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What makes people fall in love and stay in love?

Updated: Aug 5, 2019


Initially, people have no idea what they are looking for in a partner. Most of the time sexual attraction is the first indicator of interest. We can get caught up in what is appealing to us based on media portrayals of attractiveness. It is easy to have a superficial relationship at the beginning.

Then as the relationship matures, partners need to understand that they will inevitably hurt each other. All couples fall into a dynamic or pattern over time. It is important to feel safe emotionally and to tune into who makes you feel good and comfortable. Can you be vulnerable with your partner? Can you safely share how you feel? Does your partner care about your feelings? Can your partner tune into you emotionally and be responsive to your feelings? Can you repair your fights? If yes, then you have a secure bond with your partner.

Emotional responsiveness is a complicated concept. It means that you can feel what your partner feels. It means tuning into their nonverbal signals, understanding how they feel and responding on that level. It is basically showing empathy for your partner’s feelings.

Lately, I have had a set of couples that aren’t emotionally responsive to one another. In fact, they have been downright hostile. When partner A tells partner B that they are uncomfortable with something that partner B is doing or saying, partner B gets defensive, reactive, and dismissive. Partner B then claims that partner A either is harsh and critical or is controlling and unaccepting. The result is a distressed relationship. Then they go around and around arguing about the issue. They are actually fighting for connection, fighting to be seen and understood.

As their couples therapist, I will dig into the block. It is likely that the softer emotions of feeling like a failure in partner A’s eyes are causing the reactivity for partner B. It is my job to understand the fears that drive the angry protest and why the couple can’t talk about the pain underneath all of the escalation.

If I am unable to discover the cause of the reactivity and if partner B won’t let me into their vulnerability, then partner A will eventually shut down and burn out. Finally partner A will get starved out due to the lack of attention.

The irony of love is that in a good relationship people feel safe and secure with their partner, but in a distressed relationship, fear is the primary driver of all behavior.


Are you tuning in and listening to your loved one with empathy? Or are you getting reactive or defensive? Pay attention: how you behave can create safety or insecurity for your partner.

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