Falling in Love
Falling in love involves an unconscious as well as physical and chemical response to another person, which is much more compelling than simply finding someone to be attractive and compatible. Often, when we fall in love, we get a feeling of wholeness because we have met someone who carries qualities we lack in an irresistible way.
For example, a practical, rational man falls in love with a spiritual or emotional woman, even though most women of that type annoy him. Or a strong, assertive woman falls in love with a sensitive, artistic man, even though she finds most such men to be weak.
The conscious mind seeks similarity and is repelled by the opposite. The unconscious, however, seeks balance, and is drawn to the qualities one needs most, but only when they are expressed in an acceptable and appealing way.
Being in love creates an anticipation of fulfillment because the unconscious senses the possibility of becoming whole, if only we could integrate those unfamiliar qualities that reside in the Other without rejecting our own primary personality. The initial falling in love, like infatuation, overwhelms us with a feeling that involves a chemical response akin to being intoxicated. We’re in a state of awe and wonder regarding our partner, which often inspires our partner to feel confident, happy, and open — three enticing qualities that keep the magic going.
Falling out of Love
Later in the relationship, the chemical cocktail of oxytocin and dopamine from the initial romantic attraction wears off. At that point, unless we are the exception and continue to cherish our partner and integrate some of those needed contrasting qualities of our partner, those same qualities that drew the unconscious in often start driving us crazy. The conscious mind is back in charge, viewing our partner’s differences with negative judgment.
For example, the practical, rational man can no longer stand his partner’s emotional melodramatics. Or the strong, assertive woman is now turned off by her partner’s vulnerability.
The irony is that as partners reject those contrasting qualities, they polarize into extremes, exhibiting their opposing qualities in an increasingly unattractive way. No wonder many people ask themselves, “What happened to the person I married?”
The rational man becomes cold, causing the emotional woman to become histrionic in an effort to get him to show his emotions. When he finally does show his emotions, they are the emotions of anger and resentment, not love and compassion.
Or the strong woman becomes demanding and tough, causing the sensitive man to feel helpless and unseen. “Be a man!” she demands, which only causes him to feel utterly impotent. She loses her opportunity to gain some needed sensitivity; he misses out on developing some needed strength.
Love as a Chosen Attitude
How we treat another person affects the other person’s confidence and often causes him or her to gain or lose desirability in our eyes. The more we appreciate our partner, the more he or she carries the qualities we fell in love with in an enticing way, and thus, the more likely we are to get that loving feeling back again.
The conscious act of love involves choosing to have an attitude of appreciation for our partner, and particularly for his or her differences as we did when we fell in love. Thus, love is in large part dependent on our intention, appreciation, and action.
Invest in the Person
To reclaim the feeling of love, both partners need to choose to invest their time and energy in their relationship, particularly where their most stark differences lie. That doesn’t mean that they should spend every minute together, becoming fused and codependent. However, they both must choose to make their relationship a primary focus in their lives by doing some of the following:
1. Respect each Other: We need to speak as though the other person has influence over us, without being dismissive or condescending. We need to repeatedly interact with each other in ways that show that we think the other is competent and capable. Again, this requires that we don’t let our conscious preferences, such as being practical, sensitive, or tough, be in charge of our reactions.
2. Plan the Future: When couples no longer talk about their dreams, hopes, and plans, this often indicates that their relationship is in decline. Talking about plans for the future—this weekend, next year, and twenty years from now—creates anticipation for the future as a couple. Current difficulties are easier to deal with when couples have something to look forward to.
3. Trust: A loving relationship is based on trust, that is, on having faith that our partner is dependable, honest, and faithful. Showing faith and trust in our partner often helps develop trust. We do this by gradually disclosing more about who we are to the other person without fearing that we will be judged and rejected, and without manipulating the other person into approving and agreeing with us all the time. We must also have the discipline to avoid re-actively criticizing our partner when he or she discloses personal thoughts and feelings.
4. Enjoy: Enjoying the other person’s company with his or her differences is an important feature of love. We should get pleasure from doing things together and from supporting and caring for the other person.
5. Take Action: Doing things for another person can be an expression of love. We can create feelings of love through acting out of love, rather than passively waiting for those feelings of infatuation to overcome us. If both people are passively waiting to feel in love again, they are likely to be disappointed.
6. Be Affectionate: With loyalty, affection, and faithfulness, intimacy deepens into something even more meaningful than the initial feelings of falling in love.
7. Cultivate Passion: Sustaining passion requires intense engagement, fascination, and thinking about the other person with desire. This is something we can actively conjure up rather than passively waiting for it.
Sustaining love is an art, which requires conscious cultivation. Yet, it can be deeper, more meaningful, and just as passionate as the initial infatuation. It starts with our own conscious choice to appreciate and enjoy the differences between us.
As the rational man in our example opens his heart and expresses some emotion, his partner may learn to contain some of her emotion rather than gushing, which will benefit both partners and the relationship. As the strong, assertive woman accesses some sensitivity and restrains her desire to be in control, she makes room for her partner to become self-empowered and less driven by his vulnerability. Ideally, both partners strive for more balance within themselves, which is part of the journey toward individuation.
Often, the more we embrace and try to integrate our partner’s different way of being, the more our partner will gain a more balanced way of being as well, resulting in both partners blossoming into more whole and individuated people.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD