Why do I have to ask him over and over again to take out the trash? I have heard this or a similar question more than once during a first session with couples. Sounds petty? It is not. Unless the object of the question is a complete narcissist, in which case this blog would take a completely different turn, there are a series of accompanying questions and comments which go deeper and are a bit scarier. Why doesn’t he want to spend time with me like he used to? Why can’t I do anything right anymore? I used to love her laugh, now it annoys me. He doesn’t bring me flowers anymore. She used to leave work early and rush to see me, now she works late all the time. He used to brag about my career and how dedicated I am, now he just wants me to leave early and pay attention to him. I had no idea he was so needy. These might appear to portend the end of the relationship. With appropriate care they are all simply indications that it is time to move on from clinging to the euphoria of being ‘in love’. It is time to move on to the not so euphoric mission of loving. The trash issue is a dead giveaway.
Dr. Dorothy Tennov spent years researching the early stage of romantic love. She refers to it as a ‘distinct and involuntary psychological state’, going so far as to name the condition limerance to avoid the confusion which often surrounds the word love. Anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher, has done extensive research on the brain as it relates to love and sexuality. She discovered that during the initial stage of sexual attraction and romantic love the human brain lights up with a dopamine release originating in the area commonly and appropriately referred to as the reptilian brain. Interestingly, this is the same reaction the brain has during a hit of cocaine. So the accompanying behavior should come as no surprise…behavior that applies perfection to the object of our limerance, causing us to be irrational and emotionally dependent.
So, what happens to romantic love or limerance? The answer is sweaty socks and morning breath. As the imperfections of our perfect object set in, the dopamine rush abates. Out go the stomach butterflies and in comes the trash question. In other words, we make the uncomfortable leap into reality and it is time for a choice. The earlier we catch it, the easier the choice. Give up or learn to love.
One of my favorite opportunities in being a therapist is being able to walk with my clients through the journey from the fantasy of romantic, reptilian love to the reality of loving. It is a gift to watch as people come to understand it is not too late and to see their eyes open to the possibility of finding a love which can endure and even grow.
Please do not take my words as an indication that this is easy. It involves discovering the needs of the other, which first involves understanding the needs of self. Also necessary is figuring out where these needs originated and are they realistic. Next comes learning to express needs and listen as the other expresses. It is a process requiring and dedication, which will be rewarded in the end.
As some of you have heard me say, therapy is a journey not an event.
As always, I thank God for the gift of working with my clients.
Contact at Karen@healingheartsofindy.com or 317-460-8549