How did they do that? Well, they fell in love, or at least they fell in lust, which often accompanies falling in love. I call it nature’s trick because it gets us together. It feels so good because all those hormones are triggered: testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, and many others. Without them, we’d never make babies and our species would disappear.
It also feels wonderful because we project all our hopes and dreams on our lover. We imagine that they will fulfill our desires, give us all the things we didn’t get as children, deliver on all the promises our earlier relationships failed to fulfill. We are sure we will remain in love forever. And because we are besotted with “love hormones,” we’re not aware of any of this.
2. Becoming a Couple: Nature’s Way of Keeping Children Alive.
It’s good to remember that we are all mammals and must put considerable energy into raising the young or they won’t survive. It starts with mother’s milk and goes on from there. Whether we have children or not, we’re built to be sure they survive. We learn to bond with our partners and with our children. We work at a job. We build a life together.
3. Disillusionment: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning.
At some point, things start to deteriorate in the relationship. We fight more. We have sex less often. When we do make love, it’s more about duty than passion, more about immediate pleasure and tension release than deeply felt love.
Things we once overlooked in our partner become thorns on our side. He forgets to put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket. She is late again for an important event. Fights become more common or they disappear completely. Everything may look fine on the surface, but inside we feel hollow and alone.
We get sick more easily, sometimes seriously sick. I began to suffer from atrial fibrillation. My wife got breast cancer. We usually don’t recognize the illnesses as stress reactions. It’s terrifying to feel love slipping away.
This is the stage where many marriages fail. We go our separate ways, eventually fall in love again, we repeat steps 1, 2, 3, and the cycle repeats itself. But that need not be the case. Disillusionment does not mean you’ve picked the wrong partner or the love you thought you had has drained away. It means you are ready to let go of the illusions of love and get down to the real thing.
4. Hang in There: The Joys of Real, Lasting Love.
As a young couple, I still remember my first wife and I going to hear the legendary psychologist and therapist, Carl Rogers, to talk about marriage. He was in his 80s then and he and his wife had been married more than sixty years. My wife and I had been together for less than a year and were anxious to hear the great man’s wisdom about love and life.
At one point in his talk he turned to his wife, Helen.
“Remember that stretch when things were so bad in our relationship?”
She smiled and nodded her head. I was amazed to hear that my idol had problems in his relationship. But I was dumbfounded to hear what came next.
“There was that bad patch of nine or ten years when things were awful.” Helen smiled and shook her head as she too remembered. “But we hung in there and worked things out.”
“You must be kidding,” I thought, “Nine or ten years of things being awful?” I couldn’t imagine things ever being awful for me and my wife and if they ever were I sure couldn’t imagine staying in a state of awful for nine or ten years.
Now having been married for thirty-five years, I understand that there can be some pretty terrible times. But getting through those times together is how we learn about real, lasting love. Over the years we learned to heal old wounds, quit blaming our partner for not fulfilling our needs, and reclaiming our lost power. It’s not easy to work things out together.
But knowing about the four stages of love and remembering the words of Carl Rogers and the look of love between him and Helen has guided my journey. I hope it will help guide yours as well.
The end of “being in love” is the opportunity for “real, lasting love.” It doesn’t happen fast and it isn’t ever all sweetness and light. But there’s nothing better in the world to do with our lives than to learn to love, deeply and well. I’d like to hear about your own experiences on the path of love. Together we can learn from each other and together we can make a better world.
Written by Jed Diamond Ph.D Originally appeared in The Goodmen Project