We've always been fascinated by the idea that "falling in love" is not necessarily the same thing as "staying in love." In her book, Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love, Linda Carroll explores what makes us fall in love, what allows us to keep feeling love for a partner over time, and where the two diverge. This excerpt drills down to the fundamentals in a refreshingly straightforward way.
1. Human beings possess two distinct and opposing instincts: the desire to merge with another and the need to remain an individual.
Both are vital. Just as an infant and mother bond, so do newly joined lovers become immersed in each other. And, just as the infant must one day push against her mother to become herself, we, too, need to eventually move away from our lover and recover the edges of our own uniqueness.
2. Some lovers try to stay inside the love bubble as long as they can by creating their own private culture.
They invent a language of their own that nobody else can understand. They share jokes with punch lines that are funny only to them. Within the perceived safety of the bubble, their merge feels at once total and eternal.
It was in just such a bubble that film star Ingrid Bergman and her husband, Peter Lindstrom, named their daughter Pia, with the three letters standing for Peter, Ingrid, Always. Alas, the marriage fell apart, but Pia’s name remained a reminder of love’s possibilities and its fragility — always.
3. Not everyone experiences the “urge to merge.”
Some people never feel it at all. Or they enjoy an initial hit of ecstasy that quickly dissipates. Some people enter love slowly, with a friendship that gradually leads to an intimate partnership — one that may or may not be spiced with romance.
Others choose a partner because they feel that “it’s just time.” Some focus on similarities of ethnicity, race, religion, education, class, and life goals, which have little to do with falling in love. Nonetheless, so much of our culture — songs, movies, fairy tales, and novels — leads us to await the prince who will kiss us awake or for the woman who will melt our heart and soul.
4. It’s a kind of madness.
The biochemical changes that take place in new lovers produce symptoms similar to those of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, including loss of appetite and sleeplessness. How well we know the signs of obsession: Fantasies of the beloved fill our days and crowd our nights.
When we’re apart, we feel incomplete. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it also leads to constant chatter about the missing object of affection. This fixation and preoccupation is what others find tiresome about the love-struck. People roll their eyes and think us temporarily insane. Which, of course, we are.
5. New lovers have much in common with addicts.
Magnetic resonance imaging reveals that the nucleus acumens, the part of the brain that is activated in lovers, is the same part that lights up in cocaine users and gamblers when they act out their addiction.
Greek mythology provides us with imaginative and amusing ways to describe the felt intensity of romantic love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, had a son named Cupid. His job, as an archer, was to dip arrows into his mother’s secret love potion before he took aim.
Once Cupid’s arrow hit its target, the victim fell madly in love with the next person he or she saw. This myth has given rise to some of the most extraordinary love legends of all time, including those of Apollo and Daphne, Helen of Troy, Antony and Cleopatra, and Romeo and Juliet.
We now know that the “hit” of romance can be partially explained by biochemistry. It’s just an overabundance of particular chemicals.
As they float on a sea of PEA (Phenethylamine), lovers report more sensational and adventurous sexual experiences than they’ve ever enjoyed before, such as “mile-high sex” and a heightened pleasure in sensory qualities that might normally be a turnoff.
Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, once wrote to Josephine, “I’m coming home. Please don’t wash.”
As if a generous shot of PEA weren’t enough, the love cocktail is also spiked with endorphins, which boost pleasure and decrease pain, and oxytocin, a hormone released during physical touch that promotes bonding.
This cocktail infuses us with euphoria and extraordinary energy, which is why crucial parts of life, like sleep and nourishment, seem unimportant. Our perspective becomes so skewed that we see only what is good and beautiful in our lover; we’re blind to all else.
6. To fall in love is natural.
It’s effortless — that’s why we call it falling. But to remain in that state of euphoria is not. Long-lasting love results from the necessary work that two people do — the self-work, primarily — to create a strong, durable partnership over time.
7. We need three types of skills to keep it alive.
We must foster self-knowledge, learn communication skills (like fair fighting and appropriate self-disclosure), understand our partner’s love language, and develop the kinds of attributes that spiritual traditions have emphasized forever: generosity, patience, and empathy.With practice and courage we can often find ourselves back at the first place of magic again and again. This time we don’t get there by “falling” but through the actions and willingness that carry us back to the heart.
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