In a therapy session, I clarify what is not love more frequently than what love is. Once you get familiar with common misinterpretations of love, recognizing romantic love is easier. Identifying red flag behaviors early on your relationship, is going to help you build healthy relationships.
Have you ever heard the word “limerence”? Limerence is often described as the altered state of mind when there is an illusion of being in love. It is the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person and lasts from 3 to 6 months. Limerence is a romantic attraction and it may feel great because this feeling is caused by change in brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine and oxytocin. Limerence may be dangerous and often it may affect your decision making and your ability to see the problem behavior. You can think of limerence as infatuation and both are not love. Confusion between love and limerence is the main reason why most relationships last only about 6 months. This is because the couple did not fall in love in the first place, so they didn’t have any difficulty in falling out of love.
Conceptual differences aside, there are four main red flag behaviors that are misinterpreted as love.
- Love is not self-sacrificing or martyring
“I’d die for you” may sound romantic due to how “dying for someone” is fantasized in literature, songs or movies. However, this act of sacrificing is called martyring and is often the result of a lack of boundaries and poor sense of self. Similarly, prioritizing your partner’s needs more than your own needs is also self-sacrificing. Your interests, your free time, your wellbeing, your happiness and life satisfaction matters as much as your partner’s.
- Love is not manipulative or controlling
Having passive aggressive communication style, gaslighting, emotional manipulation and emotional abuse are signaling you that you may be in a relationship which is manipulative or controlling. “Walking on egg shells” may create extreme pressure on someone. In some relationships, one partner may have narcissistic tendencies, or in rare cases, can have narcissistic personality disorder. Often, controlling behaviors occur due to having an insecure attachment type and/or previous relationship trauma. Also in some cases, manipulations and controlling behaviors can result with intimate partner violence and domestic abuse. Identifying early signals of your partner’s controlling and manipulative behaviors may help you to work on your relationship with mutual effort.
- Love is not jealousy
Jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat, and this threat can be real or imagined. Clinically, there are three kinds of jealousy that come up frequently in literature.
Normal jealousy: Normal jealousy is a normal human reaction that may be stemming from an instinct to protect and survive. Normal jealousy is expected to occur when there is a perceived real threat.
Not loving the idea of your partner meeting for coffee with their ex-wife can be an example of normal jealousy.
Obsessive Jealousy: Obsessive jealousy mostly occurs in the form of being consumed by thoughts, and often targets the partner’s past relationships. Forbidding your partner from having any contact of any kind with their ex-wife can be an example of obsessive jealousy.
Delusional Jealousy: Delusional jealousy persists despite the absence of any real or even probable threat. Imagining your partner met with his ex-wife without informing you or refusing to drive through her neighborhood in case he sees her car is a delusional jealousy.
- Love is not dangerous
Safety and attachment security are common in every loving relationship. What safety means in each relationship differs from physical safety to emotional safety, but they are all crucial. While physical safety means not being afraid of being harmed or threatened, emotional safety means feeling loved, accepted, deeply cared for and supported and feeling connected. For many couples, financial safety and commitment safety are also important.
Every loving relationship has struggles, but it is important to know when a struggle needs to be addressed. If your safety is in immediate danger, please seek help right away. If you are struggling with jealousy, controlling or manipulative behaviors, or self-sacrificing please seek individual therapy or consult a couples therapist.