Hardwired for Love
I enjoy teaching colleagues how to do psychotherapy and education with couples so that they can enjoy lifelong satisfaction in coupling. We talked about the latest research on the physiology of coupling. This research is really wonderful. Among the information it provides for us:
• We are all hardwired for love
• We all have internal systems that are ready to help us chase someone romantically. We become obsessive and we perseverate on the remarkably fantastic qualities of the actually ordinary person we have decided needs to be “the” one.
• Our neurobiology also allows us to fall in love addictively. Falling in love feels irrational because it is. Our nervous system produces an aphrodisiac for loving someone else.
• After we fall in love, our systems help us settle into the predictable coupled love that allows folks to celebrate 65th wedding anniversaries. We feel safe and comforted in our partner’s presence. Their touch feels “right” to us. We miss them when they are absent.
Newer work on the science of human emotions informs us that, as Pascal said, the heart indeed does have its own reasons and where intellect and emotion clash, the heart often wins the tussle and has its own wisdom. The body’s physiology concretizes that love is the center of who we are and who we can become. Love shapes devoted parenting, fantastic romance, and intimate bonded partnering. One might simply say that love, more than any other single element, determines our life satisfaction.
How many fortunate couples do you know who live out this pattern of being hardwired for love? I know a couple who are extraordinarily well married. They live what some of us jokingly call an alternate life style…they are celebrating over 35 years of marriage. And celebrate it they do. They live in a pretty family home with lots and lots of photos on the walls…photos of how they smiled when they were young and married. Photos of children now all grown. Photos of grandchildren who pour in to visit. Photos of friends from long ago still connected through trips and parties. They have many friends who care deeply about them. Maybe it’s because they love to laugh.
They can barely remember when they were not married to each other. If you ask them, they can reminiscence with huge smiles about college escapades in dormitories, before there were had coed dorms. And they can tell me, in living Technicolor, how they fell in love and how they knew this was “the one.” They did fall in love with a thud, and they still are “the one” for each other. During my many years in Stone Harbor, they were always around, easy to laugh with, involved with one child or another in one constructive activity or another.
You could count on them as a couple, and it was palpable. Of late, there is the occasional senior moment, but they absorb these signs of the passage of time with great good humor. Sometimes they seem not to notice that one or the other is forgetting something…I wonder if they do. I love to hang around with them because they exude a safety with one another that rubs off on whoever sits in their living room. When I come over, I am absorbed into their lives and their way of loving. They are not only hardwired for loving one another. They are hardwired for loving their children, their grandchildren and their friends. Lucky me.
George Vaillant talks about what really matters most in his book, Aging Well. He ought to know. He has interviewed the same high achieving men for 40 years. Now in their 80s, they can look back and tell us what really, really matters. And, just like my Stone Harbor friends and the newest neuropsychological research, Vaillant found that folks tell us that they most value loving well. And why not? After all, it is our hard wiring.
To Consider:What stage of loving do you like best? Do you like the rush to the chase of a new romance? Do you like to get drunk on the aphrodisiac of a new love affair? Do you enjoy it when you cannot think straight? Or, like my lucky friends, do you prefer basking in the comfort of a long-lived love well deserved through years of life lived together?
To Read: George Vaillant. Aging Well. NY: Little Brown & Co. 2003.