All You Need Is Love - Blog#6 - 14 February 2019
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours! On this day when we formally celebrate love, let me take you back a bit. Imagine today is June 25th, 1967, a ridiculously quick five decades ago, in the midst of the Summer of Love, but in London, not San Francisco. You’re seated on the floor of a recording studio, and as you look around, you spot some familiar faces. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Stones no less, and OMG, there’s Eric Clapton. They have all assembled to participate in the first worldwide satellite broadcast, dubbed “Our World.” The broadcast will reach 400 million people in 24 countries around the world, though true to character, the Soviet bloc has boycotted the event to pout over Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. Elsewhere across the planet, earthlings are treated to appearances by icons such as Pablo Picasso and opera singer Maria Callas, as 14 countries contribute performances, interviews, live video footage, or other reflections of their national character. Here in London, Keith Moon, arguably the best drummer on the planet, sits idle near the drum kit of his more famous colleague, who takes his seat. His three band mates rehearse a bit while the tape is rolling, and 13 orchestral musicians enter the room and take their seats. The producer, George Martin, announces, “Here comes the tape.” The opening notes of the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise, are broadcast inconguously from English soil, and you hear “Love, love, love” coming from the Fab Four, who are framed by flowers, balloons, and friends. John Lennon begins, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,” and you quietly clear your throat, preparing. Moments later, you are singing the chorus with a roomful of allies, led by The Beatles (Lennon and McCartney, 1967): “All You Need Is Love …”
Okay, it’s idealistic. Love, like peace, is an ideal that characterizes us at our best, though hatred and war are all too common, and indifference often rules. And admittedly, in Maslow’s hierarchy, physiological and safety needs trump love and belongingness needs. But tell that to a starry-eyed lover. We all want love, and it is one of a handful of spiritual emotions (along with awe, existential joy and dread, gratitude, and humility). Spirituality celebrates both consciousness and connectedness. Love involves connecting via shared consciousness. Thus, love, at its best, can be a very spiritual experience. But what is it, and how do we find safe love?
Perhaps it’s easier if we differentiate between different types of love. Let’s start with lust, versus infatuation, versus more mature love. Pat Love (The Truth About Love, 2001) addressed various misconceptions about love. She noted that you can be sexually attracted to many people, but infatuated with only one at a time. During lust, conversation is a vehicle to get sex. But when you are infatuated, you lose time in conversations that can last for hours. The infatuation, or “falling” in love stage, is fueled by powerful brain chemicals. As Love noted (p. 30), “Under the influence of nature’s love potion, non-touchers touch, non-talkers talk, and everybody feels happy, and we haven’t even got to the erotic part yet.” Research on the various neurochemicals mediating the different components of love has been accumulating for a few decades, and more recently, brain imaging studies are providing more insight into the biological manifestations of love, infatuation, and mature love. From a more psychological perspective, Pat Love noted that love requires three ingredients, chemistry, compatibility, and commitment, though the lovers populating classic “love” stories, such as Titanic, only attain the chemistry of the infatuation stage. She reminds us that infatuation is merely the first stage of love. If we mistake it as true love, we run the risk of disillusionment when the intoxication dissipates, and we may abandon the struggles of the less heady later stages of love. Some are so convulsed by withdrawal from cerebral love potions, and their partner’s lost halo, that they forsake lasting love in favor of serial infatuation. They fall in love with falling in love. Others realize that falling in love is a precious but temporary stage, and that a more full-bodied, lasting love can be developed and maintained only by more deliberately continuing the loving behaviors that were initially fueled effortlessly by infatuation. Love becomes a daily choice, a set of behaviors, not just a feeling that you fall out of.
John Gottman and his research team have conducted the most extensive marital research on the planet in recent decades. It includes live video recording and coding of facial reactions and dialogues, and physiological recordings of couples interacting and discussing conflicts in his Seattle “Love Lab.” For years, I have recommended his Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2000) as a marital improvement primer. He also addresses the stages of love, and provides research-based gems for making relationships work. On the negative side, he cited the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” specifically criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, as particularly corrosive behaviors that progressively sabotage a marriage. He contrasted criticism, involving an attack upon a partner's personality, with complaints, which address a more specific behavior. Contempt goes a dangerous step further, and involves a poisonous expression of disgust. How you argue clearly matters. Gottman found that the “masters” of relationships (couples who eventually succeeded) showed five times as much positive emotion compared to negative emotion during conflicts, while the “disasters” (couples who later broke up or remained together unhappily) displayed a roughly even (0.8 to 1.0) ratio. My take is that it helps to remember that you are in love when you argue, instead of devolving into a view of your lover as an adversary to be defeated. Gottman and Love each encouraged us to take the challenge of finding the longing for love inside a partner’s complaints (look for their need for love and hurt feelings beneath their anger, and ask what they need). Likewise, Gottman focused on the value of win/win alternatives, in contrast to zero-sum games, and the need “attune,” in part by accumulating positive emotions. What you do in between conflicts matters. Building a positive emotional bank account allows you to give your partner the benefit of the doubt during negative moments (“positive sentiment override”). In this vein, Gottman noted the importance of responding to often subtle “bids” for attention and relatedness. These can be blatant, but are often just comments that seek conversation or validation (e,g., “What a cool car,” or “I think I’ll buy a bathing suit”). How often do you ignore such bids, or respond with a “But…,” rather than positive attention? Gottman tracked newlyweds’ conversations during dinner, and found that couples that eventually divorced turned toward each other’s bids 33% of the time, while couples that remained married did so 86% of the time!
Some of this sounds like work, and it often is, requiring manual rather than automatic pilot, especially if we haven’t developed healthy relationship habits during the course of our childhood and earlier relationships. Infatuation is far more intoxicating, and makes positive behavior flow effortlessly, but is transient. It helps to remind yourself that love is a behavior, not just a feeling. If we want lasting love, and a stable marriage as a foundation for our children’s growth, it helps to learn how to love, from any source that helps. I’ve mentioned a few herein, and others in my Chapter 17: “All You Need is Love,” in Beyond Atheism – A Secular Approach to Spiritual, Moral, and Psychological Practices.” After four years in the making, it’s finally available on Amazon. Thanks for listening, and if you would, please share your own perspectives on love in the comments section below, particularly your own secrets for maintaining and enhancing romantic love. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Gottman, John. (2015). Principia amoris. New York, NY: Routledge.
Gottman, John, & Silver, N. (2000). The seven principles for making marriage work. London, England: Orion.
Love, Patricia. (2001). The truth about love: The highs, the lows, and how you can make it last forever. New York, NY: Fireside.
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