For many, love seems endless. Exalted, they believe that this feeling is going to last until death separates the two lovers. However, things are more complicated.
First, there is a difference between falling in love and love itself. Falling in love is an emotion. Just like any other emotion, it is intense but short-lived. Being in love lasts somewhere between a couple of days and one year, on average. It depends on the ability of the lovers to generate emotions. The emotion of being in love will eventually die out, and will be, sometimes, replaced by the feeling of love. Love is a sentiment. Just like friendship, for instance, love is less intense but lasts longer, usually many years. And just like in friendship, love might not last until death. Some people are meteors in our life, some are available for longer periods, and some are there for a lifetime, but it is important to acknowledge that both friendship and love change over time; they become more complex and mature.
Having this in mind – the difference between emotions and feelings/sentiments – take a look at the image above, an image I created especially for this article. During our psychotherapy training, we were explained the cycle of love using a graph, but I chose for you images of the ocean as visual anchors. The first image signifies falling in love; the next 4 are the distinct stages of every relationship, and are part of the cycle of love.
Falling in love is a chaotic experience. It’s intense and brief, and you can’t properly see well what’s going on with you. Additionally, your perception of the other is also distorted. Note the fuzzy image of the waves and the excessive white color that makes almost impossible to distinguish the landscape. You know those are high waves – perhaps on a Hawaiian beach – and nothing more. The waves are huge, the wind is strong, the desire and the temptation, the lust and the sexual desire take over or hijack your inner life. A broken condom gives birth to many children during this period. And the certitude that “he’s the one” or “she’s the one” is overwhelming.
We don’t get high winds and high waves all the time. Same happens to emotions. Experienced partners know that they must wait until the initial emotion fades away so as to see if there is something left… if there is a feeling left… something that might guarantee a better life after the emotion is long gone. Getting married 2 weeks after the initial meeting rarely happens to be a good decision. It’s a good decision if love – the feeling – follows after, but otherwise… it may end in tragedy… or abortion… where available…
The majority of couples separate at the end of the first period. In modern times, the percent is huge, since there is a wide spread attitude that you need to be “experienced” before committing to a “serious” relationship. “Experienced” often means multiple partners and “roller-coaster” relationships. It is prudent to keep in mind a percent of around 90% of couples separating after the emotion of falling in love is over. Only time can tell if a relationship is going to last.
The minority of couples that can give birth to the sentiment of love, get into the cycle of love. The first stage is symbolized by the same big waves, but smaller. There is still a lot of spontaneity, curiosity and the drive to know the other one. Agitated sea that is… It’s the period when the feeling of love is at its maximum, both in intensity and stability. It’s a rich period and a rewarding experience. It’s the period when often the couple gives birth to children.
The second stage is less intense. You can see that the image I chose shows rather periodic waves but of smaller height. Now, important keywords are adaptability and an alternating affective life. There are moments when it seems that there is no love, but the next wave comes and the two partners learn to rely on the predictability of their feeling. Although there are moments when they’re tired after a nasty day at work or after the kids did something bad, after some time they find again each other and reassure each other. There is growth happening outside the couple as well, as the two aren’t afraid to spend time alone or in other groups… There is trust.
The third stage occurs after many years. Peace. Calmness. But also boredom and routine. The water is still or almost with no waves. Serenity reigns. This is good but can also be bad. Because eventually, the fourth stage erupts.
The 4th image depicts a storm. Resembles to the first image, the one of falling in love, but with 2 notable differences: everything is evident, you can clearly see everything, and there is periodicity. Moments of high intensity love are separate by deep lows, when hate, fear, uncertainty, and many other elements, interfere… You had enough of your partner. Middle-life crisis. Betrayal. Cheating. Ambivalence. The couple is shaking and everything seems to go in all directions. The end of cycle has arrived. Impulsiveness, discontentment, aggressiveness… the usual ingredients of the doomsday…
The cycle of love has reached its end. The partners must face a choice. Each of them. Emphasis on “must” and on “each of them”!
Are the feelings gone or not?
Is there any love left?
I’ve drained the last drop of feeling from this couple. Now, what should I do?
There is no development whatsoever!
We are stuck!
There are only 2 choices: go or stay.
Many relationships end here. There will be no cycle of love. It’s only the end of a story. Just like in friendship, it’s over. Each partner goes its own separate way. Common children complicate the situation, but they do not matter when we speak about love; they matter when we speak about commitment or responsibility, but this is another story.
But what happens if the relationship is to endure? They say that “being in a great couple is knowing how to fall in love with the same person, over and over again”. This is exactly what happens. You decide, deep in your soul, to start over with the same person, learning to rediscover that special one, learning to see him or her from a different new perspective. Human beings are complex beings and there is huge potential to discover stuff that you didn’t perceive even after many years, during the first cycle of love…
The couples consequently enter in the same cycle, however starting with the first stage of love, or the second, or the third. They never restart with the “falling in love” stage, as we’re talking about a sentiment, not an emotion. Falling in love happens only once, and although there are many emotional heights during the new cycle, they are part of the feeling of love. In conclusion, the couple encounters again the first stage of curiosity and richness, or the sequences of the second stage, or the serenity of the third stage. Some couples happen to have kids again during their 40s or 50s – it’s not unusual – as they are able to nurture again the intense love of the first stage.
The cycle of love can be re-initiated several times during a lifetime. Anything can happen at any stage, as life is a continuous row of decisions; we have the power to decide at any moment to re-enter the cycle or to leave the cycle. And… there are sometimes partners who have decided to part, got involved in other couples, perhaps fallen in love with other partners, and then, having understood life and love and this cycle, reunite and sometimes remarry, being determined to go together again through the same old cycle.
The great skill of living is being able to regenerate yourself, to renew your feelings versus life – the act of revival with each sunrise. We only have this very life and nothing more. And we have to deal with it. After some time, we think or feel that we know everything about this existence, just like we believe we know everything about our partners: their body forms, their patterns or reactions, their qualities and flaws… We need a quality that is essential to move on, otherwise we go down and become depressed and bored by too many certainties…
We need Curiosity…
Curiosity helps us waking up and getting out of our bed, knowing that today is going to be exactly like yesterday and thousands of days before. It’s waking up just to verify this assumption and allowing ourselves to be surprised and see that life wasn’t exactly our perceptions, but something more, something that we failed to see while running as fast as possible towards our objectives. Curiosity is the energy behind the cycle of love – having the courage to do the same thing over and over again, finding pleasure in repetitiveness, and gaining wisdom from noticing that, in fact, no sunrise is the same, no sea wave is the same, and monotony is an illusion for the untrained eye…