You may think its obvious why we fall in love: to bond us to our partner, you might say, so that we have a connection strong enough to endure the slings and arrows of life, which inevitably come. Love makes us want to be together, stay together, commit to each other and to have children. Its all about procreation and creating safe relationships for children to grow up in. And when children arrive the stresses and strains on a relationship are huge: we need the strength of love to keep us together. And when we are older and the children have gone, we need the strength of love to keep us caring for each other.
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But these are all top level reasons. Underneath, there is something far more subtle going on. Why do we fall in love with certain people and not others? Why can’t we fall in love to order? We meet many people all the time – what is it that attracts us to someone and not to others? Why do some people fall in love with someone they have barely spoken to (the eyes-across-a-crowded-room phenomena) while others take a while to recognise their feelings for someone? These days, there are answers to all these questions.
Once, love was complete mystery. Poets, musicians and mystics sung and wrote of its power and magic, but mostly about how unknown it was. But these days, thanks to the research and theories of American psychotherapist Harville Hendrix, falling in love is increasingly a scientific phenomena, and we are understanding it better.
Hendrix is the founder of Imago Relationship Therapy. One of the underlying tenets of Imago is that we are attracted to people who were wounded at a similar stage of our development, but responded in the opposite way. By forming a relationship with such as person we have the opportunity to heal our childhood wounds and create a bond which is strong, powerful, and hugely rewarding.
How do we recognise someone with similar woundings? We don’t yet know this exactly, but there is some kind of unconscious recognition happening. In the same way that we intuitively recognise people we like, dislike and are similar to us, we recognise those who have been through similar experiences as infants and children. It happens at a subconscious level. And it manifests in strange synchronicities that become apparent as we get to know each other. Just think how often, when you are getting to know your new lover, you discover similarities. It may be something in their story, or something about them that reminds you of one of your primary caregivers. It can seem spooky, and it happens too often to attribute it to coincidence.
So how should you respond when you feel this attraction, this intuitive innate connection with another person? Unless there is a good reason such as one of you already being in a committed relationship with another person, the best advice is to follow your heart. This kind of love, that turns your world upside down and gives you a visceral gut-wrenching feeling whenever you think of them or are in their presence, doesn’t come along very often. And when you are old the things you’ll regret most are the things that you didn’t do, not the things that you did do.
Having said that, the usual rules of modern courtship still apply: you don’t respond to texts immediately, don’t reveal too much of yourself too soon, and follow your grandmother’s advice of ‘Be Hard to Get and Good to be With’. Just because this person creates all kinds of emotional seismic action inside you, take it easy and keep it cool. it is likely that they are feeling the same, but it is far from certain. And coming on too strong too soon is most likely to scare them off, not attract them.
There is little difference between the initial phase of every relationship, called The Romantic Phase, and infatuation, in fact infatuation is just another word for that early stage of every new relationship when we try and be as likeable as possible and overlook the other’s faults. Old lovers will tell you that the very thing that attracted you at the beginning is the very thing that will drive you mad in the end! So, when you are so infatuated that you can’t stop thinking of this person, their very presence drives all sensible thought from your head and you feel overcome with emotion when they are around: this is the first stage of all romances. Enjoy it, because it won’t last.
Sooner or later you and your beloved will experience conflict. This is when a lot of couples split up, not realising that this is a healthy process which eventually leads to a far deeper love. Many individuals will do anything to avoid conflict believing it to be a bad thing, but avoidance just delays it and causes a toxic undertow to the relationship. Far better to open a discussion, preferably using an Imago dialogue. What a lot of people don’t realise is that if the relationship ends you are likely to end up in another that is similar, with old patterns being repeated. Better to stay and try and work things through than go on repeating over and over with different partners.
The aim of imago therapy is to aid couples who are in conflict to heal each other’s early wounds by developing relationship-building skills, specifically using structured dialogues that replace arguing with intentional active listening. Imago therapy is about talking to each other like you love each other. It’s about really looking at each other, listening to each other and talking about feelings. It teaches you to talk so the other will listen and listen so the other can talk. It takes time to get there, and the aid of a good therapist will make the process faster and easier.
A loving relationship can provide many health benefits, including fewer visits to the doctor, lower risk of heart attacks, reduced blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, and lower use of drugs and alcohol. Distress often comes in a relationship when partners don’t feel close, they feel insecure and they don’t know how to get a response from their partner.
Falling in love is the first stage of making that connection with someone which can lead to healing of childhood wounds. Creating a caring family unit is a secondary benefit- the primary goodness is the emotional healing in you and your partner that a well connected relationship can deliver.
For more information and to get in touch with Annie, head to www.anniegurton.com