Meg and I have been married 17 years, but we’ve never had a spark when we’ve kissed—even from day one. There’s a lack of intimacy in it for me that’s troubling as I reach this middle period of my life and marriage. So my questions are, does the lack of passionate kisses mean anything? Or should it be enough to have values and interests in common?
Your questions remind me of “Passionate Kisses” song-writer Lucinda Williams’ lyric: “Is it too much to ask?” Absolutely not—especially for couples with a lot in common, since similarity usually sustains a great connection on every level. And kissing should help with your emotional bond, because it releases Reward & Trust Twins dopamine and oxytocin—love drugs that enhance bonding and fun wherever they roam. The young collegiate participants in Susan Hughes’ kissing research confirm this, saying it helps them feel emotionally intimate with their partners, and affirming the importance of kissing for long-term relationships. But how does this relate to you and other mid-life/mid-marriage adults?
To find out, the Passionate Kisses Survey was launched and answered by 120 Love Science readers. And whether these folks do or don’t represent everyone else, it’s clear They Know Long-Term Love. Three-fourths are ages 31-49, and 100% are either presently or formerly involved in long-term partnerships; the largest category of respondents has now been married between 8 and 20 years, like you and Meg.
The upshot? Passionate Kissing In Long-Term Relationships Is Important, and if you’re not happy with the kissing, it’s highly likely you’re unhappy with your marriage, too. In our study, over 2/3 of the men and women think kissing in long-term relationships in general is “very” or “extremely” important. Only 6% think it’s “slightly” or “not at all” important. And when it comes to their own relationships, our respondents’ happiness is closely related to how much they enjoy kissing their mate: 90% of the Extremely Happily partnered are “extremely” or “very happy” with the smooching, and the less happy in love are typically underwhelmed by the kissing. So, the answer to your first question—whether lacking lip zip means anything—seems to be Yes: Although representative research needs to be done on this, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that you and Meg probably aren’t very emotionally satisfied with one another right now.
What concerns me the most, though, isn’t your current unhappiness—but your belief that the kissing was never great. See, Passionate Kisses aren’t just relationship-maintainers—in Westernized nations like ours, they’re practically mandatory at love’s launch. On early dates, men say they use kissing to get sex—preferring deep, wet Hoover Maneuvers, maybe because their testosterone-laden saliva can put women on a rather persuasive high. Meantime, women use the first lip-lock to unconsciously assess health and immune system compatibility for possible baby-making—and they’re pretty ruthless about dumping an entire relationship if the kissing is sub-par. In fact, a bad first smooch is a deal-breaker for most people: Gordon Gallup, Jr. found that 66% of women and 59% of men admit they lost their attraction for someone who killed their buzz with that first mouth meld. Message? If you or Meg had flunked The Test, it’s highly unlikely you would have gone steady, much less gone to the chapel.
Turns out, although memories feel accurate, science has repeatedly shown that our present emotions change what we remember about the past. For instance, depressed people often misremember always being depressed, and unhappy couples typically have trouble recalling sunnier days. So when Diane Holmberg and J. G. Holmes interviewed 373 newlywed couples, all said they were very happy. Yet two years later, when some re-interviewed couples had become dissatisfied—they could not recall the happy times. In fact, they remembered things as having been bad all along.
And that’s dangerous. Because just as the steps are short between “I’ve always been depressed,” to “I always will be,” to “Why bother with living?” it’s a small distance between “We’ve never had passion,” to “We never will,” to “Why bother with this marriage?” Maybe that’s why John Gottman finds that a strong predictor of divorce is what the husband recalls about courtship and early marriage. Men who remember few details —or mostly bad ones—are headed for a split. And only you can say for sure, but it’s sounding like you might be one of those men right now.
What, then, should you do? Resign yourself to a dull marriage and passionless kisses? NO. Because even though lots of long-wed people *are* in the doldrums—what with the pressures of parenting, careers, and obligations beating down— there’s a flip-side to the stats: 1/3 to ½ of long-partnered couples remain delighted with one another; almost 90% of couples who consider divorce but remain together become “very” happy in under five years; and those that falter can usually be taught to re-kindle their love.
But first, you must remember the passion. Gottman has found that guiding husbands to recall everything positive they can about their wife, their early dating, their wedding, their first year of marriage—can be an immense help in re-igniting the spark that united them to begin with. You married Meg for reasons—lots of them—and since you say you’ve got a lot in common, they were probably good ones. What were they??? Remember…
So, I know this is highly un-guy-like, but if you want some Zip in your Doo Dah—Make A List. Make a list of everything good you can remember about the early days with Meg—why you asked her out; how irresistible her cute little butt and her generous laugh were; what she did that made you feel like Much Man; what made you want to give up all the other girls in the world to have her; what she did at the wedding that made you adore her even more; the way she loved you even when you didn’t have all the Stuff you’ve since accumulated. Then, feel free to add to that list every little thing you love about her now. And read your list every day.
Barring total deal-breakers you and Meg don’t seem to have, it’s usually the case that those whom we loved once, we can love again. Maybe not with the fervor of early love, since that appears to be a biochemical thing we aren’t in total control of—but with a love that is satisfying, deep, and real. A love with Passionate Kisses. It’s not too much to ask.
All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and LoveScience Media, 2009; reprinted with permission, 2013
The author wishes to thank the following scientists for their outstanding research into kissing:
Susan M. Hughes
Gordon G. Gallup, Jr.
Bart, for helping inspire and author the Passionate Kissing Survey