Understanding the role of chemistry in romantic relationships.
Posted Jul 25, 2018
Chemistry is a magical force which attracts one person to another. In many cases, it facilitates healthy love for a lifetime. In other situations, it blinds lovers to several important insights. All in all, it is a mysterious and powerful phenomenon.
When I was a kid, after my uncle’s third divorce, my mom shook her head and said to me, “It's always whatever first attracts people to each other, that breaks them apart in the end.” She herself said she was attracted to my dad because he made her laugh—yet, 30 years later, he rarely makes her smile.
As I sit with heartbroken clients who are decimated by the dissolution of a marriage, the breaking off of an engagement, or a break up that has ripped a part their soul, the resounding sentiment is, “He/she wasn't like this when I first met him/her.”
As much as chemistry opens a person’s eyes to love, it can blind them to reality. Why? As a psychotherapist and a child psychotherapist, the reason is as plain as day. Old childhood wounds make us vulnerable.
Perhaps there was a constant longing for acceptance and attention in a child's life. A parent might have been incapable of conveying empathy in an effort to remain close to their child. If a child spent years trying to be good enough for their parent, yet always fell short, they may be prone to marrying someone who, after the chemistry fades, will treat them similarly. So, in the interest of salvaging people from the pain of divorce, an understanding of chemistry is necessary.
Two explanations illuminate the mystery of chemistry: First is a human being’s preference for the familiar. Neurologically, humans are hardwired to find the familiar more appealing than the unknown. This is an important facet of chemistry. There is usually something familiar about a person's new love that they can’t quite put their finger on. “I feel like I have known her my whole life” and “He feels like home” are often the sentiments of newly smitten love birds.
The familiarity is comforting and special. It's the allure. However, the familiarity may be the result of a lover being like the person’s parent in a relational way. This is fantastic if the parent was emotionally healthy. Yet, if the parent was not emotionally available, the person may find themselves hitched to someone who is incapable of sustaining closeness after the chemistry fades.
Second, chemistry, in some cases, is the unconscious promise to redo and, therefore, undo the childhood pain an emotionally distant parent caused. Imagine that? Meeting someone who, you believe unconsciously, can erase every deep hurt and insecurity in your childhood caused by an emotionally unavailable parent.
This new boo seems to hold the unconscious promise of allowing you to re-master your childhood trauma. They are mysteriously familiar because, in reality, they are similar to the parent that caused the emotional pain, but different enough to provide hope for a happy ending this time. Familiar + different = mysterious.
They embody the promise of obtaining the unattainable love that was longed for as a child. Of course, a person sees fireworks, birds singing, and then becomes obsessively preoccupied with their new love. Who needs therapy? Who needs anything else? All you need is love.
However, because their darling is a lot like the parent who hurt them, the ending is often inevitable. And after much investment, promise, and hope, the demise of the relationship feels like a reinforcement of the old childhood wound, which is devastating. Thus, the crushing blow of break ups, divorces, and rejections.
Feeling dismantled by a break-up or a divorce is understandable because it’s often a re-experience of the worst childhood injury. If you are in anguish and feel alone, please hang in there and believe in yourself. The right person is out there waiting for you. Be picky.
Moreover, if you are a parent who desperately wants your child to find healthy and happy love in the future, do everything to keep the relationship with your child healthy, including the following:
- Be a parent your child wants to talk to.
- Have empathy not sympathy.
- Validate character over achievement.
- Stay present.
- Occasionally and sincerely say, “I love who you are.”
- Do not enable, empower.
- Follow through.
- Say “no” when it's necessary.
- Always try and have a sense of humor.
- Model compassion and humanitarianism.
Above all, love your child like you have never loved anyone before. Provide them with a standard of love that allows them to believe they are worthy of healthy and strong love. Then, they won't settle for anything less.