Choosing Love, above all else.

What is love?  

Love is a set of emotions and behaviours driven by our desire to be with someone. Love can flow intensely or mildly or change altogether, depending on your circumstances.  

Literature and social media tell us that falling in love is lovely and exciting. It sells the idea of how love at first sight can change your world into a positive one, with instant fulfilment.  

Why are we crazy about love?  

There is a scientific explanation as to why we fall in love. According to neuropsychiatrist Dr Trisha Stratford, when you see someone you like, your optics signal your brain. Your brain then starts to create dopamine and serotonin. Combining these two hormones creates a warm and fuzzy feeling, giving you a sense of natural high. Dr Stratford also pointed out that the brainwave, if scanned, looks similar to someone high on heroin. Your brain creates this natural high state through activities such as cuddling and orgasm.  

Why is it difficult to stay in love?  

Staying in love for an extended period is one of the goals all lovers hope to achieve. Love and desire are interconnected. If you have regular conflicts, your passion for each other can diminish. Life challenges can be a significant stressor in your relationship. When stressed, your brain would start to create cortisol instead of the love chemicals. A high cortisol level limits your ability to feel intimate with your loved one. 

Why do I resent my partner?

There is a concept called a positive illusion, according to relationship psychotherapist Esther Perel. It is about you forming a sentimental bias towards your partner. You see that they add value to yourself, whether socially or professionally. When you commit to the relationship, you tell yourself that you have made the right decision, despite the flaws you see. You are sure that your partner will change for you with enough time because they love you. It would not have been communicated to your partner when you made this rule yourself. When things haven’t changed, you get upset.  

Positive illusion can be a motivator, but it can also be a deterrent. Having a positive frame of your partner is great, but it is not fair for your partner to be responsible for your self-worth. Positive illusion is better when it is mutually shared to help each other grow.  

What does it take to stay in love?  

The reality of your differences allows you and your partner to get to know each other better. Staying in love requires communication, compromise and commitment to each other. Communication is not just about hearing the words. It is about acknowledging their values and beliefs as they have with yours. Sometimes, you may require the help of a relationship therapist to work through some of the emotions that surface with these questions. Couples often only seek out therapy when they cannot reach an agreement on what they can accept about each other.  

You must ask yourself: 
  • Am I attracted to him/her because of chemistry, sexually or emotionally? Or a bit of all three?  
  • Do I still desire him/her?  
  • Do I want to change him/her so that I can be a better me?  
  • Do I feel safe in this relationship?  
  • By being with him/her, do I feel confident to be myself still?  
  • If I stay with him/her, will I hold him/her in contempt for not doing what I want them to do?  
  • What can I give him/her, so she feels loved?  
  • Am I ok with him/her sexual needs or preferences?  
  • What do I need to own about myself? 

These questions help you process who you are and where you want to take your relationship. The holistic perspective is that love is intrinsic. You might still expect your partner to feel the same way once you have opened up, but that is not necessarily the case. They will need to evaluate their values and beliefs and decide their priorities.  

Fear can become dominant in a broken relationship. It can prevent couples from speaking to each other altogether. In my therapy, if you are struggling to communicate effectively with each other, I will seek to understand first the beginnings of your life and how you both enter this relationship. 

How do I set up good boundaries in my relationship? 

Our boundaries are how we tell others what our limitations are. Some factors influence how your values and beliefs shape your boundaries. 

  • Culture, race and ethics- What is your origin, and where do you belong?  
  • Physical self- What constitutes your personal space? How comfortable are you with physical contact with others or showing affection in public places?  
  • Intellectual and mental- Sharing ideas and beliefs can boost your self-esteem. How do you want to share it with others?  
  • Emotions and thoughts- This is part of your inner circle. Your feelings and thoughts make you human. Consider how you want to regulate yourself when interacting with others.  
  • Money and materials- What is your attitude towards money?  
  • Time and energy- What do you want to do with your time? What fulfilment are you after?   

Setting rules and boundaries within your relationship can take time. If one of you has too much say in the boundary-setting agreement, it can disempower the other party. Boundaries come in 3 forms – Rigid or non-negotiable, open or loose boundary, clearly stated. 

Rigid or non-negotiable boundaries 

Open or loose boundaries 

Clearly stated boundaries 

I finish work at 5 pm. I do not want to talk about work after 5 pm. 

When I finish work at 5 pm, I might just check my emails periodically, in case there is anything urgent. 

I can work till 5 pm. After that is my personal time. 

I will not talk to strangers. Because they might think the way I talk is weird. 

I can talk to strangers. I do not mind them hearing my voice. 

I am ok with just having a few people to talk to all the time. 

I hate spending money. I do not want to spend money on things like travel and dining out. I get stressed if I don’t set aside savings each week. 

I can save money when I want to. I don’t mind if I don’t have any money saved, week to week. 

I set aside $50 of my pay each week so I could buy myself a car. 

I do not like working with people. 

I do not mind working with people. I can work alone too if need be. 

I can work with people as long as they are not disruptive. 

My kids must have a tertiary education. Without a degree, they will be a nobody. 

My kids do not have to attend university if they do not want to. I will be here for them. 

I will help you finance your tertiary studies. You will need to make sure you complete the studies with a qualification at the end of it.

It is essential to determine what boundaries are good and what ones will hurt the relationship. We tend to have a combination of rigid, open and clearly stated boundaries to help us navigate our interaction with others. Understanding our physical and emotional limitations can help us build better autonomy and self-confidence. 

How do I  apply boundaries and rules? 

Your relationship does not stay the same all the time. Your emotional need connects to physical and financial or material needs. These needs will change or grow when you get a promotion or new job, get older or have kids. When setting boundaries, you must consider the suitability of those boundaries to your relationship goals. Again, you need to communicate to each other about the limit and rules you want to have instead of assuming or keeping things in your head. 

Consider these questions the next time the two of you engage in an intimate conversation together:

  1. What do I like the most about being together?
  2. What is the hardest thing about being together?  
  3. What can we do better as a couple?
  4. What dreams does he or she has that I can help fulfil?
  5. How can I change to be the better version of me for myself and my partner?
  6. What goals can we work on together?

Summary  

Acceptance of each other’s differences is high at the start of the relationship due to the common attraction and desire to be together. Some couples live together happily for years living with their differences, and others do not. It is important to remember to be honest with yourself about what you can or can’t do.  

Remind yourself:  

  • Change is not necessary a bad thing. 
  • You can change only yourself and not others.  

Being in a relationship does not mean you own the person. It is about building a lifetime alliance for love and companionship.