11 Feb Romantic Love
February 14, Valentine’s Day, is the time of year where we consider romance and its impact on our world. Recently, Janis and I went to a romantic comedy and found, once again, the entire story about the on again off again stumblings of a couple falling in love. It always seems it is not until the last scene that they know the “magic” has struck and as the scene fades the obvious message is, now that we are “in love” the rest of life is “happily ever after”.
With the challenges of real life we all know it is not that easy. But we keep watching the movies and all desire the wonderful feelings of love. In a new book just released this month, Why We Love, a leading anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher looks at the nature and chemistry of romanitic love. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to take pictures of the brain, she was able to determine what parts of the brain were most active during different life experiences. During romanctic love experiences, she determined that the areas of the brain that were energized were areas that produce the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine produces extremely focused attention as well as unwavering motivation and goal directed behavior. Norepinephrine produces exhilaration, excessive energy and sleeplessness. All of these combined produce many of the feelings of romantic love.
Another part of the research showed that romantic love resonates more from the areas of the brain associated with hungers than just emotions. This helps explain why this force is so powerful. The study revealed that this type of love lasts, on the average, only seventeen months.
Even though this experience has limited endurance it has become the foundation of what our culture portrays as love. What God
“The key to stimulating romantic love is doing novel things together”
designed to cause us to meet someone and get to know them as a possible marriage partner, our culture has based its philosophy of marriage on. If we stayed in the intoxicating romantic love stage of relationships much longer we probably wouldn’t be a very productive culture and might forget where we put our children, while staring into one another’s eyes. If however, it is a hunger rather than just a desired pleasant feeling, is there an important place for it in the years of committed marriage relationships? And, if it only naturally lasts seventeen months how do we prolong its influence?
First, because of its power and yet limited influence, courting couples need to deepen their relationship to areas of what are called “attachment” levels, such as commitment, friendship, respect, healthy issue resolution etc… These are tools that can be learned in in-depth premarital counseling.
Secondly, what the researchers found as the key to stimulating romanctic love in later marriage was doing “novel” things together. Novel things are exciting, adventurous and have variety. Couples who do exciting things together (just as we did in courtship) feel more satisfaction and experience more romantic love. This supports our recommendation to develop a date night and get out of town together periodically.
Thirdly, the research showed gender differences in what men and women think is novel. Therefore we must make sure the activities that are done involve both spouses interests. We suggest alternating deciding the novel activities and when it is your turn do things they like and vise versa.
God knew what he was doing in his design, if we can understand it better, we can get all the benefits he has for us.
R. Brent Sharpe MS LMFT LPC