The “System” Couple: how to move from infatuation to love
Each couple follows a path that goes through different phases: attraction, falling in love, love. In addition to the chemical components common to all human beings, other aspects of individual, psychological, family and trigenerational history influence individuals in their choice and long-lasting relationship with their partner.
Advertising message Thus recites the poetry of the Nobel laureate poet Wislawa Szimborska, describing the feeling of when the person in love feels the heartbeat of his beloved in his chest. When we are at the beginning of a love story our heart beats fast, we cannot contain emotions, we live a true obsession for the partner. In fact, for a few months our hormones have the power to overwhelm and upset our existence where head, heart and body work together to make us live in a state of euphoria. I will tell you about this, because in every couple everything is evolving from the moment we are attracted to someone, we fall in love and realize that we love that person. There is a path that each couple follows and passes through different phases: attraction, falling in love, love.
At the beginning we are attracted to a partner of whom we know nothing, but who attracts us for unknown reasons, and this is the prelude to falling in love. What is happening within us is the work of the brain where intelligence, fantasy, language, emotions and its chemical correlates are based. Neurophysiologists, together with psychologists, anthropologists, biologists and geneticists, tell us that years of evolution, anchored to our genetic heritage, which are part of our DNA, play a fundamental role outside our awareness, inducing us to behave and feel sensations that we never imagined.
During the infatuation we are prey to a true obsessive-compulsive disorder: we continue to think spontaneously and obsessively about the partner until they occupy the whole day. We feel omnipotent, full of energy, elated. Everything that happens is related to the androgenic hormones that are responsible for activating sexual desire. Testosterone to a greater extent combined with estrogen for men and estrogen to a greater extent combined with testosterone for women are a real chemical storm for desire. We are in the throes of real hyper-excitement.
During falling in love the testosterone level decreases in males, leaving room for tenderness, while we see it increase in women involving a more determined attitude. In this phase the partners experience attitudes of care and mutual tenderness. But it is phenylethylamine that causes our pupils to dilate when something attracts us, makes our eyes shine, reduces appetite, makes us sexually hyperactive and stimulates the release of dopamine. Dopamine when it is at very high levels produces euphoria effects, making us similar to drug addicts and making us lose our mind. But if on one hand there is this dependence due to the increase in dopamine in the initial stages of falling in love, on the other hand there is a decrease in serotonin which lowers our mood, inducing a state of high stress and anxiety. So if on the one hand at the beginning of a love story we are elated, on the other we are in a state of hyper-vigilance: we are alarmed if the loved one does not pay attention to us or if he does not respond to us.
All the chemical correlates that we have seen are present in the first 6/8 months of a couple’s initial phase, while in the love phase it is the caregiver’s intimacy and commitment to prevail. In this phase, dopamine, which produces our well-being, exhausts the function that makes us feel euphoric. At this point other brain areas are activated, which have a great weight in love and which allow the release of another hormone: oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone of love, the one that induces contractions of childbirth, which comes into play in putting maternal care attitudes into action when we become parents, but it is also what remains over time allowing us feelings of tenderness and to maintain contact for sexual activity.
Each of us is unique in the world and what we are is determined by our relationships with others. Each of us loves and is loved by different people and must be respected in their uniqueness, in their desire for companionship or solitude. The most difficult phase in an individual’s growth is his autonomization and differentiation from the family organization.
In order for a couple to form, individuals must have adapted themselves from their families of origin in an adaptive way (Scabini, 1995).
Canevaro describes this passage between covenant and filiation constraints very well:
An individual who has developed an existential project and insertion into society becomes available for the formation of a couple.
Advertising message Having made this premise, we can consider the couple as an open system, a complex organization of kinship relationships that is exposed, throughout its life cycle, to moments of development. Each member of the couple has interpersonal relationships characterized by a mutual exchange. In every relationship, each of us expects something from the other; so even in the search for a partner it is not surprising that we orient ourselves in looking for the other characteristics that meet our expectations and needs.
Just as we are not very aware of what happens from the chemical point of view in choosing a partner, we can observe in equal measure the little awareness of our deepest needs and how much we are influenced in the choice by our family history and the models with which we are grown.
