Written By Paoula Saoud, Clinical Psychologist at The Valens Clinic.
“What is love to you?’’ How many times have you been asked this question?
It is difficult to define love, as it is a subjective experience for each individual. Psychology defines love as a complex emotion involving feelings of affection, tenderness, devotion, and sensitivity to the wellbeing of another person.
Love is an emotion that has captivated the minds of poets, philosophers, and scientists since the early times. The idea that ‘’love lasts 3 years’’ gained its popularity with the release of Frederic Beigbeder’s novel ‘’Love lasts 3 years’’ in 1997. Ever since, this has become a subject of discussion and debate trying to understand the concept of love, its phases and what contributes to short-term and long-term love relationships.
The honeymoon phase:
At the onset of a romantic relationship, individuals often experience a state of euphoria. During this stage, from a biological perspective, dopamine and oxytocin flood the brain leading to an intense feeling of attraction and attachment. This phase is often referred to as “falling in love’’, a period that many of my clients described it as a ‘’high feeling’’, this is the phase that everybody talks about, all the movies and all the romance novels. Just seeing your loved one can make your heart race, your legs weak and your face flushed. A lot of my clients look back on this phase and say that they didn’t love the person for who they were but who they wanted them to be. Therefore, this stage can create an illusion of eternal love blurring the vision of the future beyond this euphoric state.
Reality and compatibility:
As time passes, the initial idealization of a partner gives way to clearer understanding of their true nature. During this time, couples my face challenges in reconciling differences, leading to conflicts and reassessments of their relationship. Many of my clients break up at this stage and many clients have expressed to me feeling of confusion about the abrupt or sudden change in their relationship thinking ‘’how can I be so blind’’. Every couple goes through that stage! As you can imagine, many people realize that they have made ‘’a mistake’’ and decide to end their relationship at this stage, while others, who feel that they made the right choice, try to understand their partner for who they really are and decide to navigate these challenges through effective communication and compromise.
Humans are remarkably adaptable creatures. They use all their power to adapt when a change occurs. Therefore, in relationships, and over time, the mind becomes accustomed to the presence of a partner resulting in habituation to their behaviours and expressions of affection. Therefore, the element of novelty and excitement tends to fade away leading to a decrease in emotions and its intensity leaving the person to think that ‘’love is only temporary’’.
Romantic relationships, like any other relationship are dynamic and subject to emotional fluctuations. Therefore, periods of intense connection may be followed by moments of emotional distance and disinterest. It is crucial to recognize that emotional cycles are part of the relationship and they do not necessarily indicate the end of love.
Change in priorities and personal growth:
As individuals evolve and grow, their priorities and values may shift. What was once paramount in a relationship may become less important over time. I see many of my clients seeking to achieve personal goals and self-fulfilment, which is great, but in many cases, it can lead to diverting the attention away from the partnership leading to feelings of disconnection.
True love and long-lasting relationships:
True love is mature love. This one is not only based on lust, passion, desire, excitement, and sex but on finding a trustworthy partner in life. This stage ensures a deep bond between two people. For couple who have the desire to continue after the ‘’3 years-ish’’, they discover a different kind of love, a love that Berscheid and Hatfield referred to as ‘’companionate’’, a love where people tend to experience trust, respect and caring toward the person.
So does love last 3 years?
Relationships are ever-evolving journeys that require investment trust, understating, empathy and care. While passion might end in few months or few years, a true long-lasting love may be born.