I assumed my parents’ marriage was over when I was 15 and, sensing something was not right, poked around for answers and was given a truth I couldn’t handle.
“I love your father, but I’m not in love with your father.”
Well, great, I remember thinking. What is the point of even trying to make a marriage work when you view the other person as a buddy? Why not throw in the towel, get a divorce and go date someone who gives you tingles?
For the record, there’s a perfectly logical reason why a 15-year-old shouldn’t get married — I was ultimately wrong about their relationship. After a few years in which they didn’t see eye to eye and separated, my parents got back together — think of The Parent Trap come to life — thus proving even adults sometimes struggle to understand the difference between love and “in love” or why it’s so important to feel like you must sustain some initial spark, even 20 years after you exchanged vows.
For the record, it is important to be in love — but some of us mistake that feeling with lust, when lasting love actually always incorporates feelings of friendship, as well as sexual attraction.
“Romantic love, the kind that moves from initial attraction (lust) to a deeper level of connection and commitment requires three elements—physical chemistry and compatibility, intellectual chemistry, and friendship chemistry,” says Toni Coleman, psychotherapist and relationship coach. “I don’t believe it’s necessary to have these in equal measure, and I don’t think even the happiest couples do. However some element of each needs to be present.”
The reason passionate love dies, Coleman says, is because, once the initial chemicals (and we’ll elaborate on that in just a moment) wear off, there isn’t enough else to keep the relationship moving to a deeper level where a stronger bond is formed.
“If there’s only strong friendship but no physical attraction, the individuals will be missing an important component of an intimate relationship and will always be wondering what they are missing,” she says. “When there is no intellectual stimulation and chemistry, people often feel unchallenged, bored, and searching for someone who turns them on that way. We may love someone dearly, but not be in love with them because one of these is lacking.”
About those pesky chemicals — they ones that flow through our bodies when we first meet and become attracted to someone — they’re more to blame for our confusion than you may think.
“We need to understand that at the beginning of every relationship where there is physical and sexual attraction, there will be neurochemicals present playing a big role, making you feel in love, playing with your mind, making you feel more productive, more present and, basically, enhancing everything in your life,” says Abigail Aguilera, clinical hypnotherapist, behaviorist and Quantum therapist. “These chemicals can be addictive and basically, if you were to only have short relationships, you could end up never settling down and becoming the perpetual bachelor.”
In order to identify whether what you’re feeling for someone is simply lust, Aguilera says to pay attention to whether you get bored as soon as a relationship is no longer new. Also, if you’re into someone and have nothing in common, but get together because the sex is good, that’s a surefire sign of lust and not love.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a relationship with someone and you believe it encompasses the three ingredients for passionate love that Coleman described, Aguilera reminds us that our relationships aren’t going to nurture themselves without our effort.
“We need to learn ways to keep the relationship playful and the sex spicy,” Aguilera says. “Stay in your bedroom, stay connected, take things lightly, and remember that it is up to you both to get through the hard times. Understand that the neurochemicals in our brains are not going to be of much help after six months and that your love story is unique. You do not need to follow a stereotype. Many times your partner remembering your anniversary, bringing you your favorite cupcake, or simply washing the dishes may be a way to show affection and help keep your romance alive.”
Whether it happens one year into your marriage or 25 years down the road, there is going to come a time when you will experience “disappointment, anger, regret, resentment or frustration” — but these are the times when it’s up to us to do everything possible to help our relationships navigate choppy waters.
“The most important things to remember are the reasons why you fell in love with that person in the first place,” Aguilera says, “Don’t see your partner just for the mistake he or she just made or for his or her flaws, but as the whole individuals that they are. Look at the pros and cons, know that the grass is green where you water it and that every single person that you meet at the beginning will be, for the most part, exciting. Relationships change and the good ones don’t just evolve, but continue to reinvent themselves — with our help.”