When we fall in love, we fall hard. Romantic love is extremely powerful and is often filled with passion, romance, and unending thoughts about one’s partner. As we grow together as a couple, this passion can shift, change, or dwindle, but researchers are beginning to find that this shift may not be something we can control.
In my private practice, I hear many couples discuss the changes that have taken place in their love lives. They often long for the days when they couldn’t keep their hands of each other, miss the special looks their honey used to give them, and wonder why going to sleep is sometimes more appealing than making love.
Recent research has found an answer to this question. From a biological perspective, it has become clear that humans are hardwired to go through three different stages of love. Beginning with lust, we start out focused solely on sexual gratification. During this phase testosterone and estrogen are released stimulating our desire to satisfy our sexual needs with an attractive mate.
From there we move into the attraction phase. Here neurotransmitters are released into the pleasure center of the brain, which stimulates stereotypical romantic love behaviors such as excitement, exhilaration, and intrusive thoughts about one’s partner. This experience of pleasure combined with the special meaning one attaches to their new partner, creates and eventually intensifies the feeling of love. According to researchers, this intense feeling can only exist towards one partner at a time, which encourages us to conserve our energy (sexually) for a genetically superior mate (for the purpose of procreation).
Finally, we enter into the attachment phase of love, which begins once we’ve attached special meaning to a compatible mate. This phase is characterized by a sense of calm, increased security and safety, social comfort, emotional union, proximity seeking, nesting, separation anxiety, and other companion type behaviors. Researchers state that this stage evolved in order to ensure the survival of offspring, and thus the focus evolves from creating a family (passion during infatuation) to sustaining a family (stability).
Although we are not solely biologically driven, we have psychological needs that drive us as well, this biological picture does normalize some of the experiences couples in long-term relationships go through. Staying passionately in love, hiding out in bed together all weekend, and feeling intensely connected at all times is not realistic as love evolves. Now I am not saying that you should let the romance in your relationship fizzle or that you should be content just being co-parents, but I do want highlight and normalize the fact that love does change over time.
For many couples, this shift in love can be unsettling. Many couples begin to fear that something is wrong, worry they’ve lost that loving feeling, or start to wonder if they married the right person. If you find yourself doubting your relationship and feeling like the love and passion are gone, take a minute to reflect on the progression of your romance. Acknowledge how the two of you have grown together as a couple, and remember that you not supposed to be infatuated with one another for the rest of your lives, but instead should work towards building a lasting, committed relationship that enables your love to deepen and grow through shared experiences and trust.
Once you understand this evolution and become comfortable in the attachment phase of love, you will experience a new level of romance.