a failed American ideal

what went wrong and some science based suggestions for success

Half of American marriages fail!  And many of the marriages which don't end in divorce are still probably only marginally happy relationships.  Either the task of marriage is very challenging, or a lot of Americans aren't doing it right.  For a culture that has been so successful at so many aspects of life, not understanding romance seems unlikely.  But the much higher success rates for marriages in earlier times and in other cultures by generally less formally educated people suggests the problem is that Americans are clueless.

Generally when people fail to achieve a challenging task, by practice and determination they get better, producing a better chance of success on successive tries.  But while 50% of first marriages fail, about 67% of second marriages fail and the failure rate INCREASES with further attempts!  It seems that what many Americans try to do to make their marriage succeed actually with practice promotes its failure.

The failure of Americans to recognize the problem and make appropriate corrections suggests this is likely due to a combination of causes rather than a single causal factor.  But there is experimental evidence which gives clues:

  1. Most Americans operate with a muddled conception of the mix between love, romance, and sèx.  Listening to a popular television show provides indication of a popular desire for romance:  Psychologist Dr. Phil listens to peoples' problems and tries to propose plans to improve their lives.  Often a person complains that they have enjoyed the thrills and excitement of falling in love, still seek romance, but find their relationship no longer satisfies their needs.  Dr. Phil McGraw might explain that with time the excitement should be replaced with the secure feeling of remaining in the relationship.  What seems missing is an understanding that research about the biochemistry of brain nerves suggests that there are three INDEPENDENT chemical processes:  a non-specific sèx drive producing the wild passionate lust for sèxûal plèasure, romantic love focusing attention exclusively on one person, and a long term attachment to a life partner.  Each involves a different set of brain chemicals, often in different locations of the brain.  While the chemical processes may occur sequentially and sometimes simultaneously, often they do not.  So the idea that these three processes should remain constantly and simultaneously during marriage is a generally unattainable dream.  To end marriage because of the ebb and flow of such brain processes is probably unreasonable.

  2. That written, there are activities which can promote these brain processes.  And to a limited extent, each activity may often provide some of the chemicals needed for the subsequent process.  Humans with higher circulating levels of testosterone tend to engage in more sèxûal activity.  It has been suggested that concentration of testosterone can be increased by seeing images of people of the opposite gender, and by detecting an appropriate pheromone.  Sèxûal activity can trigger the brain to spike the concentration of the neurotransmitter dopamine which in turn can cause romantic love to ensue.  Adversity and barriers heighten romantic passion, what has been referred to as frustration attraction.  Romantic love is also involuntary, difficult to control and generally impermanent.  The neurotransmitter chemical which creates a sense of long term attachment is thought to be produced and released in the brain during hugging, touching, and ôrganism in both genders.

  3. But current American culture discourages many of the activities which promote these three brain processes involved with mating.  The penchant for Americans to frequently bathe may remove pheromones.  The American puritanical desire to hide vision of one's body, particular one's private parts may reduce sèx drive in the mate.  Policies and traditions which restrict and discourage sèxûal activity likely inadvertently reduce a sense of romantic love.  And avoiding hugging, touching and other physical contact in public and often more private situations likely discourages the sense of long term attachment.  For example scheduling the bulk of a couple's lives so that they remain apart in daily activities, even sitting in different chairs when in the same room and sleeping apart likely reduce the sense of being at one with one's mate.
  I hear,     and I forget.
I see,     and I remember.
I do,     and I understand.



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Early learning learn & to Love
Experiment B-6: Brain Chemstry
Experiment B-7: Memory
Experiment B-10: Mating

created 18 March 2008
latest revision 24 March 2008
by D Trapp
Mac made