When it comes to romantic relationships, chemistry is a loaded word. Does one of these beliefs pop into your mind when you hear it?
- For a good relationship, chemistry needs to be there right away
- Chemistry might not be felt initially but can develop later
- Love at first sight, or a variation of this, predicts a good long-term relationship
- Chemistry can come and go, depending on other factors
- Chemistry is not essential for a good marriage
- Chemistry can attract you to the “wrong” person
Let’s take a closer look at each of these notions about chemistry.
For a good relationship, chemistry needs to be there right away
I do not believe chemistry needs to be there right away. As sex experts Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson recognized many years ago, the most important sexual organ is between the ears.
When you first meet someone it’s possible to feel excited about him or her right away because, perhaps unconsciously, he or she reminds you of someone you love or admire. But your initial attraction is not an accurate predictor of what the future holds. After getting to know the person, you may get turned off because he or she is overly critical, demanding, untrustworthy, or doesn’t share values you hold dear.
Chemistry might not be felt initially but can develop later
Here’s an example of a relationship in which the woman didn’t experience chemistry initially for the man she eventually married (1):
When Jen met Peter at a singles gathering, she enjoyed talking with him. “He’s much too young for me,” she thought, “but he’s nice, like a sweet younger brother.” When he asked her out, she said yes and soon learned that he was closer to her age than she thought. Once her mind accepted him as a potential marriage partner, chemistry came and lasted. Jen and Peter have now been happily married for more than 25 years.
Another reason you may not feel chemistry on first meeting a person is that you are stressed or preoccupied about a business, family, or other matter. But later, when you’re relaxed, chemistry might develop.
Love at first sight, or a variation of this, predicts a good long-term relationship
Some couples fall in love instantly, quickly marry, and it works out well. These are the lucky ones, probably because it turns out that they have enough in common in terms of values, interests, and desirable character traits to stand the test of time.
“Love at first sight” is not an accurate predictor of relationship success. Research has shown that “couples with steady, longer courtship periods and awareness of each other’s strengths and weaknesses were more likely to remain happily married over the long term … Couples with ‘Hollywood Romances’ — bursting, passionate courtships that quickly result in marriage — quickly grew dissatisfied as spouses, and predictably, were more likely to divorce within seven years.” (2)
Chemistry can come and go, depending on other influences
An elderly man talked wistfully about his wife of a long marriage some time after she had passed away. “Sometimes I felt so fortunate to be married to her; like she was the most wonderful person in the world. Other times I thought she was terrible and wondered how I could have married her.”
He obviously loved her, longed for her, and wished she were still alive. But he made an important point: the “in love” feelings come and go, based on the other person’s behavior and on our internal state of mind at the moment.
Chemistry is not essential for a good marriage
Occasionally it takes some time for the chemistry to appear. If you feel compatible with the person, and not repulsed, don’t give up quickly. Mutual attraction may develop over time as you get to know him or her.
But don’t spend too much time on a potential disappointment. If no spark is present after a reasonable amount of time, move on. Someone might be perfect on paper – kind, sweet, pious, and of impeccable integrity – but if no attraction develops, that person may become a fine spouse – for someone else.
Chemistry can attract you to the ‘wrong’ person
Are you wanting marriage but you’re attracted to people who won’t commit? If yes, you might be acting out an internal conflict experienced by many at this time of high marriage failure rates. Part of you longs to commit; another part fears it won’t work out. Unconsciously, you play it safe by being attracted only to people who are interested in a casual relationship.
By gaining self-awareness and skills for a successful marriage, you can move past this conflict and allow chemistry to happen with the right person.
(1) Names are changed to protect privacy of people mentioned in this article.
(2) 13-year longitudinal study by Tom Huston at the University of Texas Austin (Huston et al., 2001).
Romantic couple photo available from Shutterstock