Food for thought so far
If love is largely driven, at this stage by chemical production, should it be considered real, particularly as we can alter (to some degree) the chemical production itself? Does it make love real or something we have some degree of control over?
The next and final relationship stages
Dr Nour refers to the next relationship stage as Stage Three, where the rush disappears, pulses no longer race and we begin to assess our partner for who they really are, not any longer through the rose-coloured glasses we once wore. At this stage people either stay together or go separate ways.
He refers to Stage Four as the true love stage. This stage is about deep bonds, mutually caring for children and real connection.
In this more settled, and final stage of the relationship many things influence the couple and the quality of the relationship such as:
Each person’s ability to manage conflict
Ability to compromise
Shared dreams, values and traits
Stress levels and stages of life
How each person cares and values themselves as time goes on
Compassion levels and ability to think of others
Trauma and stressors that the couple will encounter and how these are managed
How the couple views and manages resources
Day-to-day impacts such as how much time they spend together.
From a Therapist’s perspective many of these are largely controllable and can be influenced by one or both in the dyad. We have more research and relationship strategies available than ever before. We also have more options available to meet prospective partners. If we (mostly) maintain our values and partner criteria, and remain committed to finding the person that will best suit our long-term needs, the trajectory should be a positive one.
What often happens however, is that we initially meet people that may be fun at the time but don’t serve us well when it comes to the long haul. We stay way too long in these relationships only to find they don’t make us happy and we end up leaving in the end.
There is a possibility that love actually is a formula of:
Chemical production +
Suitability of the person (must be identified early) +
Emotional health (including good conflict management for both parties) +
As focus on the positive things about one another (rather than focusing on what’s not great).
So, is love real? If we consider that it appears we can influence love, produce it and enhance it, then should we consider it real or something that can be constructed, at least in part, by the human mind. You decide.
Perhaps the answer is to spend less time thinking about the question is love real and spend more time trying to make it and your brain work for you in constructing the great, connected and nurturing relationship you deserve.
What Falling in Love Does to the Brain, Live Science
How Long Does It Take To Fall In (and Out) of Love: Sydney Morning Herald
How Long Will Your Love Last? Check Your Oxytocin, Live Science
A few years ago, "What Is Love" was the most Googled phrase. There have been extensive research studies done on the question, and an overabundance of philosophers and theologists offering a plethora of fanciful interpretations.
The correct question seems to be… is love actually real or just a human construct that society tells us we should pursue? If what we believe to be love, is actually ‘real’, great! But if not, what should our relationship and desire to pursue it really be?
Before determining if love is real or a construct, we first need to begin with choosing a definition that most resinates with our personal viewpoint.
Various definitions of love look something like:
A strong feeling of affection
Fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment
A great interest and pleasure
A profoundly fond, passionate affection
A feeling of warm personal attachment
Sexual passion or desire
Feelings that range from the deepest interpersonal affection to the simplest pleasure
Many couples are confused between love and limerence. Both offer quite different experiences. Limerence is described as infatuation, a romantic attraction that includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies.
From an evolutionary perspective it is believed that at the start of a relationship human beings produce a range of chemicals designed to attract and connect one person to another and strengthen the pair-bond. It is assumed that this chemical production is designed to ensure that adults attach to their young and the young are protected and cared for. Both the female and male perform complimentary roles that ensure the offspring are nurtured, protected and resources are provided for. Human brains are wired for securing a mate and our chemical production ensures this and therefore, the survival of the race.
The chemical cocktail involved in the process of falling in love includes Vasopressin, Oxytocin, Dopamine, Serotonin and Norepinephrine. Within the first 6 months of meeting a mate, studies show that these chemicals are higher in paired couples than in single people.
According to Dr Fred Nour, Neurologist and author of True Love: How to use science to understand love, these chemicals surge after the Mate Selection Stage One phase. Stage Two is the romance stage where love is blind, our pulse races, there’s a slight rise in anxiety and the union is exciting. This is the limerence phase. Enjoy the moment because the chemical production lasts for a relatively short time… two to three years at the most, less for many.
Many things impact on the production of these chemicals. Oxytocin levels can be naturally increased by lifestyle changes such as:
Focusing on connecting and sharing with others
Meditating and activities that pamper the self
Hugs and saying “I love you”
Connecting with animals
Serotonin can be increased by introducing more complex carbohydrates, proteins, seeds, fruits and vegetables into your diet. But can also easily be depleted by other lifestyle choices such as: alcohol, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, cigarette smoking and dietary deficiencies.
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IS LOVE REAL?