6 Reasons Why We Love with Dr. Sue Johnson's book Love Sense
I've been doing a lot of inside reading since the April showers (and ice storms) hit. And an author that really sticks out to me is Dr. Sue Johnson: an author, clinical psychologist, researcher, professor, popular presenter and speaker and a leading innovator in the field of couple therapy and adult attachment. She sheds a lot of light on the topic of love.
Her book, Love Sense, provides scientific context on the topic, and being one of McMaster University's Integrated Science graduates, her "evidence-based insight" sparks a personal interest for her findings. Specifically, why love is an innate and needed part of our species. In my eyes, this really really reeeally puts a solid foundation on why marriage (or the fundamentals of one-on-one relationships) is so important.
She brings up how, in the past, emotions like love were not seen as rational and therefore didn't need any examination… but with the onset of technological advancements in fMRI and neurophysiology, we're seeing numerous findings for its true importance.
Biggest takeaway: Emotions like love shouldn't be ignored. It's an inborn instinct that we never let go of, that drives the proliferation of our species, the health and growth of every individual, and the progression of the human race.
If you can understand and give in to it, you can better control it, and improve quality of life.
[However, just as a preface, I do want to say that her points do leave holes for opposing arguments. I'll leave it up to you to believe as little or as much as what's said - I can only relay information. It's up to you to find your own unique happiness from both her world and yours.]
1. It's our first and foremost instinct as a human.
“The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to seek contact and comforting connection.”
So the first reason why we come to love is because it's our first and foremost instinct as a human.
We instinctually seek contact and comforting connection. It's in our DNA. You can see this in your own lives.
You probably feel the happiest when you're surrounded by the people you feel the most comfort with. The most contact and connection with. Those you can have meaningful conversations with.
Not those shallow
"hey how's that assignment going" or
"sup man, I like your shirt" type connection,
But the kind where you can comfortably release your most extreme thoughts and feelings - like a
"Hey babe, I'm really feeling down about this video project I'm putting together, am I still worth anything to people?" or "Wow, I've never felt happier about working this job!! Thank you for believing in me"
We specifically use verbal and physical communication to reach for attachment. And this is what Dr. Sue Johnson argues is an innate part of the human species.
She brings up that this innate need for contact and connection came from our human physiology. Since the female birth canal is way too narrow to allow the birth of fully-formed, big-brained babies, we come into the world as small, underdeveloped, helpless, and needy little bundles of wrinkles. For the most part, all we can do is flail our limbs and cry. We need others.
We need years of nurturing and protecting before we can, at any significant amount, care for ourselves. Obviously it would be easier for our mothers to abandon our annoying screeches - I can vaguely remember how annoying of a crybaby I was (THANK YOU MOM FOR NOT ABANDONING ME) -
…so what makes our loving mothers so loving?
The hypothesis is an automatic call-and-response system. Our brains are wired for an automatic call-and-response system that keeps the parent and child emotionally attached. It's a feedback loop between the child's visual cues or actions and the parent's actions. The behaviours that the child has (like smiling, crying, reaching for things) is a visual that our adult brains are already inclined to respond to by helping (like smiling back, picking up and feeding, and handing over toys).
So this instinctual call and response system, this human survival mechanism, works like this:
- A baby cries for something, smiles at something, reaches for something
- A parent or caregiver instinctually responds to this baby's visual cue by reacting to or helping this baby
- This baby feels comfort and trust from this caregiver, and grows to seek more needs from them
- The caregiver keeps giving in to those visual cues by continually supporting them
And every time this person gives into the visual cues of the baby's behaviour, their emotional attachment just gets deeper and deeper. And thus the circle between neediness and giving promotes the bond of love.
This child-caregiver bond sets the bar for how we treat every other relationship, and eventually our romantic ones. This needing of and caring for others is evolutionarily ingrained in us at birth to help us survive.
So bringing you back to the pint, we love because it's in our DNA to find attachment.
2. We never let go of this need for attachment.
“Adult romantic love is an attachment bond, just like the one between mother and child.”
And the second reason why we come to love is because we never let go of this natural instinct. We were born to, and will always, be inclined to look for attachment.
But what sucks is that we get hit with little cultural actions or opinions that suppress this need for closeness.
I don't know what it is, but for some reason I remember growing up under the intentions of hiding any deep attachment to things or people. Deciding to really hide any signs of attachment and kind of be "above it all".
