The Honeymoon’s Over? How to Go from Love Addiction to Sustainable Love

The Honeymoon’s Over? How to Go from Love Addiction to Sustainable Love

A husband I know told me how he keeps his marriage steady with love: He schedules reminders. His goal is to retain a routine, throughout-the-day communication regimen with his wife, Sara (not her real name). So what does he do? He opens his monthly planner, and blocks out 5-minute timeslots a couple of times a day. Here’s what a typical day on his planner might look like:

8:40 am: Call Sara to check in on her morning, and tell her you love her.

2:35 pm: Text Sara to check in, and tell her you are thinking about her. Perhaps give her a complement, or ask her something about her day.

6:45 pm: Make sure to find Sara when you come home and give her a warm hello.

10:30 pm: Aim to go to bed together (touching has been shown to increase oxytocin, the attachment hormone)

This husband’s approach has sound basis in the science of love. Couples who stay in love long-term share contact throughout the day, and maintain their relationship as a priority. Without the intensity of early love to guide their attention, these couples know that their relationship has to be thought about and cared for in order to stay alive. Exerting this effort is a hallmark of mature love, and balancing a relationship’s needs with all the other important parts of our life demands higher cortical functioning and a part of the brain that only humans have, the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Long lasting feelings need to involve the PFC, where we activate mindfulness, planning and reminding – in other words, routine thinking. Emotions, such as the feelings of love, are only sustainable when the PFC is activated and engaged.

Addictive love is adaptive but cannot last

Remember when you first fell in love? The excitement, the faster heart palpitations, the wide eyes, the overall adrenaline? Things feel a bit out of control – if even for happy reasons – but everything else sort of goes on hold. This is because the brain system responsible for romantic love resides deep in our cortex, next to other primal centers like thirst, and physical pain, according to research conducted by Helen Fisher and colleagues. This deep part of the brain, when activated, overrides all other functioning, making nothing else as important as the object of our love. This makes good adaptive sense as we genetically look to solidify a pair bond, and procreate.

After some time, though, these ongoing heightened feelings of romantic love don’t last. And they don’t last for one reason: They aren’t supposed to. Like any addiction, avoiding other aspects of life for the purpose of an addiction begins to cause harm, and is therefore not sustainable. We are not meant to be engaged in an ongoing love addiction, because real life is not one long adrenaline rush, and honeymoons are not never-ending. Rather, real life is peppered with adrenaline rushes in the midst of the regularities. The trick is to make sure the romance and connection are indeed woven into real life, and this takes the work of higher cortical functioning. As love matures, so should our resources to nurture it. We cannot rely on the early effects of love addiction to do the work for us. We have to do the work ourselves. And this involves thinking about our relationship, our partners, and sometimes even reminders.

Sustaining long-term love

This may seem unromantic; some may even suggest that love that needs such attention must not really be love. Indeed some people believe that once the initial rush is over, the relationship must be over too, and so they move on to another relationship in search of another rush. That is to say they go from one relationship to another, always looking for that addictive fix of falling in love. Unfortunately, the cycle never ends because the person looking for addictive love has never learned how to integrate love with regular life. Addictive love is blind. Long lasting love, on the other hand, must be focused on or it will not survive. Thankfully, the mentality for sustainable love is teachable, and also hardwired. Mature love requires the thoughtful attention and care we can give it when we take the right mindset.

Love takes work. Conscious work. The good news is that, through planning, one can easily keep up the feelings of love by making time to focus on your love throughout the day, week, month and year – in different ways for different time frames. The example of the husband above was for daily interactions. Weekly interactions might include a date night out; monthly could mean trying something new as a couple; and yearly could mean a private vacation spot for just you as a couple. The possibilities for creativity are endless – the point is to make sure to schedule love. Sound unromantic? Perhaps. But better to schedule romance than to let it die from inattention. After all, there is always room for additional, spontaneous, romantic interludes.

Sustainable love is the goal, not love addiction. So whether you are between relationships, just starting out, or involved in a long-term commitment, planning ahead will provide you the security of love that is sustainable long term.


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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD