This article was published in dr. rosiello's sedona times psychology column in 2009.
It’s not a difficult word to spell, but it’s a difficult word to define — that funny, sunny feeling called love.
And, yes, I see that I keep devolving into song phrases. For some time now, I have been trying to understand what love is and how we use the notion of love in our daily lives.
If your lover or partner says that he or she loves you, what do they mean? I understand the definition of love as being warm, tender feelings that make us want to be with the other person for extended periods of time. Love creates a sense of being recognized by the other person and recognizing ourselves in them. It’s a feeling of being known to our core by the person we love. This kind of love is further identified as a romantic love.
To my way of thinking, anticipation is also a large part of being in love because we can spend time in fantasy of who our lover is and how wonderful we’ll feel when we’re in his/her presence. An enormous part of love incorporates sexuality or the fear of not having sexual contact and that heightens the intensity of love and also deepens intimacy of any coupledom.
A further way of defining love is to break it down into phases: Early love is called infatuation. In my work with clients and according to the research, infatuation seems to last between 6 to 18 months. Infatuation is that sense that the person we’ve recently begun dating is damn near perfect for us. We feel that our lover understands the deepest emotional levels of us, he or she knows who we are; our lover is excited to see us because we know we’re similar and our differences couldn’t matter less.
Some people become junkies to this kind of early love and they flit between lovers to have the continued emotional high of being infatuated. This is what the online dating services are banking on, because they love having repeat-infatuation-offenders using their services. Lots of individuals who use online dating are like love-struck kids in a dating candy store just getting sugar highs on early relationship emotions. The thing about infatuated love is that as soon as the other person asks the question, “Hey, where’s this relationship going?” they find themselves out of the infatuated relationship and back in the cold reality of thinking that maybe they weren’t really in love after all.
Infatuation has to deepen and develop into early, romantic love. Love is actually a process of evolving emotions and if you hit the climax in the infatuation phase, the love phase seems a little blah. If, however, we can just sit back and enjoy the infatuation phase, and then put more conscious focus and determination into the early love phase, we’re in better shape. That means, keeping an eye on learning about the other person, feeling sameness and differences, working on knowing who the other person is and making sure that our communications are laced with tenderness and kindness and generosity…because these elements make up the definition of love.
The definition of love also includes sexuality. Sex in the inflation and romantic phase is usually pretty fantastic if all our cylinders are still working well. Sexuality between couples can keep a relationship on track or can mend it, because physical closeness between people makes us feel less tension and more able to experience intimacy with another individual. If you find that sex is absent from your relationship then you need to get creative and drum up desire. We are sexual beings and as such, we actually have a biological need to have some aspect of sexuality in our intimate relationships, or love peters out, so to speak.
Old love is differently defined, in my mind. Old love is companionship, history,
forgiveness, kindness, tenderness, and warmth (and if sex is included, more power to you). Old love also has the wonderful quality of a mutual relaxation between the partners. You don’t have to anticipate being with your partner because they’re usually in the back room retired from the workforce and they get underfoot more than they should. It’s knowing exactly who your lover is and realizing that you can finish their sentences for them and that you really shouldn’t be letting them drive the car anymore.
So, how do we move love from one phase to another? How do we make sure that we keep feeling tenderness, warmth, companionship, forgiveness, mutual history, sexual excitement, and desire to be with the other person? In thinking about these questions, I am reminded of a conversation I was having with a couple I treat in marriage counseling. The husband said, “How do my wife and I deepen our relationship? How can we develop more love?” His wife added, “We do love each other, but we think there should be more between us.” I responded, “Lovers make meaning between themselves by sharing intimacies of their deepest thoughts. Love just doesn’t develop on its own, we have to make it develop.
We have to consciously think about creating warmth, about developing opportunities for tenderness, about leaving time to communicate experiences and thoughts that we’ve had during the day. We have to make time for physical closeness. The concept of being-in-love has to be a priority in your day-to-day thinking.” Then I realized I needed to add another element to my definition of love: in addition to tenderness, warmth, kindness, mutuality, recognition and sexuality, the definition of love must also include - vulnerability.