And with this came the subconscious decision to hide any "faults" with a smile or a forced laugh. And I'm sure you felt like this too (at least to a certain degree). Hearing things like"you're such a mama's boy" or "oh you're bringing your parents?" or "Are you too scared to go out alone?" or "dude, you can't trust anyone else to do it" or the old "if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself"
We're societally programmed to be self-sufficient and on our own islands - and when it comes love and relationships, society more-or-less thinks of it as completely sexual… and not the type of attachment we had with our parents.
This is a complete misrepresentation of adult love.
Though it is mature to be self-sufficient, we can't let this govern our happiness. Again, we're evolutionarily programmed to connect with others. You might argue that romantic love is strictly for procreation, but we never truly let go of the need for love we received as kids. We just transfer this need from our childhood caregivers to the ones we can confide in as adults. This is adult love. When we call as an adult, just like when we were kids, we want to know that our loved one will be there to answer.
The biggest difference between child caregiver and adult partner is this: they don't have to physically be there.
As we mature, we grow better at visualizing mental images and controlling our thoughts. Thus we can simply think of our loved one and feel a comforting connection as if they were there (or close enough to).
Dr. Sue Johnson points out that "Israeli prisoners of war report “listening” in their narrow cells to the soothing voices of their wives. The Dalai Lama conjures up images of his mother when he wants to stay calm and centered." And I could just as easily imagine holding my girlfriend's hands if I get anxious about an upcoming video shoot.
So to recap, the second reason why we come to love is because we never let go of our need for attachment that we're instinctually born with. We were born looking for attachment, and we'll always be looking for attachment.
Which brings me to the third reason why we come to love…
3. It leads to better sex
“Hot sex doesn’t lead to secure love; rather, secure attachment leads to hot sex—and also to love that lasts. Monogamy is not a myth.”
The third reason why we come to love is because it leads to better sex. And it's kinda hard to argue not wanting this.
I also recently read The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman (which I'm sure you've heard about), and it was funny how the language of touch is something a lot of men identify with - both based on his couple counseling encounters as well as Dr. Sue Johnson's couple counseling encounters. Though not true to everyone, these two counselors find that men have a tendency to put emphasis on physical spice, and women (with magazines and popular media) feel the need to seduce with an emphasis on physical engagement. E.g. - magazine titles with "28 THINGS TO TRY IN BED…OR IN A HAMMOCK. OR THE FLOOR; and GET AN A IN GIVING HER AN O."
Go up to any Multimedia & Communications Studies major and bring up the topic of coitus and media/ads and they can go off for days, essays, installations, poems. On Spotify, there are an infinite number of playlists you could call "foreplaylists". Sidenote: really loving what Khalid has been putting out… also, Don Jon is a good movie lol
Regardless of where you're looking, you can easily see the massive amounts of energy and money subsidized on adding flavour to… your midnight snack. Or morning shake. Or evening entrée.
But this is backwards. It isn't a good bang that leads to a secure and fulfilling relationship, but secure love that leads to good (and arguably the best)… meals.
Ultimately, from an evolutionary perspective, love creates more of an inclination and greater chance of passing on our genes than does "making love" without any actual "love" attachment.
And this makes sense if you think about everything I mentioned earlier… in that:
When we feel attachment to others, we feel safe, we trust, we're hit with a cascade of chemicals that leave us in such a high euphoric state.
And mix this with sex, associate your emotional euphoria from secure attachment with the physical stimulation of sex, and everything is heightened.
It's one of the best feelings you'll ever have
But why is this prominent in monogamy?
Why don't we feel as intense a feeling with multiple people?
And the overlying argument for monogamy is this:
According to Dr. Sue Johnson, we're hard wired for it in order to survive.
I could do a whole other post and video about this, but the main argument that stood out to me was limited resources. Since we need others to help our lives and help raise the lives of our kids, the deepest shelter we feel from another's attachment is irreplaceable. IRREPLACEABLE. Think about it, as a species fighting to survive and thrive, who has the resources, time, and energy to really and deeply connect with multiple people in our deepest way?
For anyone and everyone out there in committed long term happy relationships, you can attest to this. A secure bond requires a lot of focused attention and timely, emotional responsiveness.
