The Psychology of Love vs. Lust

It turns out the love bug did bite, and then died.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Month 1 - you're kissing by the pier. Month 6 - you're trying to throw each other OFF the pier. The honeymoon may be over, but can the relationship go on?

    The first few months bring a whirl-wind of romance.
    Fine dining. Flowers. She sends you cute little text messages – I cant wait 2 c u.

    And he even brought your grandma and grandpa a pie for Grandparents Day.
    Then suddenly – he lets out a big belch. And she decides it’s OK to go a few days without shaving her legs.
    Ladies and gentlemen, the honeymoon is over.
    This is where it gets real, people. This is where the line is drawn on the romantic battleground between the forces of love and lust.
    Dr. Surita Rao is Chief of Psychiatry at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center.
    She says love really is all in our heads. And it’s something that makes us feel good in the same way a good run, good food, or a little bow-chicka-wow-wow will.
    “The more intense romantic love, the falling in love feeling, is often associated with dopamine. It's associated with reward and reinforcement,” she said. “It goes along with the poetic idea that love is a form of madness or that people lose touch of the real world sometimes when they're madly in love.”
    Madly in love. Like waking up early to make her breakfast in bed. Or surprising him at work with coffee. At least in the beginning.
    But Dr. Rao said the end of the “honeymoon” phase is also, literally, in your head.
    “Later, when they get into a more committed, long-term relationship, it's often related to areas of the brain with oxytocin. That's the same kind as in maternal love. Same thing in long-term relationships, more of a bonding hormone.”
    When she says maternal love, we’re not talking about an Oedipus Complex here.  We're talking about a deep level of affection.
    “Once you get past that lust phase, there's a certain element of similarity like friendship,” said Dr. Rao. “There's the ability to put one's needs second to the other person.”
    Now here’s something we’ve all done. You’re so head-over-heels with someone that you ignore some glaring… shall we say… issues. Like his mullet. Or the way he dips his fries in a chocolate milkshake. Or the way she says “like” every other word. 
    Then – a few months in – those little things make you want to STRANGLE each other. Or cut his hair in his sleep. Or buy her Hooked on Phonics for Valentine’s Day.
    “You're so dazzled by them, your brain almost filters out any negatives,” said Dr. Rao. “Some studies have shown that parts of our brain that would normally judge human behavior get kind of dimmed when you fall in love.”
    The trick? Dr. Rao said you just have to understand we all come from different backgrounds.
    “The biggest problem that couples have is that they're not tolerant of people's perceived flaws,” she said. “You're raised in different families, different relationships, you're different people. One of the things that leads to trouble in relationships, people expect the other person to be too much like themselves. To value or not value the things they do or not do.”
    Oh, and here’s a fun one. 
    Relationship – Day 1:  She chats with some other guy in a bar. No biggie. 
    Relationship – Day 251: She chats with a guy in a bar. Your best friend ends up bailing you out of jail.
    “A certain amount of jealousy is wired into our brains,” said Dr. Rao. “Part of the reason that this long term commitment has evolved, even on a brain level, is so that the two partners can stay together in a stable way long enough to raise children. You can't just have them, you have to keep them alive and raise them.”
    She said jealousy makes sense on a biological level. 
    “You don't want your mate or parent of your child to be taken away. But people can be constantly jealous because they have their own insecurities,” said Dr. Rao.
    The trick to making love work? 
    According to Dr. Rao, you need to recognize your own insecurities and work on them. Recognize what it is about each other that you love – and see what you can learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
    Oh, and don’t forget Valentine’s Day.