Falling in love makes us a little crazy. One of the byproducts of that temporary insanity is believing that everything your new partner says is genius and everything they do is inspired.
But marry that partner and the qualities that you swooned over don’t seem so dreamy anymore.
|He works hard||He works too hard|
|She has strong opinions||She doesn’t listen|
|He has amazing friends||He always wants to be with his friends|
|She talks about her feelings||She is self-absorbed|
|He is responsible with money||He is a tightwad|
|She is spontaneous||She cannot make plans|
|He loves his mom||He loves his mom|
|She is so romantic||I have a headache|
Andrew G. Marshall, a British marriage therapist and author of I Love You but I’m Not in Love With You, says the main reasons we resent characteristics we once fell in love with is “limerence,” or the state of being crazy-in-love.
“With limerence, everything about the person is absolutely fascinating,” Marshall told Quartz. If your partner is into Canadian ice hockey, you want to learn everything about Canadian ice hockey. There is nothing more you want to do on a Saturday night then be locked in a crowded icebox watching grown men beat the crap out of each other over the direction of a rubber puck. You may despise being cold, and dislike violence, but if being cold and watching fights is the price you have to pay to spend some time with the object of your limerence, you double up the fleeces and hoist the Maple Leaf.
We overestimate the good qualities of our beloved: An ideologue looks like a well-informed genius, a flirt seems like a charming dinner companion, and a planner is someone who Gets Things Done.
In 1979, Dorothy Tennov, a psychologist and writer, coined the term limerence to describe the range of emotions and physical symptoms many of us feel when we fall in love, which include sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, ecstasy, agony, and acute longing. (Beyoncé knows of what she sings.)
Here is a partial list of chemicals that exert an enormous influence on us during this first stage of love:
- Phenyleteylamine (PEA) is a natural form of amphetamine our bodies produce and has been called “the molecule of love.”
- Pheromones, produced from DHEA, influence sensuality rather than sexuality, creating an inexplicable sense of well-being and comfort.
- Ocytocin has been called “the cuddle hormone.” It compels us to get close, and when we are feeling close (to anyone) we secrete it. It is secreted by the posterior pituitary gland, and stimulates the secretion of dopamine, estrogen, LHRH, and vasopressin.
Fortunately (or not), limerence doesn’t last. After about two years, or just about the amount of time many of us might decide to commit forever after, the rose-colored glasses come off. At that point, “he can go watch Canadian ice hockey on his own,” Marshall says.
Then the bigger problems surface. Since opposites attract, and limerence obscures anything remotely foreboding, things get dicey when it comes to living with those previously overlooked qualities.
“What can attract people is something missing in themselves,” says Kate Mollison, a cognitive behavioral therapist based in Glasgow. “Maybe someone wants to be more adventurous, more outgoing,” she says. So they find a life-of-the-party type and feel better about going to parties and less anxious about being shy. “But living with it day in day out, they are not that person.”
Mollison and Marshall both see a steady stream of couples who come to them because they are trying to live with qualities they once loved and now struggle with.
Marshall says a typical example is one person comes form a chaotic family where the loudest voice rules. He finds a partner from a family that is relatively buttoned up. At first, life with that partner seems glorious and calm and civil. “He’s thinking, ‘I don’t need any more chaos.’” But soon he sees that partner as contained and suffocating and the partner is wondering why he’s so prone to histrionics.
Though it can seem scary, Marshall suggests being assertive about what you need. “I can ask, you can say no, and we can negotiate,” he suggests. “Nearly all problems can be solved if you can keep talking.”
The key is to start talking early. We may put forward a highly-edited version of ourselves when we’re dating, but you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to distinguish fact from facade. “Perhaps in the beginning we extend ourselves a bit further,” Mollison says. Introverts go to parties. Extroverts stay home. But which does your partner prefer, and is that compatible with what you want?
“You marry a set of issues,” my mom always said. “Pick your issues carefully.”