Love is a notoriously fuzzy word to define, though we all feel like we know what it is.
While it is easy to describe on paper, the problem is that emotions are rarely as linear as we’d like.
This article is dedicated to how fickle our emotions can be, no matter how cherished our partner is.
Why we feel close to them one day, and distant and detached the next. Why the idea of “enduring, unconditional” love doesn’t equate to the reality of how our feelings work. And why falling in and out of love is part-and-parcel of a healthy relationship.
Feelings Like Waves
There is nothing more disconcerting than waking up one day and wondering what happened to the frenetic, warm glow we called love.
We might look at our partner and realize that through no real fault of their own, we have become detached.
Sensing our unease, our partner may question us: What’s going on? Is everything okay?
They know us well too well.
But we have few clear answers to give them, because the root cause of our malaise is not objective.
Sure, what our partner does may well influence our feelings towards them. And admittedly, in a lot of cases this is the determining factor.
But let’s not ignore that there is a subconscious hormonal undercurrent that drives our emotions as well. And it is into the murky and unpredictable world of biochemistry that I want to dig into first.
The Roles Of Hormones
If there is a discrepancy between how we’d like to feel and how we actually feel, chances are high that our hormones are dictating the play.
During the course of a relationship hormones affect us in different ways. Here’s a quick sample:
- Testosterone and Estrogen – The male and female hormones that drive lust and attraction rather than attachment.
- Oxytocin – Influences bonding behavior, particularly in newly formed couples. After a period of around six months peak levels start to fall off, potentially leading to a feeling of detachment.
- Serotonin – A dip in Serotonin is often observed during the initial infatuation, and also during the breakup process. Low levels can cause obsessive thinking.
- Dopamine – The chemical that helps drive your motivation in relationships, and also give everything a rosy portrait. As dopamine levels naturally fluctuate, so does your overall relationship outlook.
- Norepinephrine – Affects production of adrenaline and can lead to surges of energy and joy.
The main reason I listed all these is to show just how dependent our feelings are on the natural fluctuation of these chemicals.
Nobody can realistically expect to remain in a permanent peak chemical mode. And it would literally be insane for us to remain suspended in this state.
At some point high energy states such as attraction must transition into attachment in order to the relationship to mature and stabilize.
Falling In And Out Of Love
Problems arise when we detect a shift in temperament, either in ourselves or in our partner, and attempt to rationalize what is, in effect, a subconscious process.
This begs the question: Are you falling out of love, or the hormonal landscape changing?
In short, are these feelings something I can control?
The answer isn’t always easy to determine because a shift in chemical levels will impact the objective side of the relationship as well.
For instance, plummeting levels of Oxytocin will lead to a marked dip in bonding and attachment.
Regardless, the main takeaway here is that that dip is going to happen. There is no scenario where our body will maintain peak hormone production over long stretches of time.
It may feel good to be in thrall of our hormones, but the resource usage is too high, and our ability to make lasting objective decisions is too low.
At some point, our feelings are going to take a hit as we shift gears into a new phase of the relationship (and relationships are ever changing, so you get the idea).
So. What now? Do we just hang in there despite our misery and hope our biochemical candles switch back on?
Adaptation Is The Key To Survival
The ever-changing nature of our feelings is precisely why our ability to mutate, renegotiate and adapt is the key to relationship success.
On the surface this may seem like a curse. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a relationship where the status quo never changed? Where, save some calamity, the promises we utter today are valid (and meant) twenty years from now?
Not if you ask me. These constant waves of feelings lead to conflict. Without this conflict, the relationship would lack the tools to renew itself.
This is critically important because people are changing constantly and we need to be reminded of this fact. The relationship goals you set yourself today are not the same ones you will aspire to twenty years down the line.
Failure to be mindful of change leads to resentment and alienation if it is left unattended for too long. But the constant falling in and out of love is the spark that can lead to meaningful change. It is also why conflict avoidance will kill your relationship should you let it.