"Love -- a wildly misunderstood although highly desirable malfunction of the heart which weakens the brain, causes eyes to sparkle, cheeks to glow, blood pressure to rise and the lips to pucker." -- Author Unknown
Ahh... love. Is there anything else that feels quite so sublime?
Your heart's pounding, you're flush with excitement and giddy with anticipation. You jump every time your smartphone pings you with a text, hoping it's from them. You can't focus on your work. You've lost your appetite for food because you're reminiscing about how delicious it feels to be in their arms.
Nobody "gets" you the way your sweetheart does. The connection you feel with them is out of this world. It's as if you've known each other your entire life. You can barely stand to be apart.
You have no qualms announcing your good news to your friends and family -- you've finally found "the one"!
Along with the dizzying heights, there are the terrifying lows, too. They forget to call and you're anxious. They are in a bad mood and you obsess over whether it's your fault. They express their doubts about the relationship and you're in agony for days.
In spite of the occasional pain and uncertainty, the sheer magnitude of emotion just proves how much you love each other -- or so you believe.
If this isn't real love, what is? Right?
Actually, not so fast.
Not All Love is Created Equal
As a relationship therapist, whenever I hear my clients describe their relationship as an all-consuming, exhilarating, obsessive tidal wave of emotion, I know that what they're describing isn't real love, but an immature, attachment-based infatuation.
What's the difference?
Infatuation feels passionate and addictive but is ultimately insecure. When acceptance and admiration flow in our direction, we feel safe, happy and completely alive. However, when infatuated, it only takes a temporary shift in the flow of good feelings for all of our unresolved childhood issues to rear their ugly head. Our partner lashes out and suddenly we are 5-years-old all over again, feeling abandoned, scared and unloved after a scolding.
Real love is very different from infatuation, because real love grows out of the healing of our childhood wounds through the ups and downs of a relationship.
Here are some other ways to tell whether what you're feeling is real love or just infatuation:
Infatuation is All About You, You, You
Are you focusing solely on how your partner makes you feel, both good and bad? How empty life feels when you are apart from each other? How you want your partner to change so that you can maintain the high? How you've never felt like this before and the relationship is everything you've ever wanted? Do you feel more whole now because this person is in your life? Chances are, when you're obsessing on what you're feeling, needing and wanting from the relationship, you're experiencing an immature, attachment-focused infatuation, not real love.
Infatuation Has Expectations
With infatuation, you create unrealistic expectations and beliefs about your partner in order to maintain that incredible high. You expect that because you love each other, the relationship should always feel good and that your needs should naturally be fulfilled. You can't stand the thought that relationships do take work, don't always feel perfect or that your partner won't change in order to please you. When things go awry, you shut down, cling or pull away, and fear that the relationship is over.
REAL Love is All About WE.
During bad times, you see yourself as being on the same team. Your relationship is a safe haven because you know that no matter what, you are there for your partner and they are there for you, even if you don't agree. Real love is not just about what you want or need, but rather what's best for the relationship.
REAL Love Begins From Within
Real love begins with feeling lovable, and it doesn't depend on a partner doing something right or validating you. There's nothing missing or no aching needs that you're looking to have filled by that significant other. Real love complements each partner's strengths, accepts the weaknesses, and remains strong, reliable and steady in the face of challenges.
REAL Love is a Verb
Real love is not about being in a perpetual state of bliss, but about showing up for each other during good times and bad. It's loving your partner, not pulling away. It's about taking responsibility for your actions.
REAL Love is About Being Friends as Well as Lovers
Real love is based on shared values, acceptance and respect. It's about wanting the best for the other -- even when your needs conflict. Real love is about growing closer and growing up.
The Persistence of Real Love
Unlike infatuation, with real love you both feel like you are in for the long haul. You see the relationship and each other as a source of support, acceptance and comfort in your life and are willing to do the work to keep the relationship strong and thriving. You understand that love is a result of consistent actions that build trust, not just a feeling to cling to.
When you see your partner through the eyes of real love, you'll know that while your partner may not always make you happy, you love them nonetheless. That's when you know you've arrived.
Sheri Meyers, Psy.D is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship. To get a free chapter of Chatting or Cheating, please go to: chattingorcheating.com
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