What’s love got to do with it?

A grown-up approach to dealing with childhood anxiety
Dealing with childhood anxiety (stock image)

Overpriced cellophane-wrapped unscented roses that droop before they open, gooey heart-shaped calorie laden puddings and cheap jewellery flogged in the backs of Sunday supplements that would make Gerald Ratner blush with shame. All this and more is ours at an inflated price in the celebration of true love.

Whether we buy into the commercial juggernaut that is Valentine’s Day or not, it is a tradition upheld by the power of soppy, sentimental, unrealistic expectations of our relationships. This idealisation of love is at least in part the cause of widespread disappointment in the institution of marriage and any partnership which we thought would last for life.

Where is the love?

Valentine’s Day at its best is a celebration of that fleeting time of passion and excitement in the heady early days of a relationship. Across the world there will be rings artfully hidden for the surprise reveal, cameras set up for that spontaneous YouTube proposal with an all-singing, all-dancing flash mob, restaurants rammed with couples declaring undying love over mediocre dinners and cheap prosecco, schoolchildren swooning over messages and cards from secret admirers.

What’s all this got to do with love? When the roses have wilted and the indigestion has died down and you’re waking up to yet another humdrum day on February 15, where is the love?

Our culture seems to be obsessed with the juvenile kind of romantic love which rarely leads to healthy relationships. This unrealistic perception is based on medieval chivalric mythology which made heroes of men and distressed damsels of women at a time when life was brutal and short and such tales were a distraction from the misery. A fairytale fantasy or crush is harmless enough as long as it’s recognised as such and not taken too seriously.

Despite all the grand gestures, almost half of marriages end in divorce and that may be due, at least in part, to unrealistic expectations.

Instant love

With technology giving us instant access to potential partners, for some, sex has been relegated to being a meaningless, unromantic leisure pursuit without any strings attached. That said, relationships can move very quickly from being casual to committed. This can create all kinds of problems which are not obvious in the first flush of romance.

During the first couple of years of spending time with a new partner, we tend to only reveal the aspects of ourselves that we like and do our best to hide our less attractive characteristics. And, at the same time, we edit any information which may put us off the new love of our lives. When the passion is running high, we don’t even notice when we’re deluding ourselves or denying problems, even when these things are obvious to others.

So it can be a big surprise when, say, a couple years (or sooner) down the line – perhaps with a baby on the way – we discover that we may not be as made for each other as we thought.

Love or infatuation?

Then there’s the other pitfall of this rush into romance. The early state of heightened, sometimes obsessive desire is called ‘limerence’ and can last typically from 18 months to three years. Online dating sites and apps provide the perfect opportunity for ‘love addicts’ to feed their desire for the thrill of infatuation. They get their fix then move on before being ‘caught’ by commitment, leaving a trail of heartbreak behind.

I wonder why the ‘rules’ of dating are so different from the way we form friendships? Even if we meet a new friend and hit it off straight away, we don’t expect them to text constantly, be available frequently or on demand and to give us priority over others. That would be weird. So why is that what so many people expect from new lovers? And why do we leap into bed with people we hardly know when we wouldn’t dream of sharing a toothbrush with a friend, or anyone else for that matter?

True love

My definition of true love is an emotional intimacy which matures and deepens with the passing years. Physical intimacy is only part of that bond. So little attention is paid to the emotional component of intimacy between couples. It can be achieved through random combinations of chance, opportunity, self-awareness, selflessness and shared commitment to maintaining a healthy relationship.

Love of your life

Here are Karen’s tips on how to maintain a healthy, long-term relationship:

Learn from problems and conflict. Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negatives so we can find solutions and solve problems (instead of criticising or blaming).

Suspend judgement by reminding yourself that you’re not perfect either; then it’s easier to make allowances for your partner’s flaws.

Keep reminding yourself of the good things in your relationship each time some of the not so great stuff springs to mind.

Arguments can be resolved if you look at them from the perspective of a referee giving impartial, unbiased advice. Emotionally stepping away from the fight stops it escalating and makes compromise possible.


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