The myth of romantic love

One of the biggest influences in relationships today is based on a misunderstanding. If you ask people what love is, the most common answer is that “love is a feeling.” As long as we define love as an emotional state, marriages are at risk. Surprised? The reason most people define love that way is that movies, songs, and novels tend to be characterized that way. The romantic idea that one can fall in love with another person one has never met is a wonderful fantasy. But if you go back a minute and think about it, does it really make sense?

It is understandable why we are so drawn to this fantasy. After all, if love is a feeling, it makes the whole dating process so much easier. First, it makes choosing a potential spouse an automatic process. You see Mrs. right across the room and your biochemicals start to stir. You feel great as your brain secretes substances associated with attraction. The song you heard when you first met arouses intense feelings every time you listen to it. Problems seem to fade away as if they are no longer important. We are not at all responsible for this choice. The decision is made for you, not by you.

If the other person feels the same way, a connection is started. You feel amazing when you start looking for a relationship. If the feelings continue, you become even more sure that you are on the right track. If the feelings fade, then you begin to decide that this relationship may not be “the one.” You are guided solely by your brain chemistry and the resulting emotional response. This comprehensive decision is made purely out of emotion, not logic, reason, or practical considerations.

So where does our attraction radar come from? How does our brain decide that the stranger across the room is the right one for us? Long story short, children learn around three years of age that two people are actually separated, and therefore the child and the other person are now in a relationship. This is the time when children learn what love is. Unfortunately our primary school teachers, our parents, are not always the best role models for a loving relationship. If the boy comes from an abusive home, her brain will be hardwired to be attracted to similarly abusive men. If he is raised in a judgmental and judgmental household, he will be programmed to be drawn to rejecting and withholding people. Remember that there is no logic either right or wrong associated with this choice. It is purely what is programmed by the brain at that moment.

In other words, our attraction is triggered by the emotional understanding of a three-year-old. Think about it! Would you like a three-year-old to choose your next spouse? That’s why you need to supplement those biological signals with a dose of logic and reason before pursuing a long-term relationship. Attraction can be a component of the decision-making process, but it should not be the main driving force. Three-year-olds just aren’t that perceptive or wise.

To put this in context, love as the primary motivation for marriage is only a century old. Before that, more practical considerations dominated the decision-making process. The parents of the couple played an active role in the choice of a partner. Each member of the couple would evaluate the other based on what it takes to clothe and feed her future family. Does each spouse have the necessary skills to meet the primary needs of the family? Only when basic needs are no longer the focus can we satisfy our biochemically generated/emotional urges.

I once hosted an Internet chat about love. When I suggested that love wasn’t a feeling, I received a flurry of hateful responses and put-down suggestions. Even the very expression of a different definition could not be tolerated by the majority of my young audience. It is as if he is stealing an integral part of their belief system and threatening the very foundation on which they lived.

That is how deeply this misunderstanding has invaded our beliefs. Any slight challenge to her results in a strong and definitive attack on my experience and character. To be fair, challenging a core belief will certainly stimulate a powerful response. We so want our romantic fantasies to be real that we sacrifice the well-being of our relationships to maintain them.

I hate to bring up logic again, but please indulge me. We, as human beings, cannot have two opposite feelings at the same time. If I were angry with my husband, I would no longer be able to love him according to the emotional definition of love. The fact that so many people believe in the myth of love is one of the reasons why so many relationships dissolve. If we are going through difficult moments that are inevitable in life, we cannot keep love as an emotion. Rather, we feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety and interpret those feelings as “falling out of love.”

Slowly the relationship is plagued with negativity because the feeling of love cannot be easily restored. As we struggle to get that feeling back, we start to think that our relationship is failing. It may be better for us to leave rather than try to make up for what was temporarily lost. Anger and discontent ensue and who suffers, of course, our children. Would it be worth looking at the question of love one more time to see if another definition could be more precise and more sustainable over time?

So if love is not a feeling, then what is? Love is a verb and should be understood as an action rather than a feeling. The definition that I think best captures the spirit and letter of the concept is “love is a decision supported by behavior.” So how is that different? Let’s go back to the previous example. I got angry with my husband over some perceived transgression, but now that I’ve decided that love isn’t a feeling, my commitment to my husband is unaffected by my temporary status. Even though he may be angry, I can still love him based on my decision to do so.

Instead of lashing out because I’m angry, I act on my decision and sit down and we discuss what happened without the uncontrolled expression of anger and frustration. We solve our problem without shedding psychological blood, and this discussion will only strengthen our relationship. My feeling goes from anger to compassion and understanding. After all, feelings are fleeting, and basing decisions on fleeting facts is an immature response.

Another distinction between love as a feeling and as an action has to do with the underlying assumption of who is responsible for maintaining the relationship. If you are using emotions to guide your actions, then each partner is looking to the other to make the situation feel better. When our needs are not being met, we consider that the other person is failing in the role of their spouse or partner. However, if you switch to the thought-oriented definition, the person with the emotion becomes responsible for solving it. Instead of looking outside of ourselves, we are expected to think about how we feel and then act in loving ways toward our partner, regardless of our emotional state. We promote a sense of love when we take responsibility for our own feelings and the way we treat them. The mature definition of love focuses on being loving, not just receiving love.

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