How to Stay in Love when You Ache

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Do you take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) when you have a headache, muscle ache, or the flu? If so, you might want to know about a couple of recent research studies.
In Over-the-Counter Relief From Pains and Pleasures Alike: Acetaminophen Blunts Evaluation Sensitivity to Both Negative and Positive Stimuli, Geoffrey R. O. Durso, Andrew Luttrell, and Baldwin M. Way, all from Ohio State University’s Department of Psychology, discovered something of interest to us married folks.
Our emotional response to images known to provoke emotional responses is blunted while taking acetaminophen (aka paracetamol outside the U.S.). It works both ways: we have less of a negative emotional response or less of a positive emotional response. It’s this second one that got my ears twitching.
If you want to avoid that deadening “I love you, but I’m not in love with you” state, research reported by Barbara Frederickson in the book Love 2.0 says you need to share multiple synchronous positive emotions with your spouse every day. The emotion of love is created by sharing some other positive emotion with your spouse, simultaneously feeling the same good feelings.
So, when you or your spouse takes acetaminophen, it’s going to take more to get that first positive emotion going. On those days, you might want to go out of your way to share something beautiful, reflect on things you’re both grateful for, savor any small victories, offer loving touches, look for things to laugh about together, and do things that make you both happy.
Love is all about commitment and sacrifice and wanting the best for your partner; you can do it from a distance or while living parallel lives. “In love” requires multiple daily shared instances of pleasure, joy, laughter, awe, admiration, gratitude, respect, relief, and inspiration, preferably while looking into each other’s eyes.
When medication reduces the response to the things that trigger these emotions, one way to make sure we get our daily diet of the emotion of love is to seek out or create more positive stimuli: a tender kiss instead of a goodbye peck, stroking a cheek while looking into her eyes in place of a quick touch of the shoulder, watching the sun rise together in awe instead of picking a few flowers from the garden, or sending your mate off to any sort of competition or difficult day with praise instead of a simple “Good luck!” (Barbara Sher says, “Praise makes us brave.”)
I won’t hold my breath for researchers to test whether couples feel more in love if they do this while one of them is taking Tylenol. But you can test it for yourself. Please share your findings here. And may you stay in love for a very long time.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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  • Acetaminophen is included in a lot of cold remedies. (People don’t always realize this, and if they don’t read the small print on the label, may inadvertently end up overdosing on Tylenol because they take it separately).
    It makes me wonder if that dull feeling so many people experience during colds is not just because of the cold, but also because of the cold medicine?
    I take ibuprofen for aches and pains. Now I’m wondering if it may have a similar effect. I’ll have to test all of this, the next time Hubby or I need some meds!

  • I take ibuprofen more often than acetaminophen, too, Rosemary. So far, the word on it is that it blunts negative emotions like acetaminophen does, but only for women. Weird, no? No word yet on whether it affects positive emotions for either sex.
    Thanks for the reminder to watch for acetaminophen in cold remedies.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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