Why Romance Turns Toxic: The Psychology Behind Love & Relationships

 May 12, 2018

Why Romance Turns Toxic The Psychology Behind Love & Relationships

Most everyone wants to fall in love, especially codependents. To us, love is perhaps the highest ideal, and relationships give our lives meaning and purpose. They enliven and motivate us. A partner provides a companion when we have difficulty initiating action on our own. Being loved also validates our sense of self-esteem, overcomes shame-based doubts about our lovability, and soothes our fears of loneliness.

But too often a beautiful romance turns sour. What was a wonderful dream becomes a painful nightmare? Ms. Perfect or Mr. Right becomes Ms. or Mr. Wrong.

The unconscious is a mighty force. Reason doesn’t seem to stop us from falling in love, nor make it any easier to leave! Even when the relationship turns out to be toxic, once attached, ending the relationship is as hard as falling in love was easy!

The Chemistry of Romance and Falling in Love

Our brains are wired to fall in love – to feel the bliss and euphoria of romance, to enjoy pleasure, and to bond and procreate. Feel-good neurochemicals flood the brain at each stage of lust, attraction, and attachment. Particularly dopamine provides natural high and ecstatic feelings that can be as addictive as cocaine. Deeper feelings are assisted by oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” released during orgasm. It’s directly linked to bonding and increases trust and loyalty in romantic attachments.

 

The Psychology of Romantic Love – Whom We Find Attractive

Psychology plays a role, too. Our self-esteem, mental and emotional health, life experiences, and family relations all influence whom we’re attracted to. Experiences, both positive and negative, impact our choices and make someone appear more or less attractive. For example, we might find commonality attractive, but avoid someone who cheated on an ex if that has happened to us before. We’re attracted to subtle physical attributes, albeit unconsciously, that reminds us of a family member. More mysterious, we can be attracted to someone who shares emotional and behavioral patterns with a member of our family even before they become apparent.

 

The Ideal Stage of Romance

It’s true that we’re blinded by love. Healthy idealization is normal and helps us fall in love. We admire our beloved, are willing to explore our partner’s interests, and accept his or her idiosyncrasies. Love also brings out parts of our personality that were dormant. We might feel manlier or more womanly, more empathic, generous, hopeful, and more willing to take risks and try new things. In this way, we feel more alive, because we have access to other aspects of our ordinary or constricted personality. Additionally, in early dating, we’re usually more honest than down the road when we become invested in the relationship and fear speaking our truth might precipitate a breakup.

Although healthy idealization doesn’t blind us to serious warning signs of problems, if we’re depressed or have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to idealize a prospective partner and overlook signs of trouble, such as unreliability or addiction, or accept behavior that is disrespectful or abusive. The neurochemicals of romance can lift our depressed mood and fuel codependency and love addiction when we seek a relationship in order to put an end to our loneliness or emptiness. When we lack a support system or are unhappy, we might rush into a relationship and become attached quickly before really knowing our partner. This is also referred to as “love on the rebound” or a “transitional relationship” following a breakup or divorce. It’s far better to first recover from a breakup.

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