Let me share a secret: on the couch, most people admit that they are not sure if they are in love. Even those who are sure they love their partner are afraid they are not “in love” with them. This uncertainty brings anxiety, guilt, or worse, rash decision making. This is somewhat the fault of Hollywood brainwashing, but people still wonder what happened to the butterflies, the crazy sex drive and the obsessing over? Then they ask, with deep fear: have I fallen out of love?
The answer is yes and no.
You see, love is not really one emotion – technically it is three. Evidence from neuroscience outlines that there are three systems of love: Lust, Romance, and Attachment (typically in that order). Each system is associated with very different brain chemicals and parts of the brain.
Lust is exactly as you think it is and requires little explanation. Have you forgotten? Go to a nightclub. It’s alive, powerful and horny!
Romantic love is what most of us think of when we think of love. Think “The Titanic,” the number two highest grossing film of all time or Sparks’ novel, “The Notebook.” It’s that constant obsession over your loved one, believing that they are superior to all others, and feels like you are walking on clouds (it’s lovely).
Last, is the brain system of attachment, which is nearly identical to the feelings that babies and connected mothers experience toward one another. It is the notion that you will be with this person forever. Not necessarily because they can do no wrong, but because they are a part of you and because you feel a deep sense of safety with them.
The majority of self-help books and magazine articles recommend focusing on romance – but that advice is only 33% accurate. The secret is integrating all three systems of love so that your brain is receiving not only dopamine, but also testosterone and oxytocin. Specifically, by focusing on sex drive and attachment along with romantic love, you’ll feel as if you were falling in love again!
Throughout the course of a loving relationship, most people fall in and out of these love systems the same way that the ocean ebbs and flows its tide. It’s psychologically healthy and absolutely normal for couples who are “in love” to move in and out of these three systems.
Instead of thinking of love as one feeling, it would be more accurate to view love as three “feelings.” Lust, Romantic Love, and Attachment are all essential to the experience of love. However, rarely does any relationship lasting over a few years score high on all three at the same time. Not to say that you won’t feel lust again or that you will feel even more attached over the course of the relationship.
Moral of the story: don’t be fooled to think that you have to feel like a lovesick teenager to be in love. Consider yourself in love when you experience any combination of the three love systems. If you feel attachment and romance or attachment and lust, know you are especially fortunate. If you feel all three at the same time – well, you are walking on sunshine!
So, let’s ask that question again: are you in love? If you feel a combination of lust, connection or romance, your answer is yes. Nice work, and Happy Valentine’s Day. Enjoy each and every feeling!
Dr. Jennifer Jones is a Clinical Psychologist, author, and speaker specializing in happiness, love, and parenting. She has been in love with her husband for 18 years and has two amazing children. Be sure to follow her on Twitter (@DrJenniferJones) to get the latest insight into love, happiness and parenting and get more insight into the science of love at www.DrJennifer.com.