We have learned about romantic love from Hollywood films.
There is magical chemistry, some obstacle, but eventually, the couple finds their way to be together.
That’s typically where the film ends.
We presume they live happily ever after.
Looking at online dating profiles, what I see most people describe as the sign of a great date is “chemistry.”
We have grown up with the cultural message about feeling that initial spark as a sign of a connection and that we are “meant to be.”
Like the universes magical sign to signal that it’s “right.”
Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s a chemical reaction when you experience someone you find physically appealing and familiar. They fulfil a core need you have at the moment.
Remind yourself of these three things
- You cannot see things clearly in the honeymoon stage. This stage can last anything from a few weeks to 2 years. You are blinded by a potent chemical cocktail of dopamine that nature release to make you bond in the honeymoon stage. You will ignore their negative sides and only see the positives, and you will likely miss any red flags. You are living a dream, a fantasy that will not last. It’s the same part of your brain that is active in addictions. Increased dopamine and decreased serotonin is the same chemical imbalance related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, hence why you can’t stop thinking about them. You are seeing them through a distorted lens.
- Hedonic adaptation means that brain chemicals will stabilize, and the honeymoon stage will come to an end. You will move from the honeymoon/obsessive stage of new, exciting, and uncertainty to safety and attachment. The two bonding chemicals Oxytocin & vasopressin will take over.
- “Chemistry” is an awful predictor of long-term love and compatibility. As you know now, the initial feeling of “chemistry” is a temporary elevation in dopamine and will not stick around. You will ignore all the issues. It will show you nothing about compatibility in attachment styles, love languages, emotional intelligence, values, goals, and other essential factors to long term love.
As the honeymoon stage comes to an end, we often think something is wrong with our relationship, and we have lost the “love” for our partner. At this point, couples often break up and start the cycle again with a new partner, and the result will be the same.
Until you learn, the “chemistry” you felt during the initial dating and honeymoon stage will not last, and that does not mean love is gone.
You now have to create a more mature and lasting love, which requires a skill set that most of us have not learned.
Mother nature’s help is over. You now have to do the work to make the relationship flourish, grow, and continue to be loving.
So, how do you create this mature and lasting love?
The three components to lasting love are safety, vulnerability & responsiveness.
Let’s dive in to understand them better.
You might have heard something about attachment styles. If not, then here is a quick rundown.
It’s important to remember that you can create a secure attachment as a couple, no matter what your attachment style is.
The four attachment styles are:
This is considered the most functional and stable attachment style. They often had caregivers that attended to their physical and emotional needs most of the time and were present with them. Therefore, they are comfortable with intimacy and being on their own and feel safe in relationships with others.
They often had inconsistent caregivers that would sometimes fulfil their needs but, at other times, neglect them.
They learned to feel insecure in the people closest to them.
They often worry about being left and if their partner will be there for them when needed.
This can cause abandonment anxiety, and their partner often sees them as clingy, needy, or controlling.
They want to feel safe and know you will respond to them and not leave them.
They enjoy closeness but can use blame, criticism, and attack if they feel you are not responsive or might leave them.
They had caregivers who did not respond to their needs or even abused them. They learned to shut down their needs and take care of themselves.
They don’t trust others and often stay clear of intimacy and getting too close to others.
They value independence highly.
The avoidant and anxious often trigger each other unless they know each other’s attachment style and can give each other the safety and space needed.
This attachment style can be caused by trauma and is a combination of anxious and avoidant. They will often seek closeness, but when they get it, push you away.
They are very challenging to form close and intimate relationships with.
A couple is two nervous systems interconnected and neurologically affects each other nervous system far more than people outside the couple.
So, to create safety, you have to regulate your own and your partner’s nervous system.
Four parts of maturing love.
The two parts of safety are regulation & responsiveness.
The intimacy involves self-reflection, vulnerability & responsiveness.
To be able to feel safe and create safety for our partner, we have to regulate our own and their nervous system.
When our partner or we are triggered, we activate the flight, flight, or freeze response, and logic goes out the window. It’s likely to result in conflict, tension, or distance.
So, before any meaningful connection can happen, you must both feel safe.
We all have triggers from the past based on experiences we had that make our reactions to our partner excessive and intense.
Once we understand our triggers (we will look at that below in self-reflection), we can communicate them to our partner.
This will help them avoid our triggers.
If they step on one of them, they will understand why we overreact and can be compassionate towards our intense emotional reaction.
This is part of giving them our love map, so they know how to navigate our emotional world and nervous system.
Without a map, we will take a lot of wrong turns, and at some point, we get lost and can’t find our way back.
Safety is the foundation of a relationship, just like mother earth is for the house you build.
If you start building your house on a cliff known for earthquakes and mudslides, then your home will eventually come crumbling down no matter how well constructed it is.
So, how do you regulate your own and your partner’s nervous system?
Great questions, I was just getting to that.
There are two methods:
We can do a lot to calm down our nervous system when we are triggered.
The adrenalin that’s pumped into the blood when we go into fight, flight, or freeze response is meant to be used to fight or flight.
So, to release it and calm your mind down, get physical.
This could be boxing a pillow, going for a run, or dance around the living room. Anything that moves your body will help you calm down.
Our breath is connected with our sympathetic (stress response) and parasympathetic (rest response) nervous system.
And, luckily we can control our breath so after movement focus your attention on your breathing.
Slowly breathe-in to the count of four.
Hold for one second and then breathe out slowly to the count of four. Keep doing this, and you will calm down more.
The beauty of a relationship is that we can also help each other calm down and feel safe.
This can be done in so many ways. Here are a few ideas.
Eye contact is one way we connect and is excellent at creating trust and intimacy, helping calm us down.
Verbal reassurance is another tool to create safety and get your partner back to calm.
This is even more effective if your partner is anxiously attached.
Reassure them that you care about their needs, respect their boundaries, and want to be with them.
Touch and my favourite massage is a great way to relax both their body and mind. They are interconnected after all.
Co-regulation works best if it’s an external trigger. If you are the trigger, then wait until they have self-regulated.
None of these tools are going to work if you don’t have self-reflection.
To understand your triggers, how your past impacts your current behaviour, your story, when you need to regulate and know your needs all require self-reflection.
Start writing down what triggered you when you get upset or feel frustrated, and you will start to see patterns.
Then write down what might have happened in the past to make you feel so strongly about this.
Do the same with your need.
Also, write down the stories that you get when something happens. Remember, your interpretation of what happened is just that—a story. And the story is based on your past, so our understanding is often not what our partner is communicating.
We all need to feel seen and accepted.
It’s what we experience as love from our caregivers when and if we are seen and accepted for who we are.
None of us have perfect childhoods, so most of us have parts we learned were not acceptable or shamed, so we had to hide them.
This could be sensitive emotions, needs, or desires.
Being responsive to our partner is vital for so many reasons.
Firstly, it’s the foundation for safety and secure attachment.
Responsive means we acknowledge our partner’s needs and try to fulfil them when we can.
It means being there when they need us the most and attuning to them, so we know when something is off.
It means giving them reassurance and support when they don’t feel safe.
It’s meeting vulnerability with vulnerability and acceptance.
Responsiveness is, therefore, essential for both safety and intimacy.
The tools given here will help you have a stable and intimate relationship with plenty of love if both partners are willing to use them.
We also need to redefine what love is. It’s not the obsessive fluctuation we experience at the beginning of a relationship.
The gifts of a relationship can be a trusting bond of support and care, and an opportunity to grow in ways you can’t alone.
Only when we get close to someone and depend on them are our wounds triggered and can be healed.
They become our reflection and help us learn about ourselves.