Intimate love — 21 June 2007
You fell out of love? Get back into it

“I love you, but I am not in love with you” is a common opening statement for couples in distress. The speaker says it haltingly and seems apologetic for his/her unfortunate emotional state and its potentially serious ramifications. It is presented as though the teller has contracted an incurable condition that may doom both mates.

The discomfort with which the owner of these feelings utters these words is understandable. It appears to him/her that something very precious, the intensely passionate and intoxicating state of euphoria has suddenly evaporated, just as mysteriously as it appeared. It is as though a tornado swept the dreamer out of his/her magical state of wondrous pleasure and harshly dropped him into a cruel reality of ordinary existence. It all happened to the owner of the shift and is not caused by him.

The additional discomfort is borne out of the anticipated trauma for the partner upon hearing these harsh words. The halting style of speech echoes the fear of the potential damage to the listener and his/her reaction. Would the partner’s inevitable response be to terminate their union? Would the mate’s sense of deep rejection, hurt and loss of desirability irrevocably alter him/her? Or perhaps, worse of all, does the partner feel this way about the speaker?

The reality is that this change in emotion is a normal and a biological shift programmed to occur. (How unromantic). Scientists tell us that both the falling in love and its’ fading are controlled by levels of dopamine in our brain. Helen Fisher, Ph.D. a research professor of the Center Of Evolutionary Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University details in her book Why we Love, how the ‘in love’ passion is necessary for
procreation and the first four years, long enough to wean a baby and have others able to care for him/her. The romantic love state is a state of a drug-induced euphoria modulated by naturally produced dopamine in our brains. This hormone later subsides and allows oxytocin, the attachment hormone, to take over.

How disappointing to have science dispel our romantic notions of being able to be madly in love forever. Yet, these sobering scientific findings help us reorient our expectations and behavior and regain sanity and stability.

The ‘in love’ state has been psychologically likened to insanity, where the boundaries between reality and fantasy have become blurred. As thrilling as it is, this euphoric state’s decline is normal and expected. The body and the psyche can tolerate high passion for limited spans and then need to return to homeostasis that can be preserved for the long run.

For those who recall the ‘good old days’ of passion and intensity, there is still hope. The scientists have not abandoned us with bad news they have even made some practical suggestions for increasing attraction. Arthur Aron, a psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York found that a two-minute of deep stare even into a stranger’s eyes was sufficient in initiating feelings of attraction. Helen Fisher recommends massage and love making as behaviors that trigger oxytocin to feel closer to your mate.

The simple ways to restore closeness and intimacy:
• Abandon the notion that the initial ‘in love’ state can or should last in its original form. Trade it for intermittent closeness, tenderness and bliss you can create.

• View the change of attachment from ‘in love’ to loving as a healthy and sustainable state of interacting with your mate. Most likely, your partner feels the same about you, which is ideal.
• A loss of connection between mates often attributed to: life demands, children, jobs, or fatigue, results in loss of couple time and attention leading to isolation and distance.
• Devise a plan for couple time daily and weekly, such as eye to conversations, date night, as well as couple time away.
• Realize that the distance between the two of you will dissipate when you affirm each other’s primacy and worth. Appreciate each other daily, praise, share humor, be playful, hug and kiss, ask and listen. These small gestures take little time – only focused attention.
• Those who say they are not ‘in love’ anymore are actually feeling abandoned and insignificant to their mates. When you feel recognized, respected and valued by each other, your chemistry will reawaken and passion will be restored.

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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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