Our romanticized idea of love made us believe that love is a feeling.
That high we experience when we feel we can’t be without the other.
When we can’t stop thinking about them.
That is an obsession, and the chemical and neurological state of the feeling described is both what we experience in the honeymoon stage and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
When we call it being in love instead of a mental health condition, it’s mainly because the object of the obsession is a person and that it’s a temporary state.
In that lies the key. It’s temporary and does not last, and that is a good thing because if it did, you would have OCD.
If you based your relationship on that feeling, then it will not last. The research found it to last a few months to 2 years max.
Emotions are short-lived, inconsistent, and unreliable, so not a good foundation alone.
One moment you might feel connected and joy being with your partner, and a few hours later, you are annoyed and angry with them.
Unlike emotions, love is constant because its pillar is attachment and safety.
Love beholds all emotions, not just the positive, but the skeleton of love is our dedication and steadfast commitment based on attachment.
What is love if it includes all emotions?
Love is not a single feeling. It’s an emotional attachment, a choice, and a skill.
My kids can be very annoying, but no matter how I feel about them in the moment, I stick around, and I care for them.
I keep them safe and look out for their wellbeing. That’s love.
It’s not dependent on my current emotional state.
If I ran away when I did not feel deep emotional affection, that would not be love because love involves safety and attachment.
When I feel tired and just want to sleep, I still get up to comfort them if they have a nightmare.
Even in my tiredness and irritation at being woken up for the third time, I hold them and tell them they are safe.
Giving them love also requires self-regulation skills, so I don’t explode when they have been fighting for 30 minutes or refuse to get dressed.
And empathy and emotional intelligence to understand their experience and needs and help them flourish.
Adult relationships are similar. The only difference is that they include mutuality and sexuality.
In an adult relationship, it’s not one-way caretaking.
You both take care of each other.
You both care about each other’s needs and boundaries.
Adult love is not unconditional, and neither should it be.
The condition is that you care about each other’s needs and boundaries, and while who gives the most does not have to be consistent, and it’s not an equation, both sides need to invest.
This is why our modern-day belief that more choice is better is mistaken.
Suppose love requires you to make a choice—a commitment.
Looking for a better option or keeping backup options does not allow the choice, safety, and attachment that love needs to flourish.
Let one story finish at a time.
More choice does not equal better love but equals less satisfaction.
You have chosen to invest.
You feel emotionally attached.
Now comes the hard part that we never learned, and that’s the skills.
No matter how strongly you feel for each other in the beginning, it’s not enough to keep you together.
Eventually, nature’s chemical cocktail of dopamine abandons you, and you are on your own to make it work.
As a relationship coach here are some skills I teach people.
When I did premarital counseling I learned how knowing my own love map was the best thing I could do for my marriage.
If we don’t understand ourselves, it’s hard to relate to others.
As children, we learn that love is that our parents intuitively know what we need without us even having to say it because, as babies, we can’t.
This childlike romantic expectation continues for many in adulthood and leads to resentment, anger, and unmet needs.
The idea that your partner, if they loved, you should somehow know what you like, want, and need is a destructive childlike fantasy.
We also need self-awareness to know our triggers and communicate these to our partner, so they know how to not step on the landmines.
If you don’t tell them where the landmines of your past are, then your relationship will soon be crawling without any legs.
We continuously do what psychologists call transference and projection.
Meaning we project emotional wounds and stories onto our partner and get excessively upset with them.
Self-awareness is useful, so you can see you are transferring old pain onto your partner, and it’s not about your partner but your wound.
We often lack this self-awareness, and there believes our partner is so bad and deserves our anger. Completely unaware that we are projecting the hurt caused by our father that left or a partner that betrayed us.
Knowing your wounds and being aware of transferring these old emotions to the current moment will ensure you don’t blow off their arms.
Because if you repeatedly do, your relationship will not even be able to crawl. It will be dead on the battlefield.
You are fighting an imaginary enemy that is no longer real. And the casualty was your love.
Self-awareness also allows you to know and express your ever-changing needs and boundaries from moment to moment.
Check-in with yourself and communicate these to your partner so they know what you need.
So, how can you develop self-awareness if you don’t have much right now?
Read books about relationships and psychology.
Journal your thoughts, stories, feelings, sensations, needs, and boundaries.
You will soon see patterns that reveal your triggers, what stories you tell yourself around events, how they relate to your past, and what your needs are in different circumstances.
This is the main skill we work on in couples therapy.
All conflicts and fractures in relationships are down to de-regulation.
While many different events or circumstances might trigger your stress response, only one thing will prevent our mind from turning into a war machine and causing destruction.
And that is self-regulation.
This is the skill they should teach kids in school before anything else. It’s the most important skill you will ever learn in your life.
People that can’t regulate and calm themselves will struggle through life with more mental health issues and have far more short and unstable relationships.
This is an ongoing practice, and we will not always get it right, and that’s ok. If we just get it right most of the time, then that’s good enough.
Set daily mindfulness practice. If you struggle with sitting still and meditation, as many people do, include me, practice slow deep breathing, and be present while moving. Running, dancing, or anything you enjoy.
The movement has the added benefit of releasing stress in the body, making it easier to be present and mindful.
Keep practicing, and you will slowly become better at staying calm, and this, in turn, will make you better at listening to and understanding your partner and also express your own needs in a way they can be heard.
Thomas is the Founder of Zensensa.com the leading institute for relationship intimacy.He is the author of two books and the host of the Zensensa podcast. A dating coach, relationship coach, confidence coach & sex coach. Provides premarital counseling, couples therapy, online marriage counseling, relationship counseling & marriage therapy. Marriage counseling near you.
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