything in life is about managing expectations.
I recently made a book appearance in a small town in the Northeast and stayed at a hotel in the town's center. Days before arriving, I read online reviews about the "creepy" front-desk man and the "decrepit" rooms at the hotel. But by then, everything else in the area was booked. So I prepared myself for a dismal stay. I even brought my own pillow and towel.
Upon checking in, I noticed that the "creepy" front-desk guy was eccentric and sweet. It was true that the hotel had not been renovated in years, but I found the place had a real 19th-century charm that I enjoyed. It was located on a beautiful property in a fantastic part of town. My room was clean, simple, and comfortable. The hotel didn't provide shampoo, but I knew that from the reviews, so I had packed a trial size of Pert Plus. No big deal.
I, too, might have shared a similar negative write-up about the accommodations on the travel Web site if I had arrived at the quaint hotel expecting a flat-screen television and 1,000-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised that nothing crawled in the room and that I found a good place for a good price. I posted a nice online review and mentioned I would return since I felt at home instantly.
What happens when you don't know what to expect? If only there were Internet reviews when it came to your marriage.
Raquel wondered, "Am I supposed to feel how I used to feel about my husband? If so, is this marriage in trouble? When you start questioning your feelings all the time, you make meaning out of it and put pressure on yourself. I have a friend who doesn't know if she's in love with her husband anymore, though she cares for him deeply. Does that mean her marriage isn't good?"
While I can't tell you how you should feel after years in a relationship with the same person, more information about the next phase of love, the attachment phase, might help put things into perspective. According to Dr. Fisher's research, falling in love and being in love are biologically different experiences.
Couples who are in a romantic relationship enter the attachment stage somewhere between 12 months and 3 years of being together. During this love phase, which is characterized by feelings of comfort and connection with your partner, the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin are released in your brain.
Oxytocin is the same hormone that is released when a woman has an orgasm, gives birth, or is breastfeeding her baby. It stimulates our maternal instincts. It has even been referred to as "the cuddle hormone," as it elicits soothing and comforting feelings.
The attachment stage feels very different from the lusty first phase of dating. It may be dangerous to raise children when you are addicted to romantic love and not thinking clearly, so nature has made this next love phase more calm and stable. In a sense, you and your partner return to normal programming. Your mind is not consumed by thoughts of your lover, and you may not have the same desire to make out or to wear makeup. Once your brain has removed its rosy glasses, you realize your boyfriend has morning breath and isn't always charming. Not to worry. The attachment phase is a good thing. You begin to realize that this is the person you want to call first when you get good news or bad. You rely on each other and your bond is strong. Attachment helps us live longer, healthier, and happier lives, which is why the US Department of Health and Human Services invested $1.2 billion between 2005 and 2010 promoting programs that encourage getting and staying married. In the attachment stage, you see your partner differently, and perhaps you see yourself differently as well.
THINK ABOUT IT
Your perspective influences you every day. Studies show that our brain chemistry is affected by the way we process life's events. The neural network in your brain is constantly learning, adapting, and changing.
The funny thing about perspective is that once you settle on a particular viewpoint, you start seeing everything through that lens. Have you ever bought a new car and then noticed that suddenly every car on the road seems to be the same as yours? In a way, you lose your peripheral vision when you get stuck on a particular point of view.
Every day in your relationship, you choose a perspective about your husband and your life and you collect evidence to support it. If your perspective is "He doesn't ever contribute," you will be extra-annoyed when you walk by him lounging in front of the television, and you may not even notice when he takes out the trash. If your perspective is "My husband is really thoughtful," you're more likely to recognize the small gestures he makes to ensure you are happy. And if your perspective of marriage is "all work and no play," you may not see the joy, passion, and fulfillment that a committed partnership can bring. You may not even give yourself the chance to be fulfilled in your marriage.
What's one of the negative perspectives you have about your husband? Maybe you think, "He doesn't do enough around the home." Is there a more positive perspective you can focus on? You might choose to focus on a perspective like "He works hard to provide for our family."
Table of Contents
Prologue: We're All Teenagers When We Fall in Love xi
Part 1 Modern Marriage
Chapter 1 This Is Your Brain on Love (It's All about Chemistry. Literally.) 3
Chapter 2 This Is Not Your Mother's Marriage 18
Chapter 3 Turn Me On 38
Chapter 4 Words, Words, Words 60
Chapter 5 Take a Time Out: Cheat On Your Kids 78
Part 2 Stop Complaining and Start Creating
Chapter 6 Cheating On Your Husband (with Someone Who's Not Your Husband) 101
Chapter 7 Cheat On Your Husband (with Your Husband) 117
Chapter 8 Let's Talk about Sex 132
Chapter 9 Sweat the Small Stuff 152
Chapter 10 Be the Partner You Want to Have 169
Conclusion: What's Next! 189
About the Author 207