Amanda asked “Elvis once sang, ‘I can’t help falling in love with you.’ So… is love a conscious, rational choice or is it a chemical addiction that is uncontrollable?”
Good question, and perhaps the answer depends on how you view “love.” If you conceptualize love like Brick Tamland, San Diego’s favorite weatherman, then perhaps the answer is that love is rather conscious and only requires looking at objects and declaring your love for them. In that case, I love Science of Relationships! On the other hand, if you work in the music or movie industry, your whole livelihood may rest on the assumption that love is uncontrollable, that the heart wants what the heart wants, and that ditching your glasses for a pair of contacts makes you universally desired by the opposite sex.
But what does the research say? Interestingly, the “King” was right. The romantic love we feel for someone is partially dependent on the chemicals in our brain, specifically the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.1 In fact, the intense experience of romantic love (particularly in new relationships) is neurologically similar to drug use!2 So, it is possible that Kesha (or is it Ke$ha?) is actually a budding relationships researcher when she sings “Your Love is My Drug.”
Unfortunately, this love “addiction” doesn’t usually last – romantic love fades with time.3 This is partly because you discover that your knight in shining armor turns out to be your slightly overweight husband in dirty clothes. Love also fades because the newness and novelty has worn off. Think about it – riding a roller coaster for the first time is probably a lot more exciting than riding it for the 50th time. After a while, it becomes routine. But thankfully, researchers have found that couples who engage in novel and exciting activities together (what we call “self-expanding activities,” like traveling and bungee jumping, just to name a few) tend to have happier and more satisfying relationships.4 Thus, although we may not be able to avoid falling into love, we certainly can avoid falling out of love if we try hard enough.
1Aron, A., Fisher, H. E., Strong, G., Acevedo, B., Riela, S., & Tsapelas, I. (2008). Falling in love. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of relationship initiation (pp. 315-336). New York, NY: Psychology Press.
2Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D. J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love. Journal of Neurophysiology, 94, 327-337.
3Sprecher, S., & Regan, P. C. (1998). Passionate and companionate love in courting and young married couples. Sociological Inquiry, 68, 163-185.
4Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 273-284.
Dr. Brent Mattingly – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Mattingly’s research, broadly conceptualized, focuses on the intersection of romantic relationships and the self. His specific lines of research all examine how individual-level constructs (e.g., motivation, attachment, self-regulation) are associated with various relational processes.