So to recap reason 3, we come to love, generally in monogamy, because it leads to better sex. it's only with the complete trust and security of one other irreplaceable individual that leads to the best sex (which is arguably the basis of our existence)
4. We love because it is our greatest strength to a happy, successful life.
“Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological; it is our greatest strength.”
We need to hold on to these irreplaceable people: we love because it is our greatest strength to a happy, successful life.
We need others! Again, like I was saying before, it's evolutionarily ingrained in us to depend on others for our wellbeing.
Rigorous surveys are showing that long-term committed couples are the happiest and most satisfied. When we are close and connected, we're healthier, happier, psychologically stronger, our blood pressure is lowered and our immune system is boosted.
Married patients who have coronary bypass surgery are three times more likely to be alive fifteen years later than their unmarried counterparts.
We can easily see that today's successful people are those with high enough EQs, emotional quotients to identify and associate with others. Regardless of which industry or perspective or walkway of life you're thinking about.
We need to know how to have good relationships.
We need this with:
- our coworkers to mover our companies forward,
- our clients to create the best experiences and products for them, and
- we need this with and and all people we walk with through life.
And this might seem obvious, but the sad thing is that it's often overlooked.
There are certain microaggressions that lead us to think that emotional dependency is weak:
We talk about being able to fly the nest and detach from our parents or caregivers, the first people that showed us love.
We often cringe at the idea of PDA and too much togetherness. Another micro-aggressive thought in our culture is thinking "wow, they're too dependent on each other, they need to grow up"
And that sucks! We've come to think of emotional dependency as a weakness. But this is sooo backwards.
All this does is lead us to feeling ashamed of our natural need for love, comfort, and reassurance. And supressing this is what reeally leads to weakness and depleting our mental and physical health.
And we can see this throughout history.
- 31-75% of institutionalized children pass away before the age of 3,
- Unattended orphans suffer from brain abnormalities and impaired reasoning,
- Prisoners in solitary confinement develop severe anxiety, hallucinations, depression, memory loss and a whole set of complex symptoms.
- World War II historians are finding that concentration camp survivors were not individuals, but they were pairs. Survivors had another to rely on.
And surveys are showing that married couples generally live longer.
So to recap: we come to love because emotional dependency and attachment isn't just a lifelong instinct, it doesn't just lead to better sex, but it also makes you healthier with a greater quality of life.
5. It promotes our growth into our greatest selves.
“Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.”
Now reason number 5! We come to love because it promotes our growth into our greatest selves.
In other words, and paradoxically, being dependent on another makes us more independent.
It's easier to take on the world when you know someone has your back. A secure bond is a starting point, a diving board, that leads into the pool of exploration and growth as a human being.
You can probably see this in your own lives. When you know how supporting your partner is, you feel more confident in the things you want to try, to explore, to examine.
But this is hard to do when we don't have someone to rely on. When our thoughts, our time, our energy is taken up by worrying about our own safety and the little things that we know someone else could help with.
On my end, I know that I feel a lot more optimistic and hopeful while shooting a wedding day when I'm constantly getting supportive, comforting, and reassuring texts from my girlfriend throughout the day… as opposed to relying on my worrisome self or people who don't necessarily know who I am, or enough about me.
If you can completely give in to another human, and feel accepted for who you are in this moment, you start to lose any feelings of inadequacy or incompetence. And having just that enough confidence to make that first step forward is what really leads you to becoming the best version of who you want to be.
So, again, reason 5: we love because it promotes our growth into our greatest selves.
6. It helps us progress as a greater species.
"We are not created selfish; we are designed to be empathetic. Our innate tendency is to feel with and for others.”
And reason 6 for why we love: we love because it helps us progress as a greater species.
We are empathetic.
Because we can securely connect to those we love, we can easily be in tune with and respond to the needs of any other human being. And this just better progresses the human race as a whole. If we know we can securely care for another, we can better care for the entirety of our species.
You might be able to deny or suppress our empathetic tendency, but like I mentioned before, it's hardwired in us to be caring. We're not born heartless or competitive, or strictly dedicated to our own survival at every expense of any other. Our species has evolved this far because we're caring and cooperative.
Remember that feedback loop I mentioned earlier? The one between a child and parent? It's already ingrained in us to read the faces of others and to act accordingly. To work together.
It's this emotional intelligence and responsiveness that allowed us to become this planet's most dominant animal.
We love because it helps us progress as a greater species.
And there you have it, this is why we love. Why we long for and need secure, emotional attachment and love.