Spark Your Marriage with Teenage Love Learn how embracing your teenage years will help you explore new possibilities and take chances in your marriage. BY ESTHER BOYKIN
Remembering and tapping into the primal parts of your brain used as a teenager can enhance your marriage.
We have a passionate affair with teen love in this country. Just look at the summer blockbusters and popular TV shows and you will see countless stories of angst-filled teenage love full of drama and passion. So, what is it about that age and the romance of that time that continues to capture our attention long into adulthood? And what is it about this type of love that you could bring into your own marriage?
Aside from the inevitable drama that is teen love, there is also a hopefulness and an enthusiasm for love and relationships that I think most of us still desire. They say you can never go back, but I think maybe marriage can take a few lessons from teenagers and recapture the joy of overwhelming, starry-eyed, young love even long after high school graduation.
Have tunnel vision with your spouse. Have you or your spouse ever tried to talk to your teenager while they were doing something else? Whether it’s playing a video game, hanging out with friends or even just relaxing, interrupting a teenager once they are engaged in something else is hard. Although often accused by parents of being easily distracted, adolescents have a tendency to become hyper-focused on things, often to the exclusion of everything (or everyone) else.
Think back to that first crush in high school or your first serious relationship and you’ll most likely remember that nothing else mattered. Even if we consider beyond the realm of first love, teenagers have an uncanny ability to put their focus in one area and resist distraction even by pesky things like homework, family obligations or parental protests.
As adults, we begin to develop the necessary skills to multitask and also understand the role of those less enjoyable obligations in our lives. We take on social and familial expectations and shift our focus from fun times and hanging out to things like work and education. Clearly this is an important part of becoming a self-sufficient adult; after all one would never move out of their parents house if the majority of their time was spent focused on learning to play "Smoke on the Water" left-handed or counting how many times that cute boy down the street said our name last week.
Unfortunately, all of our responsible multitasking usually means that we stop spending any time at all focused on just one thing or, more importantly, one person. We stop enjoying lazy afternoons looking at the clouds with our spouse or staying up late just talking about nothing. There are meetings and soccer games and laundry to be done, so we schedule a quick dinner date or fit in a quick kiss hello each morning and gone are the hours of thinking of nothing but each other. But just as our teenage-self needed to learn how to expand our worldview to include things like going work on time and balancing a checkbook, our adult selves would benefit from learning to have tunnel vision once in a while when it comes to the one we love. Tuning out the rest of the world not only tells our spouse just how important they are in our life, but it helps to remind us of the how passionate we still feel about them.
Be impulsive… or at least spontaneous. One of the common complaints about teenagers is their tendency to leap before looking. In fact, there is growing research suggesting that this impulsivity may be at least partly related to their brain development. For much of their decision making, teenagers engage the amygdala, or "pleasure center" of their brains far more often than the "thinking" areas found in the frontal lobe (that explains a few things, right?). That means that much of what they say and do is based on emotion and a desire for fun and pleasure rather than on logic or reason. Teenagers are predisposed to operate based on their more primal needs—both physical and emotional—which often leads to excitement, adventure and usually some bad decisions too.
As adults our lives and relationships would be little more than chaos and confusion if we truly lived as impulsively as some teens, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a calculated leap every now and then. While our matured frontal lobe is helpful in balancing the checkbook and even avoiding some unnecessary conflicts, it does not have to run our relationships alone. The "pleasure center" is still alive and well in our adult brains and, with a little effort, we can allow it to take the lead from time to time and engage in some fun and even impulsive adventures with our spouse. Take the day off from work and whisk your husband away for a day of golf or a romantic picnic; or jump in the car and just start driving, letting the highway decide where you’ll end up. We can’t fly by the seat of our pants every day, but making a little time to be less rational and more adventurous is a great way to reconnect with some of the more 'primal' reasons that you got together in the first place.
Life (and love) is full of endless possibilities, so don’t be afraid to go after them. One of the greatest parts of adolescence is their boundless optimism. True, it is based mostly in a naïve perception that bad things happen to other people, but this kind of rose-colored view of life allows teenagers to take on the world with enthusiasm and a fearless conviction that there is always some new experience waiting around the corner. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. Life as a teenager is all about future potential and enjoying the moment. They live to savor every moment because every few years things change dramatically, they go from middle to high school to college to jobs. Their friends change, their hobbies change, and our expectations of them change. Teenagers are a walking example of our growth potential—physically, emotionally, and socially.
Unfortunately, too often as we age we trade in our idealistic view of the world for a wiser but more cynical and cautious perspective. We stop working so hard to see the good in others and start investing a lot more energy in protecting ourselves from pain and disappointment. We become hesitant and tentative rather than eager and open to new experiences with each other and then wonder where the romance went. To quote one of my favorite films, Love Jones, "romance is about the possibility of the thing… from the time you meet a woman to the first time you make love. From the time you first propose to her. To the time you say, I do." What Larenz Tate’s character is so eloquently saying is that romance, is about the space between where you are whatever is about to come next; much like the joy of being a teenager. The possibilities are endless when it comes to loving another human being. Our capacity for growth and change and compassion are boundless and thus the opportunity for romance in your marriage is only limited by your willingness to take a chance and explore the new possibilities together.
Esther Boykin is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Washington, DC area and is the co-owner of Group Therapy Associates, a private practice in Haymarket, VA. Her areas of clinical interest include working with couples and relationship dynamics, adolescent development, and understanding the impact of trauma on intimacy. In addition to her clinical work, Esther is a freelance writer and has published on a variety of relationship and mental health issues including teen marriage, the therapeutic process, and domestic violence. She currently writes a weekly column for "I Am Modern," a lifestyle magazine and website for mothers in the DC metro area. She is also a featured Health & Wellness contributor for AssociatedContent.com. You can find more of her writing on her blog at http://blog.grouptherapyassociates.org and learn about her clinical services or schedule an appointment at www.grouptherapyassociates.org.