Sex, Love and the other secret things


Sex, Love and the other secret things

Werner Bartens Love Sex

Long-, short- or other term relations

According to Werner Bartens

by Rosan Hollak/ nrc

Amsterdam, July 29th 2021–When you have just fallen in love, you are almost bursting with zest for life. Dopamine is released in the brain. That works as a stimulant, it makes you look at the world through rose-colored glasses. That one person you’re in love with is magically different, smells delicious, and says great things!”

Werner Bartens (55) can hardly suppress his laughter as he tells. It’s also pretty funny to look at love with such a sobering look. “By the way, there are more body’s own euphoria hormones that are released when falling in love. But hey, that romantic love doesn’t last forever. After about a year and a half, these substances are no longer released in large quantities, then the sex drive deteriorates.” After four years, he says cheerfully, the physiological low is reached. “That is also the reason that many young people stop their relationship after about four or five years. They cannot accept that romantic love is over. So there is a ‘four year itch’ instead of a ‘seven year itch’.”

Bartens, speaking via Zoom from his hometown near Munich, has been a science journalist for over twenty years. However, his career started very differently. He studied history, German literature and medicine and, as a young doctor, did research at the Max-Planck-Institut in Freiburg and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. But being a doctor did not make him happy. He thought the level of research at the teaching hospitals in Germany was low and patients were often not treated well.

Many people have psychosomatic complaints, such as headaches, back pain or problems with their intestines, but they are hardly looked at, there is no interest in it. I thought that was a bad thing, so I stopped.”

Bartens started writing scientific articles and sent them to newspapers such as Die Zeit and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

They were placed every time,” he says and shrugs slightly. “So yes, after a while I decided that this was my profession.”

“Today, in 51 percent of cases, the woman initiates the divorce”

He has now been employed by the Süddeutsche Zeitung for many years and has written several books on psychology and health. His latest book, The Secret of Long Love, also explores how we can preserve ‘old love’ – or a long-term relationship – in a society that is mainly focused on added value and innovation.

Why “long love”?

“Ten years ago no one in my area was divorced. But in recent years, many of my friends suddenly broke up, often after more than 20 years of marriage. That surprised me, I wanted to investigate.

“I found out that long marriages tend to fail more often these days. Since the 1990s, this kind of ‘grey divorce’ has become twice as common. In the US, one in four divorces is in the age group over 50. In Germany, there are about three to four thousand such divorces per year.”

How did that happen?

“People no longer marry because of a romantic ideal or to make a joint commitment. Marriage is increasingly seen as an individualistic project. People think: what can I get out of it? If it doesn’t fit anymore, they stop. In addition, women are more economically independent than before. As a result, they are less willing to accept their relationship as a fait accompli. Today, in 51 percent of cases, the woman initiates the divorce. The children are out of the house and then she says: this can’t be everything, I want my own life now.”

Economic security or security would no longer be the determining factors for maintaining a marriage.
“Love has become the subject of strategic considerations. A relationship should be a constant source of emotional growth, which is more important today than anyone offering their partner security or material benefit. This reappraisal is especially common in periods of major changes, such as a midlife crisis, retirement or menopause. The rationale behind this most resembles an economic consideration: what will this relationship bring me? It will be a cost-benefit analysis where the starting point is: total self-realization.”

Where does that attitude come from?

“It started with what I call the Stones generation: people born between the second half of the 1940s and the early 1960s. After the Second World War they rebuilt the country and were at the basis of the sexual revolution. While the previous generation was accustomed to staying in the same job for 40 years, and also kept quiet about the horrors they had experienced, the baby boom generation managed to raise their voices to change politics, society and power structures.”

You also emphasize that touch is important.

“Certainly, touching each other is very important. Not just sexually, but just, in between, during the day. Embrace each other, give a kiss, or walk hand in hand. That is where the message comes from: I am close to you. With such a combination of security, understanding and intimacy, lust can thrive.”

And if a couple keeps fighting each other out, what then?

“Sure, there are limits. But if there aren’t too many problems at play, it’s really worth sticking together. That is also a doctor’s advice, because breakups are accompanied by deep wounds in the soul and can also weaken the body and promote diseases. People who are lonely or feel lonely are also more likely to develop chronic diseases. A healthy relationship gives partners self-confidence and therefore also emotional peace, which works, even the joint meals appear to be healthier when people eat together.”

How is your marriage doing?

“In October I will be married twenty years.”

Do you have a good relationship?

“I think so. My wife always says I write about things I know nothing about.”


Werner Bartens (Göttingen, 1966) studied history, German literature and medicine. In the 1990s he conducted research at the Max-Planck-Institut for Immune Biology in Freiburg. Beginning in 1992, he was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, for a year. 

Werner Bartens: The secret of long love. Why a long-term relationship makes you live longer, healthier and happier. 

Rosan Hollak/nrc

Read also about Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets”


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