Montie and Einsman-08302013163803

Licensed marriage and family therapists Kari Montie and Alexander Einsman for Wisconsin State Journal Balance section relationship column, pictured Friday, August 30, 2013. John Hart -- State Journal

JOHN HART — State Journal

Dear Atlas,

I did a course of therapy where I focused on my ability to create a healthy romantic relationship. I have one now, but I keep wondering how to keep it a healthy relationship. I’m eight months into this one. Any thoughts? — Happy4now

Dear Happy4now,

Let’s begin with a look at the biology of love. There’s a lot happening in the body during early partnership. Frequently, new couples experience a strong drive to be together. This is the work of a biological mechanism, known as oxytocin. It helps couples to develop an emotional and physical bond. If you’ve ever watched a romance movie, you’ll know that the oxytocin high is one worth riding. Oxytocin makes falling in love an invigorating and joyful experience.

Thankfully, human beings come down from this high. And what a relief! Can you imagine trying to take good care of yourself if you spent the rest of your days completely enamored with your partner? It would be a real challenge to meet goals and address other areas of life successfully. So, when you begin to experience the urge to see friends or pursue a hobby, it’s worth checking in with yourself.

Because change is uncomfortable, some people feel an initial concern that something must be wrong. Listen to that concern, before it becomes fear, by giving some thought to the topic. But remember this is a developmentally normal time to make a boundary adjustment in your relationship. Most couples can expect this first boundary shift to come after about a year of dating.

When we talk about boundaries we are talking about the degrees of closeness and distance between two people in a relationship. Early-stage relationship boundaries tend to be very close. Eventually you will feel a pull to do things outside of the relationship. This lets you know the boundaries you have with family, friends, and hobbies have become more distant. It’s likely time for a boundary adjustment in your intimate relationship. This adjustment creates new space for the intimate partners to explore external interests. You might elect to stay in while your partner chooses to go out. Maybe you go and see music while your partner meets friends for dinner. Feeling secure and confident in these differences is important. It directly translates to giving support and being supported in the relationship.

You asked how to keep your relationship healthy. Keeping an eye on the boundaries between you and your world is a great start. It’s a skill you will carry forward to strengthen the relationship over a long course. Throughout life, there are demands and changes from our environment. Having the skills to navigate closeness and distance will help keep the dynamics in a relationship healthy.

This column provides general information and is not a substitute for professional intervention.

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