by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |
The last central emotional issue between men and women we’ll take up is the most precious in personal life, love. Love is not included among the nine inborn emotions because it arises from several of them that interact in various cycles. In today’s young culture under the widespread fear of divorce, many people don’t dare call it “love.” They just confess that they “have feelings.“ This is closer to the truth since it reflects both the awareness that there are more than a few feelings involved and the confusion most people have when they try to explain them. Of the inborn emotions the closest one to love is joy, and joy comes more naturally to women and children than to men. And there are significant differences between women and men in other emotions as well as joy, from which some of the greatest difficulties in relationships arise. We will begin exploring this area in the next two blogs.
But before we begin, let us first repeat a central position of the Love and Power Institute: Whether we are aware of them or not, emotions drive and color our perceptions, thoughts and actions. For many aspects of our lives operating habitually according to our emotions can be quite sufficient and more economical than becoming aware of what we’re feeling and pondering it. But when we need to revise how we’re thinking and acting as driven by our emotions, and especially when we want to expand our repertoire for managing our emotions, we need to slow down our emotional habits so we can observe our feelings in action. Then we can shine the spotlight of emotional interest on them and apply some uncommon psychological understanding to them. Thus, if we want to become more skillful in handling many typical scenes in love relations, we need to begin by becoming more conscious of what is happening in our stream of feelings. Now we’ll sketch a map of some central emotions in love.
A male college student in my Psychology of Relationships class years ago revealed a difference he had discovered by reviewing the string of romantic encounters he had enjoyed in his 21 years: “All those hot and exciting relationships I’ve had, with good times and good sex—they all blew away with the wind. But the ones with troubles and pain as well as pleasure, they’ve lasted much longer. They gave me more love and heartache; they were more meaningful and memorable.” Thus it’s not enough to assume that love is a mixture of excitement and joy. At the very least we need to include two negative emotions in the description: separation distress—a suffering that can become sorrow if relationship troubles last long enough—and hurt—the shame feelingthat occurs very often as an “ordinary pain” whenever the compatible relations of interest-excitement (including sex) and pleasure-enjoyment are interrupted or blocked. Thus the actual life experiences that generate and maintain love come in alternating cycles between excitement and joy when relations are harmonious and hurt (a subset of shame) when disharmony occurs, and also distress for as long as the disharmony lasts. In fact romantic love, as well as some other types of love when they’re intensified, is understandable as an addiction that occurs because the intensity of excitement and joy in romantic love is so great that interruptions are bound to trigger some hurt and distress. In fact, for all of us who have felt the excitement and pleasure of love very intensely, the mere coming-to-an-end of these extended love moments stirs up some tinges of dismay that may alternate with diminishing waves of remembered bliss as the twilight of contentment is supplanted by the reality of separation. This gently rocking cradle of our joy and torment teaches us to yearn for harmony with such fervor that our passions are heightened and further cherished. Thus romantic love–and some parental love and deep friendship as well–is a positive addiction that can stabilize intimate relationships for many years or a lifetime. And it’s also a source of long-lasting pain that is tolerated nevertheless because the return of blissful harmony is so fulfilling and so memorable.