The Psychology of Love

Hi there! In the last weekend before we officially bid farewell to Valentine’s Day and the trappings of love, I thought readers would want to know more about how our brains process romance. Many couples will presumably be thinking about tying the knot this week, but before you do that, did you know that studies on the brain show that our biological make-up may not be wired for lasting marriages? There are 4 inevitable stages that marriages go through, and it is extremely likely that, if not properly negotiated and managed, they may lead to an unpleasant end.

1. Romance

This is naturally the start of any relationship. Lovers fall in love — or rather, their brains do. The couple’s pheromones run wild, so when they smell each other or look into each other’s eyes, their minds become like one due to the work of oxytocin, a bonding hormone. When bonding hormones increase, couples seem to overlook each other’s irritating behaviours and lead a life of sweet romantic bliss. However, this is the worst time to marry.

2. Disillusionment

Disillusionment will always set in. It may take a few months or a year, but the cerebral cortex — or the thinking part of our brains — will begin noticing the flaws in our partners. Harsh reality sets in when the cloudy romantic picture fades, and people start to feel that their partners don’t quite seem to be like the people they were before. Negative emotions may come in and confusion results as they realise they don’t quite understand their partners’ behaviours anymore.

3. Power Struggle

This is the time when couples decide to actively do something about their disillusionment. They try to “change” each other back to whom they were before. This is the time when a couple may quarrel. Men may want to spend more time on independent activities while women want more contact, whether with the family or with her friends.

4. Awakening and marital bliss

Maybe when you see couples who are currently in the Power Struggle stage, you may feel sorry for them. You may think that alas, they used to be such a close couple, always being seen together and doing stuff together. And really, when they argue, many outsiders agree that both parties usually have a point, but they just can’t find a way to reconcile both opinions. In this stage, the couple themselves realise that perfection is unattainable in the long run. Certain behaviours have to be tolerated, and most importantly, they have to understand that they are individual beings, not the same entity, as romantic as that sounds. They have to live lives of their own and enjoy their own personal space. Men and women are governed by different hormones and neural structures, so it is unlikely that they will ever think alike on many things.

And this is really the path towards a long-term union. The couple may have lost the passion of the old days, but long-term companionship values stability and comfort with each other over heated romance. Humans are indecisive, fussy creatures, especially when it comes to romance. We tend to like people who are like us (but immunologically opposite so as to create well-balanced healthy offspring) and yet we still manage to find fault with anyone we’re paired with. Love is a complex formula that has many variants and mixtures of ingredients. For example, Robert Sternberg came up with the triangular theory of love to categorise the different kinds of love and the components in each of them.

Love has 3 basic elements: intimacy, commitment and passion. Intimacy is when people share details of their private lives with each other, their hopes, dreams and fears. Commitment is the expectation that the relationship will be permanent. Passion is sexual attraction and infatuation. The following are the chemical equations that join these components together.

Intimacy = liking

Passion = infatuated love

Commitment = empty love

Intimacy + passion = romantic love

Intimacy + commitment = companionate love

Passion + commitment = fatuous love

Intimacy + commitment + passion = consummate love

So chew on these bite-sized love tidbits (be careful not to leave love bites behind!) and have a happy Valentine’s weekend!

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