Is love mostly sweet?

Falling in love with that “special” person is a highly desirable goal for most people. It is a glorious experience that is shrouded with mystique, magic, and elation that affirms our uniqueness and desirability. But, is love always that sweet, fulfilling emotion we desire?

Love researcher, Helen Fisher, questions this premise in “Brains Do It: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment.” She states, “Neglecting the biology of the emotions that direct mating and reproduction, emotions that in our species are sometimes called “love,” has had tragic consequences. At least 25 percent of homicides in the United States involve spouses, sexual partners, or sexual rivals. Each year, some one million American women are followed and harassed by rejected lovers; 370,000 men are stalked by former partners and approximately 1.8 million wives in the United States are beaten by their husbands.”

The bittersweet repercussions of love are further highlighted by the following statistics Dr. Fisher details. “Love is a powerful force; the vast majority of Americans marry. But the divorce rate in the United States is expected to reach 67 percent in the next decade. Currently, some 80 percent of divorced men and 72 percent of divorced women remarry; but 54 percent and 61 percent, respectively, divorce again. High divorce and remarriage rates are seen in many other cultures, as well. It is time to investigate the biology of this bittersweet experience we call love.”

Dr. Fisher’s neurobiological study of love identified three components: The sex drive (“Libido or lust”), Attraction, (“Passionate or Obsessive love”) and Attachment, (“Companionate love”). Hormones regulate each of these emotions. Infatuation is fueled by dopamine and norepinephrine, Attachment and monogamy are balanced by oxytocin and vasopressin and feelings of hope or despair that love may evoke are regulated by serotonin.

It may be discouraging to believe that the delight of being in love, mating and bonding are predetermined by hormonal influences rather than by magical, well-deserved good fortune.

Actually, social and psychological factors are also prominent in this process. Dr. John Money of John Hopkins University believes that the profile of the most suitable future mate starts developing as early as age 5, is based on our strongest needs and is cemented by adolescence.

Ongoing advanced research of love clarifies the complexity of hormonal, cultural and emotional influences that start very early in life in preparation for the wisest, most stable and suitable mate selection.

We also know that the emotional highs/lows of love can thrill us and can also cause us anxiety, outrage, jealousy and even violet conduct. Since sustaining our bond requires another individual’s reciprocity, love may elevate us to great heights or cause us pain and damage our sensibilities.

Assess your love:

  • Feel blessed if you find pleasure, reciprocity and ongoing comfort in your love relationship.
  • Avoid searching for extreme emotions of delight that may also render you vulnerable and insecure.
  • Love is mostly sweet. Balance your passion of intermittent highs with stable serenity.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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