I hope that everyone has had a wonderful start to their new year and that your new year resolutions include finding or maintaining close intimate relationships. This post is a continuation of common questions that I am asked when I lecture on the topic love. If you have any questions you would like answered in the final fifth series of this article please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What causes people to have such strong emotional bonds for each other early in a relationship, and then, later on, they lose the “spark” in their relationship down the road?
A: For this question, I will turn to chemistry. First, we are biologically wired to have a deep neurological connection with someone only for about seven years, mainly because throughout our history, around the seventh year is when children became less dependent on mom and dad and more dependent on community and peers. But there are two chemical phases we go through when falling in love. The “Spark” at the beginning of a relationship is caused by a natural form of amphetamine produced in the brain that causes the euphoric and very focused, sometimes obsessive and paranoid motivations which last for 18 months to 36 months of a romantic relationship. Somewhere during this time, the amphetamine stops being produced by the body and is replaced by a natural opioid that the body starts to produce. The opioid gives us our sense of stability, reduced feelings of stress, and general close emotional connection with someone. Now real quick it is expected that it is the withdrawal from the amphetamine that may cause the four-year spike in divorce rates. That basically because the high of a new relationship being replaced with the calm of close human connection, we crave for the return of the high. Some people can actually get addicted to this phase of love, especially when they have an addictive personality. Now for individuals who move successfully to the next phase of love, we find that successful relationships are due to the individual’s interest in each other, they continue to learn and discover new things about each other and respond to each other’s changes in life positively.
Q: Why do people fall out of love? Were they not completely in love in the first place? Is love a measurable feeling or is it different in every situation?
A: As I have said, love is not a feeling, it is a drive, which is different because feelings and emotions can change whereas drives are fixed needs that we all have to in some ways satisfy. So is love different in every situation, no, but just like the food we all have our preferences and different tastes, and some of us want a lot and some very little? But in the end, we all need to eat, just as we all need to experience love. For your first question, there is no such thing, at least on a scientific basis, of falling completely or not completely in love. What we often find is people getting lust mixed up with love. Again I use the example of food. We lust over the food we should not have, we are driven towards the food that will best satisfy our needs (which can be bad or good as well). Lust is an emotion, and it is produced in the amygdala area of the brain (which is the emotional area of the brain), just like a craving for a tempting slice of your favorite pie or cake. Whereas the drive for love is produced from the tegmental area of the brain, which is associated with our primary, drives. During our teen years and into our early twenties, we often lust after someone, because of their looks, and because of the sexual desires they produce. But unfortunately what we have found is this is not love. This is an emotional experience produced by desire and the emotions associated with sex and attraction. So this mistaken identity of love, yes you can fall out of very easily because it is an emotion and not a drive. People can fall out of love, and it usually occurs during the transition phase when neurochemicals that reinforce your attachment to someone starts to naturally wane between the third to the seventh year of the relationship. However, this only occurs if the couple stops developing their relationship and they stop learning about each other.
Q: Does everyone “love” differently? For example, is a person’s definition and how love feels different than other persons? Or if I love someone and they love me back is it a different feeling?
A: Let us return to the analogy of food. I like using food because it is regulated by the same region of the brain that regulates love. This also points out an important concept, that love is not a feeling emotion, it is a drive and motivation. But to your question, using food, we all have different appetites; we all have different tastes and different needs to consume. Some of us like our food bland and need very little, some of us like our food hot and spicy and we like having a lot. Love works on the same principles as food consumption, But where it differs is that it involves two people who probably have slightly different appetites. And when our tastes are too different, our relationships are bound to fail. This is why most research finds that long lasting relationships are based on two individuals who have similar interests, personality, attitudes, beliefs, and physical appearance. This matching assures that the individuals will have similar love appetites.
Q: My questions are that if two people have been together for 10-20 years and then they end up in divorce, is this because that one or more of the romantic love traits have failed to be satisfied in either one or both of the individuals? Also is this what marriage counseling is supposed to unveil so that each person in the relationship can start to repair the “broken” parts of romantic love?
A: First of all, let’s dispel a myth, there is no such thing as love “traits.” I know books that make a claim and have made a lot of money claiming to fix many relationships, but it is a pseudo fix, and I would encourage you to throw away your love trait books and five languages of love. It is pseudo garbage. As far as your question to the end of 10-20 relationships, first, we should take this in perspective, because there can be varied reasons why individuals divorce. Yet, when we look at the core motives, in general, we find most relationships that end after 10-20 years do so because the couple gets to the point that they feel that their relationship no longer needs work, development, and growth. As individuals, we are constantly changing throughout our life. But we for some reason get in the mindset that our relationships somehow defy this rule of life. So we stopping developing our relationships as we develop and literally wake up one day with a stranger sitting next to us.
Couples counseling is more about discovering whether you or your partner can actually love the person that you have both become and let go of the person you and him/her will never be again. It is an attempt to see if you can fall in love again with someone familiar but different. Interestingly, research on the success of marriage counseling indicates that marriage counseling is only successful if you and your partner had good communication skills before you became committed to each other.