To codependents, love is perhaps the highest ideal. Relationships give our lives meaning and purpose. They enliven and motivate us, validate our self-esteem, and soothe our fears of loneliness. Too often a beautiful romance turns sour. What was a wonderful dream becomes a painful nightmare. Yet when the relationship turns toxic, ending it may be as hard as falling in love was easy!

Darlene-Lancer1Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency.  Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.

The Chemistry of Romance

Our brains are wired to fall in love – to feel the bliss and euphoria of romance, to enjoy pleasure, and to bond and procreate. Feel-good neuro chemicals flood the brain at each stage of lust, attraction, and attachment. Dopamine provides ecstatic feelings that can be as addictive as cocaine. Oxycontin, the “cuddle hormone,” released during orgasm, is linked to bonding and increases trust and loyalty in romantic attachments.

The Psychology of Romance – Whom We Find Attractive

Psychology plays a role, too. Our self-esteem, mental and emotional health, life experiences, and family relations all influence whom we’re attracted to. Experiences, both positive and negative, impact our choices and make someone appear more or less attractive. We’re attracted to subtle physical attributes and emotional and behavioral patterns shared with a member of our family even before they become apparent.

The Ideal Stage of Romance

Healthy idealization is normal and helps us fall in love. We admire our beloved, are willing to explore our partner’s interests, and accept his or her idiosyncrasies. We feel more alive, because love also brings out parts of our personality that were dormant. We might feel manlier or more womanly, more emphatic, generous, hopeful, and more willing to try new things.

Although, healthy idealization doesn’t blind us to serious warning signs of problems, if we’re depressed or have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to overlook signs of trouble or accept behavior that is disrespectful, dishonest. or abusive. Romance can lift our depressed mood and fuel codependency and love addiction when we seek a relationship in order to put an end to our loneliness or emptiness. When we lack support or are unhappy, we might rush into a relationship before really knowing our partner, sometimes referred to as “love on the rebound” or a “transitional relationship” following a breakup. or divorce. It’s far better to first recover from a breakup.