We are wired to attach. We are wired to connect. We are taught to fall in love and “become one” with our partner, to better each other and flourish as a single entity. More often than not this theory falls short. We can often become infatuated with the idea that love gives us about our own selves; our value.
To be in a relationship means to be approved of, to show to the world you are capable of being adored, being sought after, being enough. It is validation. The need for relationships and human connection is a biological necessity that we require to feel secure, but what happens when this gets broken down? When fear meets love. Can a relationship built off the foundations of external validation be enough to emotionally nourish oneself and another?
Have you ever wondered what goes on when you start to build a relationship with someone? Feeling nervous, even somewhat aggressive. Biologist, Dawn Maslar, the award winning author of “Men Chase, Women Choose: The Neuroscience of Meeting, Dating, Losing Your Mind and Finding True Love”, explains how people operate on those first few dates, and the answer is: pure biochemical upheaval; not very romantic.
For both men and women, falling in love has similar effects on the brain to taking drugs. Parts of the brain start to deactivate and we begin to lose cognitive function. This then affects our ability to maintain attention, perception and logical reasoning. This is a result of the rise of cortisol levels, which causes us to feel nervous, followed by a drop in serotonin, and we become more obsessive. While a woman’s testosterone increases, she tends to feel more aggressive, a man’s will drop, resulting in him to be more passive.
When a woman is interested in a man her oxytocin rises by an enormous 51%.
When a woman is interested in a man her oxytocin rises by an enormous 51%. Oxytocin; otherwise known as the “cuddle hormone”, is the chemical in the brain which bonds children and their mothers. It can be built up slowly, through trust and tenderness, but skyrockets at orgasm. Although it is not the same for men. Men experience an increase of Vasopressin. Vasopressin provokes feelings of contentment, calmness and security. So while women have a heightened sense of love and connection through sensual intimacy, men experience love when operating at a more emotional and gradual wave length.
Being ‘in love’ has always been portrayed as an ideal. No one wants to admit they’d prefer to be ‘in love’ than to be alone. When you have invested so much of your own identity into another, there is an underlying fear you won’t be your true self, without that person. We are so accustomed to the classic trajectory of western relationships. We see it in our homes, on our TV’s, it’s sold to us as the perfect ideal, the be all and end all. From sparks flying, falling in love to settled coupledom, going through the motions of life together. We need to step back and observe, is it the storyline or the partner you’re in love with? Are they a physical representation of your desires and ideals, or are they simply just to perpetuate the cycle in your mind that keeps you less alone at night.
One in three women and one in four men will experience an unhealthy/abusive relationship in their lives.
Katie Hood, CEO of the One Love Foundation says “100% of us will be on the receiving end of unhealthy relationships. And 100% of us will do unhealthy things. It’s part of being human”. Katie Hood has made a name for herself by educating young people about the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. In her TED Talk in 2019, Katie outlined a pattern of behaviours that are alarmingly common in a lot of relationships. Behaviours such as isolation and extreme jealousy, often go unrecognised and watered down as normal acts of love. Then create pressures that work as building blocks to toxic relationships. One in three women and one in four men will experience an unhealthy/abusive relationship in their lives. When these kinds of traits are the foundations of our experiences with love, it is only expected that our ideas of love are skewed.
However, man or woman, rich or poor, it is only natural to depend on others. It only becomes a problem when we begin to rely on a relationship as a distraction to our own loneliness. Of course there is a component of care, it arises naturally as our brain attempts to organise our emotions, but is this relationship actually what you want, or are they just what you know. Kendra Connor author of the article; The Importance of Feeling Your Longing for Love poses the hard hitting question “Can you stay and burn in the depth of those longing and not try to fulfil it with a random dude who doesn’t know how to touch you and you don’t even really like him in the first place? Because that isn’t real emotional nourishment”
Being happy means being unable to imagine a life without your significant other; being comfortable means not caring.
Being happy means being unable to imagine a life without your significant other; being comfortable means not caring. Being happy means feeling safe; being comfortable means feeling ambivalent. Being happy means being willing to grow; being comfortable means an unwillingness to change. These are common misconceptions that often fall into an unknown grey area. Where we are so scared to be alone that we allow ourselves to be ships in the night instead.
But what next? What to do when you don’t know where to go or how to change. Beverly D. Flaxington, author of the article, “Feeling Stuck in a Relationship: Making a Shift to a Happier Self” for Psychology today has outlined a step by step guide on how to make important changes of which we probably haven’t thought.
The first point Beverly D. Flaxignton mentioned “Specify your desired outcome”. It is easy to get caught up on the small things, so much so you forget to look at the bigger picture. Beverly says, “What’s your ultimate goal? Be specific. I just want to be happy” is too general a statement. Your end goal has to be clearly defined, otherwise you will not be motivated or committed to continuously forge towards it.”
Beverly then starts to focus on highlighting the obstacles you want to change and finding your alternative. In these next few steps Beverly encourages you to get down to the crux of what you want from not only your relationship, but from yourself. To be truly honest and hold yourself accountable to make the necessary changes that will benefit you more than a mundane relationship. “Do you want to work on your relationship or terminate it? Do you want to change yourself instead? If option one, then how will you do it; if option two, how will you proceed?”
Although these questions may seem simple or even somewhat cliche, when asked to bring your own relationship under the microscope how will your true goals and emotions conclude?