Falling in love is the moment in which the construction of the identity of the couple takes place, that initial phase, as we have seen before, in which sexuality played a fundamental role by promoting union and fusion with the new partner. When two people form a new couple, they don’t think that their relationship is influenced by patterns, rituals, traditions and myths that they internalized in their history with the family of origin. During falling in love we observe a reciprocal idealization, where each individual unconsciously offers the other an ideal image of himself. What we fall in love with is the image that the other refers to us and the image that we refer to him.
We fall in love with people unrelated to us but similar in education, values, intelligence, vision of life, but also interests, religious and political orientation and not least for the sense of humor. The gaze of the other reflects an image of ourselves: the image we desire. If you ask why people have fallen in love with a given person, they cannot answer if not describing the behavior, the look, the smell, the way of doing (“The pleasure in the couple”, Frongia P., Toffanetti D., 2012 ).
From this intersection and mutual exchange of images flows what we call “relationship” (Cancrini, Harrison, 1991). In this phase the members of the couple are immersed in a fusion that proceeds in parallel with the processes of identification and autonomization from the rest of the world. By individualization, we mean that process of emotional detachment that allows an individual to form a new family without feeling limited towards the family of origin. Bowen (1979) pioneer of family therapy, describing the constitution of a new couple speaks of “fraudulent contract”: he believes that while each member of the couple is intent on giving the best of himself, he simultaneously captures the image of the deepest needs partner and finds himself acting as if it were he who satisfied them. This leads both partners to take on an impossible task, since the choice of partner in falling in love is scarcely linked to the characteristics of the loved one; in fact we often observe how, although these characteristics remain unaltered, couples separate and love ends. Each of us in the phase of falling in love unconsciously offers the other, but also to himself, an ideal image of himself. The partner will be more or less attracted to this image if it corresponds to his deepest needs. Each of us in the phase of falling in love unconsciously offers the other, but also himself, an ideal image of himself. The partner will be more or less attracted to this image if it corresponds to his deepest needs. Each of us in the phase of falling in love unconsciously offers the other, but also himself, an ideal image of himself. The partner will be more or less attracted to this image if it corresponds to his deepest needs.
The hidden part of this contract is the illusion, where everyone sees in the other the only possibility of realizing their needs. Malagoli M. and Togliatti et al (1999) describe the presence of two pacts / contracts: one declared, explicit, which concerns agreements such as sexuality and social norms and which makes us feel united and contains us, and one secret, implicit , submerged that represents the unaware affective-emotional constraints, related to considering the partner as the only one capable of satisfying our deepest needs and expectations, also validating a specific self-image.
This is the part that we are not aware of and that plays a hidden role in falling in love.
Even Jackson (1978) in the formation of couples believes that we often face a “Quid pro quo” that is: something for something else. What does it mean? We are talking about a relational exchange between two people where everyone wants to receive something for what he has given or believes he has given. Where quid, concerns the expectations to which we think the other must respond, while pro quo means what we expect to share with the other and the expectations with which we invest the other. For example, being in a healthy couple relationship means that the two individuals must be able to explicitly negotiate how to collaborate in a large number of tasks, such as making money, taking care of the home, children, having social relationships with the outside and sexual.
It may happen that the expectations of an individual’s family are higher than those of the individual. In this case, family requests collide with individual wishes. In this case, a compromise between family mandate and personal needs will be needed. The resolution of ties with the family of origin will therefore depend on the degree of autonomy of the individual and on his ability to rework family myths.
We are in the process of falling in love, where dopamine, the passion hormone, made us lose our mind. These 6/8 months remain etched in the memory of the couple as the most beautiful and intense ones. The end of falling in love and the beginning of the couple consist in becoming aware that the other is different from us, it will never be as we had thought and desired but above all it will not be able to cover our voids of the declared agreements.
At the first stage of illusion we could say that follows that of disappointment, where we discover that the other is different from us, who has different needs and desires. This phase is the crucial phase for the formation of the couple. If we do not give in to the idea of changing our partner, but we welcome him despite the explicit expectations and pacts have not been maintained, we could move on to the disillusionment where the other will be perceived and accepted for what he is with strengths and weaknesses, ferrying us towards the ‘love.
Love is an evolutionary process that is built day by day, characterized by greater attention to the needs of the partner and the implementation of caregiving attitudes.
In the phase of love, the emotional relationship stabilizes and other aspects begin to materialize such as intimacy, dialogue, sharing of vulnerability, mutual commitment to building a “therapeutic love”.