Dr. Billy Kidd researched romantic relationships for 15 years. He held focus groups in various cities across the nation.
Five Separate Biological Systems Blend to Create Romantic Love
Ever wonder why feelings of love can seem so complex—even contradictory—and sometimes, impossible to explain? Scientists have recently discovered why this happens.
Our feelings of romantic love arise from five separate brain-body systems. These five systems work together, blending emotions, to create all the different ways we feel about our partners. What’s interesting is that any, all, or none of your five love systems can respond to another person.
This means that you really don’t have a single on/off or a hot/cold switch when it comes to loving somebody. Rather, you have five different switches for five different feelings. And they will be set at different intensities at different times.
There's No Commonly Used Definition of Love
Now you can imagine that there a dozen of possible ways that two people could potentially feel about each other. And that's because of these 5 different systems that blend to create romantic love. People, however, generally use one word—love—when they talk about those feelings. That gets confusing. Two people are often talking about two different things depending on which of their five feelings are active.
The expression "I love you" doesn’t make much sense when you consider that you don’t know which love systems the other person is talking about. And it's often impossible to explain which one you are talking about. So you both hit a dead end when discussing your romantic relationship
Your partner might, in fact, experience one or the other of the five feelings of love with more intensity compared to what you are experiencing. But you might be experiencing another one of the five feelings more intensely when compared to your partner's feelings. That is why you need to be able to talk about your five love feelings with your partner if you want to understand what’s going on in your relationship. Otherwise you end up talking past each other, and just nodding, without really understanding what your partner is experiencing.
The Five Feelings of Romantic Love
Let’s look the five distinct feelings of romantic love that arise from deep within us:
1. The In-Love Feeling
When you experience the crazy-in-love feeling, you’re prone to start thinking obsessively about the person you’ve got your mind set on. You might actually think about that person so much that you think he or she is The One. The feeling of being crazy-in-love, however, generally fades away when your brain's crazy-love connections rebalance, usually within 18 months after getting wild about someone.
At that time, you might move into the second stage of being in love. That is where you feel rewarded when you are together with your partner. It actually raises your dopamine neurotransmitter levels--those things that make the electric signals connect in different parts of the brain. If you do not have a functional relationship, however, you won’t move into this second stage of romantic in-love feelings. Instead, you might get the feeling that the “honeymoon is over” and feel at times that you are “in bed with a stranger.”
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2. Sexual Feelings
Sexual feelings come in two different types: the feeling of physical arousal and the feeling of emotional arousal. You feel physically aroused when you body starts responding to sexual cues, causing blood to rush to your genitals, making nerves tingle. Interestingly, physical exercise raises just about everyone’s potential to get physically aroused about sex. But the emotional desire to have sex is different. It can be dependent on how the relationship is going, your mood, and how much stress you are under.
The emotional desire for sex often increases when you and your partner simply get out and explore the world together. But sometimes a person’s physical and emotional feelings are at opposite ends of the turned-on spectrum. Someone can be teasing you, for instance, and you might notice you are physically aroused for sex. But looking at the situation, your emotions may be telling you, “Not now.” That's when your body says, "Yes," and your head says, "No."
3. Feeling Like Friends
The feeling of romantic friendship is like no other friendship. That's because it takes place between two people who know each other intimately. As such, it sets the general tone of how people treat their lovers. It also affects how they handle relationship conflict. When partners are romantic friends, they don’t keep score or call each other names. Rather, they either settle the conflict or let the whole thing go the way friends do. That's because the couple values their relationship. The feeling of friendship is so important to romance that we have an expression for couples who openly show it. We say that they are "friends and lovers, too." This is the most admired type of romantic relationship. Without it, a relationship is like a car engine that misfires and shakes.
4. Feeling Like Family
The family feeling is what creates the ties that bind people together. That might feel like trustworthiness. When you have a healthy family feeling about your partner, you chill out together. That’s because the family-love biological system creates stress-relieving hormones and brain connections that allow you to discuss troubling things.
Feeling like family works the opposite for people who are prone to having negative family feelings and cling/clung relationships. Feeling like family means heightened tensions for them. That is because one person is generally always worried about being rejected. Meanwhile the other person may avoid his or her partner when under stress. In a relationship like that, the curative stress-relieving powers of a couple’s family feelings never take hold. And eventually the partners just don't have anything positive to say to each other, which is one of the first signs of relationship failure.
5. Feeling Like Helping
When your romantic helping system engages, you want to help your lover with something. You do that because you care about you partner achieving his or her life goals. But some people only help in order to try to get control over their partners. Sensing this, their partners simply do less and expect more. As a result, the helper will slave away until he or she ends up resenting his or her partner.
People in functional relationships have an intuitive understanding of this. So they do not give unsolicited advice and do not act like martyrs. They also know when to ask if their partner really wants some help and when to stay out of the way. So they don't end up like codependents. Codependents mistake caregiving for helping, as if they were babysitting their partners.
What This Means
With these five distinct romantic feelings blending together to create the way you feel about your partner, you will not experience the relationship exactly the way your partner does. Actually, no two people can love each other in exactly the same way. The way you respond to another person is dependent on your life experiences, the way you were raised, and by your genetic makeup. These things affect how your five feeling of love are expressed in your relationship. So the most you can hope for is that your partner’s feelings are similar to yours. The closer the two of your feel towards each other in these five areas, the smoother your relationship will go.
How to Improve Your Relationship
To improve your relationship, talk to your partner in terms of the five feelings of love.
Don’t just say, “I love you,” and leave it at that. Instead, you can improve your relationship communications ten-fold by explaining how you are feeling at the moment. For instance:
- Are you obsessed and thinking a lot about your partner? Or maybe you are feeling rewarded just to be around your partner?
- Do you have the feeling of being physically aroused sexually? Or rather, emotionally aroused about having sex? Or both? Or maybe you are too stressed or too tired to feel either one?
- Do you have a sense of being relieved of stress, like you do with friends? Or do you have the feeling of being stressed out when you are around your partner?
- Do you feel like family in a good sense--a sense of trustworthiness? Or do you feel like you are stuck at a Thanksgiving family dinner that you did not want to attend?
- Do you feel like you enjoy your partner's successes and want to help him or her achieve his or her goals? Or rather, do you feel like you do not want to help your partner achieve success?
You can start improving your romantic relationship by simply talking about each of the five feelings of love! You might even print this column and let your partner read it. Once you are able to express your real feelings, there will be less drama in your relationship.