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What Is Lasting Love?

Learning to appreciate attachment love

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to love, we want it all: sparks, butterflies and that feeling of being obsessed with another person. But we also want lasting love, security and healthy routines.

The problem with having these desires is that they cannot normally be satisfied simultaneously. What makes you feel head-over-heals in love is in part newness, insecurity and unpredictability. But most long-term relationships do not have a whole lot of newness, insecurity and unpredictability. Long-term relationships are not meant to be built on an unstable foundation. They are meant to be your secure base, the place you return to for support when you are experiencing problems at work or go through illness or loss.

Yet it is often when the newness, insecurity and unpredictability wears off that relationships fall apart, when we no longer are in a state of love insanity, when things become routine and begin to feel a little too comfortable. What can we do about this paradox that has plagued mankind throughout history?

We can engage in serial monogamy, as most people do. But is there a way to avoid relationship-hopping? Can we learn to appreciate our partner without the sparks and fireworks? Clearly, some people manage to. What is their secret?

Relationships go through stages. A typical relationship begins with the head-over-heals sparks and fireworks phase, where the other person cannot do anything wrong and where we cannot think of anything better than being in their company. This phase wears off. How soon it wears off varies a lot, depending on people's circumstances. But it inevitably wears off.

This is the point where we enter into a phase of conflict. We start to see the other person's flaws. We no longer feel we will die if we cannot see our partner for a while. The phase of conflict is also where the arguments and fights tend to start. We need to learn to solve problems with our partner and to negotiate, because no two human beings want exactly the same things.

If the relationship survives the phase of conflict, attachment love is likely to develop. Attachment love is a different kind of love from new wild romantic love. It is more closely related to the kind of love you feel for a child, a parent or a close friend. It typically does not involve feelings of wonder all the time. When things go well, it is a comfortable kind of love, and it is the sort of love that can last a lifetime.

We often think attachment love feels wrong. It is not intense. It doesn't control us. For that reason we often come to the conclusion that we don't really want to build a romantic relationship on basis of attachment love. But if there is no alternative, could it be that we ought to learn to appreciate it instead of fighting it?

Statistics show that some couples learn to appreciate attachment love. Appreciating this type of love requires accepting that it doesn't feel the same way as that all-consuming new love that most romantic relationships are initially based on. But it also requires identifying the advantages that attachment love has in comparison to all-consuming new love.

Attachment love can be a good thing to build a long-term relationship on, but only if both parties learn to appreciate it. If your partner pushes you away because things don't feel the same anymore, then your relationship will be unlikely to survive.

Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love

Oxford University Press, used with permission.
Source: Oxford University Press, used with permission.
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