Today immediate gratification is the name of the game - I want to feel good and I want it now. You can get a new house, a new car, new furniture on credit, interest free, no deposit loans and a myriad of other schemes designed to allow you immediate access to that 'thing' that is going to make you feel so much better.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is now used to evaluate and discard marriages. When two people first marry, their relationship tends to be passionate. They can't stop thinking about each other and their brain chemicals are stimulated, so that they are on a permanent high. The increase in the levels of dopamine in 'love struck' people has the same effect on their brains as cocaine use. These people characteristically have more energy, decreased appetite, less need for sleep and a focus on their love interest, to the detriment of other things that they used to find important. The increase in levels of seretonin in the brain, have been shown to correlate with the levels found in people with OCD. This explains the obsessive, 'can't stop thinking about you' trait of the first stages of being 'in love'.
As the marriage progresses from the passion stage to the attachment stage, the initial high settles into a more comfortable routine. In a world where we are bombarded with the idea that the dopamine/seretonin fuelled high equates with 'love', it is understandable that often people feel that the 'spark' has gone, therefore the love has gone. They then chase that high through affairs - the marriage disintegrates because the attachment stage is 'boring' and the cycle continues.
Of course you can spend the rest of your life, meeting people from Internet dating sites and Tinder in hotel rooms in order to get the fix that you crave. But eventually, like any addict, you will become disillusioned because the real issue here is that you are looking outside yourself for fulfillment. It is interesting that when I asked my ex-husband what he got from the other woman, he replied that she gave him back his self-worth. He needs other people to make him feel good, because he is unable to do it for himself. Deep down he loathes himself and instead of facing these inner demons, he uses alcohol and attention from women to convince himself that he must be 'a nice bloke'.
A meaningful relationship is one where both partners know each other so well that they can go hand in hand to each other's dark places and explore them together. It is a commitment to learn and grow with your partner. It is a promise to share intimate moments only with each other as an expression of the mutual love and respect that has developed. But a meaningful relationship also relies on the ability of both partners to delay gratification for the long-term goal of building a life-long partnership together. Some people are just unable to do this. Some people cannot see past the 'I want to feel good, right now' in order to get a more worthwhile payoff later.
The Marshmallow Test
In the 1960's, some Stanford University researchers conducted a series of experiments on 5 year olds. Each child was left alone in a room for fifteen minutes with a marshmallow placed in front of them. Before the researcher left the room, they explained to the child that if they did not eat the marshmallow, they would get a second marshmallow when the researcher returned. So basically, the child had a choice - one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows later on.
The researchers followed these children for 40 years and what they found was that the children who had held out for the second marshmallow were more successful in every area of life. They were better at stress management, they had better social skills, higher salaries and they were less likely to be overweight or have addiction issues.
If you want to lead a fulfilled and successful life, it is clear that you need to be disciplined and have self control. Sometimes acting on impulse is fun, but acting on impulse all the time will not bring happiness. My ex-husband joined an Internet dating site, corresponded with a woman and ended up sleeping with her because he didn't have the self control to realise that our marriage was a long term proposition not a short term high. Steve would have eaten that marshmallow before the researcher was even out of the room! He couldn't see that we were building something together and that if he had stuck with it, he would have got his two marshmallows. We were planning a holiday to Britain later this year, we were looking at blocks of land and we had picked out a house that we wanted to build for retirement and we had the mortgage paid off. To me, all these things meant we were getting somewhere, we were working towards achieving something. In his mind, he was bored and treading water, he couldn't be bothered waiting for the second marshmallow so he signed up on a dating site, to hunt one down.
“Self-discipline is often disguised as short-term pain, which often leads to long-term gains. The mistake many of us make is the need and want for short-term gains (immediate gratification), which often leads to long-term pain.”
(Charles F. Glassman, Brain Drain The Breakthrough That Will Change Your Life)