Within our romantic relationships, there is an obvious link between feeling loved by our partner, and our experience of joy and satisfaction. Many of us felt the most loved and tended to during the first two years of our relationship. In that time we were consumed with our partners, and they with us, and it was the most we felt loved since we were unconditionally loved by our primary caregivers.
When we are the center of another person’s universe we feel blanketed by a powerful love we believe will last forever, but never does. This is not to say love cannot endure, but is instead the suggestion our infatuations will not last. The shift to reality from the rapturous phase often signals the beginning of the end as we begin our search for a person who will give us what we need. Sadly, we often fail to communicate our authentic love needs once the endorphin rush is over, and a promising relationship ends long before its time.
When I work with couples I ask them about the fullness of their “love tanks” as written about by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book, The Five Love Languages. Our love tank is where we store love given us by our partner. When our tank is full, we are contented, joyful, and willing to reciprocate love. But when our partner falls short of meeting our love needs, the contents of our tank dwindle, and we might become consumed with a loneliness which causes us to seek what we need elsewhere. We often place unfair expectations on our partner to know how to meet our love needs beyond the sex marathons and thought exclusivity of the initial phase, and then vilify them when they “fail.”
I always ask each member of a couple if they feel their tank is full, and what keeps it that way. More importantly, I ask if they are aware of their partner’s tanks, and if their partner communicates what will keep it full. In far too many cases, we complain about what we do not receive, but fail to inform our partner what we need.
Infidelity is often the result of sustained loneliness and dissatisfaction suffered by a person who is afraid to display vulnerability through expressed needs. It is a desperate behavior utilized by those who seek love replenishment from an idealized source who is ultimately doomed to fail because infatuation is short lived. In search of fullness, such a person seeks to replicate the rapture at the risk of never experiencing genuine love.
A romantic affair is a constant state of love tank fullness. In the throes of this rapturous period, all thoughts and energy is focused on our new person because she fills our tank with attention, sex, gifts, and affection. We create a bubble world in which no one else exists, and there is no threat or distraction from the outside world. The result is a constant serotonin and endorphin high stemming from being someone’s “one and only.” Add in secrecy and the illusion of two people existing in a private world safe from infringement of outside threat, and there is no chance of repairing our preexisting relationship. The unknowing person being cheated on has no chance of relationship reparation because his partner is high on an illusion.
It is often the case we will not leave an unhappy relationship unless there is someone waiting for us who fills our tank. New relationships rise from the ashes of immolated marriages all the time, as we believe we have again found everything we could ever want in a person. Eventually, reality creeps in, old patterns ignite, and our high dwindles when life reminds us it never lasts forever. Disappointed, we stray, and look to be high again at the expense of authentic love which could be attained through couples counselling.
When we enter an affair, we place our new partner in the disadvantaged role of “savior.” She is challenged with the unrealistic burden of being everything in perpetuity, and is denied flaw and necessity of other priorities. We are rarely concerned with our savior's feelings and are only concerned with our love tank remaining full. People who engage in serial cheating most likely do so because they cannot cope with any percentage of emptiness in their love tank, and seek replenishment from a new person the moment love dips below the brim. They do not know how to communicate their needs to their partner, and would rather feel the rapture rather than work on authentic love.
The disadvantage faced by saviors is false perception it is they who have changed for the worse once the rapture wears off. In reality, the only thing has changed is the unsustainable rapture has worn off. Once it does, and we are tasked with reminding our partner what helps us feel loved, we fail to communicate, and then blame our partner for unmet needs. Those couples who monitor love tank levels, and discuss ways each can keep the other person’s tank full have a better chance at maintaining a relationship in which authentic love exists.
It is acceptable to allow the endorphin phase to last as long as it can, but it is not realistic to expect it will last forever. Optimally, it dwindles a bit, but is replaced with love bound not by genitals and constant attention, but by goals, friendship, and emotional closeness. With those necessities in place, love can sustain without reliance on a phony, perpetual high, or an idealized version of our partner sure to let us down when their humanity is revealed. In the end, if we are not loved in spite of our flaws, or requirement to tend to other responsibilities, we were never really loved anyway.