When I ponder my nearly half century of clinical behavioral health practice and observation of the human condition, I am especially amused by occurrences of the absurd, the ironic, and the counter-intuitive.
Included in this panoply of people-watching is the belief held by some couples that their incredible sympatico, infused with loving feeling, is cosmic confirmation that they should be together in life. Other couples not experiencing such an intense meld might be envious, wondering if they are with the right person or if their real soul mate is still somewhere out there.
Love is not enough
Fortunately, there have been several best-selling books addressing the concept that “love is not enough.”
Feeling in-love is a necessary condition for most humans wanting a mate, but it is almost never sufficient to guarantee relationship success. And hot love can hijack critical thinking capacity and rational thought processes, obscuring serious partner deficiencies including severe neuroses, character disorders and even sociopathy.
Yet many unhappy partners still feeling in-love (often with the past), linger in dysfunctional, if not abusive, relationships.
Falling in love
What an apt description for the inflamed feelings of infatuation (“I’ve never felt this way before!”) and accompanying suspension of reason and disbelief (“I was born to be with you!”).
Falling: the loss of control, a random state creating vulnerability likely resulting in personal harm or injury. By golly, we’ve just discovered the ideal state that mature adult humans should aspire to–falling in love! And so good for the economy, especially the music, legal and counseling industries!
But seriously, what’s the alternative?
Growing in love
Oh crap, this doesn’t sound very romantic or exciting. Why have only a dopamine drip when you can have an overdose?
Exercising temperance and reason in a patient process of exploring and revealing in order to build an enduring connection sounds like work—not fun!
Rational romance would seriously cripple the divorce rate and supporting professions, but just might bolster family stability and emotional well-being. And growing-in-love also involves self-knowledge, awareness and growth. We might say it is more about becoming the right person than finding the right person, if that makes sense to you.
This is a fascinating subset of Falling In Love.
Some soul mates may have little or no relationship experience. For some others, the perfect storm of a “mid-life crisis” will create a special opportunity—and temptation—to throw caution to the wind and exit one’s character to pursue the siren beckoning bliss-well-deserved. Perhaps a long-awaited escape from a lifetime of dutiful devotion to the bland and the mundane. Perhaps fearing the loss of youth and yearning to be desired. Perhaps experiencing the incredible renaissance of passion and libido.
Soul mates may finish each other’s sentences, like the same music and food, have both missed their proms, or been given herpes. And, of course, their sex is fantastic and they feel oh so happy (aka high).
But for how long?
Life mates, who may also be soul mates, have important compatibilities—in the positive—including temperament, important values, emotional maturity, self-control, loyalty, respect and responsibility. In the negative, however, some life mates may have mental health, medical and/or financial vulnerabilities that keep them from otherwise exiting their long term relationships.
The feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine can make guys gooney and gals gullible as they gorge themselves on novelty and excitement. Stoking the high in anticipation of new highs can make soul mates oblivious to signs that there might be trouble in paradise.
Psychology reminds us of confirmation bias and REBT of selective abstraction, which both mean that humans can easily fall prey to only looking at evidence that supports our beliefs while ignoring disconfirming data.
The soul mate syndrome can stack the deck in favor of all that’s right with the new, hot relationship, while ignoring the red flags and warning signs that the wild ride is heading for a crash.
Soul mates or cell mates?
So how can new soul mates tell they won’t turn into cell mates down the road? Afterall, especially in midlife scenarios involving children, assets and reputation, there may be much at stake and a lot to lose.
Answer: They can’t!
But what they can do is exercise that enemy of infatuation: self-discipline. This means controlling the ride, tapping the brakes, going slow. No blowing through yellow lights and stop signs. Growing in love takes a while and can be inconvenient. Falling in love is so much quicker!
Brake the fall
Whether soul mates or not, falling-in-love can be tempered and managed to some extent.
Merely keeping awareness of the difference between growing and falling in love is helpful. So, too, is keeping the nearly universal truth in mind that new relationship entrants tend to put their best foot forward, so what they see now isn’t necessarily what they will get later.
Another reality check is to keep in mind that what is attractive about the new partner may be in such striking and wonderful contrast to what was disliked about prior partners that one is blind to the yet undetected relational IED’s lying ahead.
Rational romance dance
Growing in love is an intimate dance where both partners take turns leading and neither is afraid to step on the other’s toes.
It’s the process of exploring reactions, triggers and vulnerabilities, with each partner teaching the other how they want to be loved. What feels like love and what doesn’t. Taking expressive risks by disclosing feelings of discomfort, hurt, and disrespect is necessary to grow in love. Doing so may trigger negative reactions or positive responses that serve as crystal balls for things to come.
Time will tell
How trite—how true.
Warning signs that can ultimately threaten relationship stability and satisfaction usually emerge within the first few years. It can take that long for both soul mates and non-soul mates to trust that what they see is likely to be what they’ll get down the road. At the end of a three-year lease, with the new car smell gone and some stains and scratches registering their journey, partners can better decide whether or not to buy the car.
Soul mates, initially excited on the test drive, may be happy after three years to return the car.