“Oh God. valentine’s Day tomorrow. Why? Why? Why is (the) entire world geared to make people not involved in romance feel stupid when everyone knows romance does not work anyway. Look at (the) Royal Family. Look at Mum and Dad.”
― Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary
We can fall head over heels in love in the blink of an eye and the feelings that can be invoked from our passionate encounters have the same neurological effects as a hit of cocaine. In a study by Ortigue et al., (2010) it was found that even looking or thinking about a loved one can produce a multitude of euphoric-inducing chemicals in your body and stimulates about 12 different areas of the brain just like the drug (love is much more than a basic emotion!) Not only does it change our bodies, it changes how we think, how we see ourselves and how we see our significant other.
While science can tell us what falling in love is like, it still can’t tell us how we can stay in love. For this, we can turn to some of the ‘love theories’ out there. One such theory proposed by psychologist Robert J. Sternberg in The New Psychology of Love (2006) suggests that finding and staying with the right partner is equivalent to finding the right Love Story. He notes that early experiences in our childhood and early adult life impact our ideas of what love should be (our love stories). Finding success in love means finding someone who shares a similar or compatible love story. These can involve themes such as: love as an addiction (anxious attachment), love as art (physical attractiveness), love as business (relationships are like business deals), love as collection (fitting into a scheme), fantasy (knight in shining armour), love as a game (or sport), mystery (love is a mystery, keep things to yourself), love as a science (analyse, try to understand it), and love as war (series of battles but a continuing war).
Considering this perspective, healthy and happy relationships occur when both partners have compatible stories along with compatible expectations. Basically, the more similar a couple’s stories are, the happier they can be together. All is not lost, when there is a mismatch, stories can be changed by trying out new and different plots and perspectives. Once we recognise that our stories aren’t matching in a healthy way, we can choose new and better ones to meet our love needs to recognise what we need in others. We are the authors of our love stories and can write and plan for happy endings.
If this all sounds like hard work, you may be asking the question, why should we bother staying in a relationship at all? A recent article study in the February edition of The Psychologist notes that being in relationships helps us age better and live longer (Soulsby & Bennett, 2015). However, if you’re single this Valentine’s Day, don’t let this bother you as it is the strengths of your social networks that are the best indicators of longevity.
Whether you’re single or not, the true key to a longer, healthier happier life is looking after all your relationships. So if you do find yourself without a partner this weekend, don’t do a Bridget Jones and hide yourself away on the couch eating ice-cream and drinking copious amounts of wine. Instead, reach out to at least one good relationship in your life, be it a family member or friend, and make some quality time for them. Properly connect with them, even if it is just by telephone call. You’ll feel a whole lot better and live longer.
If you are in a relationship and find yourself dreading the commercial pressures of Valentine’s Day, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact, offer help with simple tasks such as helping with dishes and laundry tasks (when you’re not expected to). It could mean bringing up a cup of tea in bed or paying your partner some extra (meaningful) compliments. However, if you can envisage that the screenplay of your partners love story involves a scene whereby they are bought chocolates and flowers this weekend, then our advice is you’d better do that too (just in case)!
Mark Tolan, BSc, BA