If you’ve fallen in love before, you know romance isn’t rational; it’s comparable to a free fall from a dizzying height, or an emotional rollercoaster of daze and confusion. Sleepless nights, incessant phone-checking, hours spent daydreaming, carving initials and hearts into trees… the way we behave when love-drunk is far from rational.
However, the concept of romantic love is as misunderstood as it is mysterious. Culturally, it’s worshipped as the most precious experience of our existence on Earth, and broadcast boldly on billboards, TV screens, and radios. But what is often perceived to be the ultimate form of love is a poor imitation; a disorientating mixture of chemical addiction and codependency.
Look a little deeper, and you’ll see that the concept of romantic love is one of the biggest myths of our time. Understanding the DNA of romantic love, and its dangers, can break the spell. It rejects the status quo in favour of personal and spiritual development. It empowers us to appreciate the experience, without losing independence.
1. Don’t confuse “falling in love” with true love
Falling in love is intoxicating. The unity of the honeymoon period is rarely matched in day-to-day life. Forming a deep connection with a significant other feels as if we’ve found what we were looking for. Magic happens.
It may come as a surprise to learn that leading psychologists see romantic love as a possible hindrance to personal and spiritual growth. Some of us slow the pace of our individual journey to accommodate our partner. Others neglect themselves. At worst, there’s a chance that your new relationship may lead to regression and dependency.
In A Road Less Travelled, psychologist M. Scott Peck argues that merely “falling in love” is not true love for two reasons: it’s inseparable from sexual attraction and fleeting in nature. Peck calls this transient process a “temporary collapse of ego boundaries.” Spiritual practice encourages transcending ego for personal liberation. But when falling in love, the ego collapses only to fuse with another person. Consequently, codependency is formed.
Peck defines codependency as an inability to feel whole without a romantic partner.
Perhaps your significant other becomes inseparable from your sense of identity or self-worth, or you’ve place the responsibility for your happiness in their hands. Perhaps, slowly but surely, it seems alien for you to consider pursuing goals or activities outside of the relationship.
The chemical reaction of romantic love makes the situation even more challenging. A 2005 study by anthropologist Helen Fisher revealed that romantic love is a motivation system, not an emotion. That means falling in love triggers the reward system, dosing the brain full of dopamine — the chemical linked with both motivation and addiction. Maintaining a sense of separate goals and identity from your partner will help you keep your independence.
2. Embrace the end of the honeymoon period
Acknowledging that romanticized love is distinct from true love creates room in your relationship to focus instead on nurturing a deeper form of love. That doesn’t mean avoiding the usual pitfalls of dependency is easy, however. “Discipline and will can only control the experience, they cannot create it,” Peck writes. “We can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, but we cannot choose the experience itself.”
What does it mean to choose how to respond? The key is not mistaking the dizzying feeling of falling as a sign of quality in a relationship. Sure, passion and sexual attraction are required in healthy doses, but, for a long-lasting relationship, they are just two ingredients among many. Soon enough, ego boundaries return and the dizziness subsides. It’s make-or-break time.
The key is not mistaking the dizzying feeling of falling as a sign of quality in a relationship. Sure, passion and sexual attraction are required in healthy doses, but, for a long-lasting relationship, they are just two ingredients among many. Soon enough, ego boundaries return and the dizziness subsides. It’s make-or-break time.
Instead of seeing your post-honeymoon period as a failure or problem, treat it like an opportunity to build a foundation of true love.
According to Peck, true love is embodied by unconditional, committed actions encouraging both partners to be independent. “All couples learn that true acceptance of their own and each other’s individuality and separateness is the only foundation upon which a mature marriage can be based, and real love can grow,” he writes.
3. Communication is key
Awareness and understanding alone won’t translate to practical benefits if one person in the relationship isn’t on board. Communication is vital. Deliberately putting aside time to share expectations and understanding allows for a more comfortable navigation of the fluctuations and yearning involved in romance. Expressing codependent traits as they emerge, from a place of objectivity, can prevent you from being spell-bound by pure emotion.
The concept of romantic love sets high standards for what to expect in a relationship.
We may feel our partner should be someone we share all interests with, or that love equals the amount of time we dedicate to being with this person. Romantic relationships shouldn’t be excluded from boundary-setting, and a big part of encouraging independence is allowing room for challenging conversations, such as how much time each partner requires alone.
4. Maintain separate hobbies, interests, and goals
Entering a romantic relationship is not an excuse to relinquish individual interests. Deciding with your partner how much time to spend together and apart will give you an opportunity to assess each area of your life, and to make inspired choices on which interests or goals to prioritize.
Creating two fully independent lives requires each partner to enjoy hobbies, interests, and goals outside of the romantic relationship. Set the intention to retain a healthy life balance, including a strong sense of personal identity and visions for the future. Rather than diminishing shared experiences or excluding your partner, this allows for conscious discussions on goals and interests you could pursue together.
The beauty is that these decisions will be made as a team.
Imagine a scenario where you and your partner cultivate their own personal development. As you grow and change independently, your partnership — and consequential goals — grows too. Couple goals are most effective when designed through freedom and autonomy, not through obligation.
True love requires space. It doesn’t fit with the “you complete me” or “I can’t live without you” concept of romantic love. The more room we have to breathe, the lighter we feel, giving us the energy and enthusiasm to make inspired decisions for the relationship — from a place of empowerment.