By David Jones
Jack and Jane sit on separate sides of the couch. Cold indifference on one side, anger and irritability on the other. As a final step before an impending divorce, they now sit in my therapy office as strangers who fell out of love. The aftermath of a once vibrant romance. But how did it all begin?
Let’s go back in time quite a few years to when this couple first laid eyes on each other. He starts down the hallway, bragging to his friends. She is walking in the opposite direction, head down, carrying her books. Their paths cross as he ungraciously bumps into her, scattering her books on the floor. He kneels down to help, and catches a glimpse of her alluring figure. As she bashfully looks up, she is taken back by his commanding presence and piercing eyes. It all started with a look. Or a gaze really. She sees him, and he sees her. It’s a rush of heat, an inexplicable change in the rhythm of the heart, which gives the sense that their feet have left the ground. They even breathe differently. They begin to believe that, at last, life has found its meaning, or has lost it.
Jane ponders, as if from a romance novel, if the perfect warmth of the sun on the skin and its luminosity in the eyes had a taste, surely this could be it—has she found her prince?
As Jack asks her name his ears seem to ring, drowning out every other sound. His skin seems to warm and tingle, causing him to become weak and oblivious, not to mention clumsy. Their thoughts rush with an inexplicable stillness that almost creates the sense that they are losing their minds. They are in love. And they shall live, happily ever after. At least that’s how the movies go.
They begin to believe that, at last, life has found its meaning, or has lost it.
How it works
This experience is not exclusive to Jack and Jane. Disney, Hollywood, advertisers, and even the adult entertainment industry all seem to have tapped into this vital human experience: love ands connection.
On a biological level, there are three components at work when we “fall in love”:
- Serotonin: a hormone that makes us feel satisfied when there’s an abundance, and obsessed when there’s a deficiency. Immediately after a falling in love encounter, serotonin levels drop, creating the need to have more and more of the other person. This neurotransmitter is also linked to over eating and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (see Baumgarten, Grozdanovic, 1998)
- Oxytocin: our ‘cuddle’ hormone that makes us feel safe and secure when we are bonded/attached to our object of affection (Johnson, 2013).
- Norepinephrine and dopamine: these are both neurotransmitters responsible for rewarding any efforts to pursue a mate, and for generating high motivation, excitement, and restlessness. Dopamine is a known pleasure chemical that stimulates a ‘high’ or an adrenaline rush. It can also, however, result in heightened anxiety, and hyper arousal similar to cocaine or amphetamines (Fisher, 2005 as cited in Popova, 2015).
When someone falls in love, all of these are at an all-time high, screaming out what the Bible has told us from the beginning: “It is not good for [humans] to be alone (Genesis 2:18).” We need an “other.” Growing up in this culture, in this age, with this desire for love and connection isn’t weakening, it’s strengthening. Research shows us that there is a connection between limited appropriate physical affection, and early experience with sexual activity (Field, 2003). As youth, we are more likely to seek out physically intimate relationships prematurely if we have inadequate meaningful family bonds and social bonds (Field, 2003). This includes bonding through physical touch. The less physical affection at home, the more overwhelming the need to seek it elsewhere.
Disney, Hollywood, advertisers, and even the adult entertainment industry all seem to have tapped into the vital human experience of love.
In fact according to Field (2003) appropriate physical touch is essential in childhood. The caresses that a baby receives from its parent, or the gentle rub that a child receives on the back from mom or dad after a hard day impacts his brain and physical development, including his ability to make social and moral decisions. Our skin turns out to be a social organ (Linden, 2015). Touch is tied to emotions. Emotions are tied to moral reasoning. Moral reasoning is imperative in relationships. Children who are touched more often are less likely to be aggressive, impulsive, or otherwise troubled (Field, 2003, and Johnson, 2013).
Further still, appropriate touch can boost immunity, decrease recovery time from illness, reduce depression and anxiety, and boost overall psychological and physical wellbeing (Massage Therapy Abstracts, 2010-2014). But what happens when this is lost? A lot actually. As we all know, life is hardly perfect, and many families are anything but happily ever after. Statistically neglectful or abusive homes in early childhood have been found to be a common precursor to dysfunctional marriages and broken families. In the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study, people who had childhood experiences ranging from physical abuse and neglect, to marital conflict and divorce had a surprising number of side effects later in life, including: increased incidents of cancer, heart attack, shortened lifespan, increased promiscuity, dysfunctional relationships, and premarital sex (Gilbert, Breiding, Merrick, Parks, Thompson, Dhingra, Ford, 2010; Felitti, Anda, Nordenberg, Williamson, Spitz, Edwards, Koss, Marks, 1998; Felitti, 2009).
Follow your heart
Given these experiences, we are more likely to crave loving connections. Sadly though this framework sets us at a disadvantage for finding them. Instead, we are more vulnerable to deception (Johnson, 2013). This powerful need for love and connection is the reason romantic stories and films, and sexually provocative commercials and media, will never go away until Jesus returns. The need is too strong, and the ability to profit off of this basic human need is too alluring for marketers to pass up. This doesn’t mean that every book and film is put out there with malicious intent, but it does raise some questions: have we been sold a bill of goods about what real love is? Have we been deceived about how to meet this need, or how we solve this fundamental problem (loneliness, emptiness, dissatisfaction)? Remember, Satan is the ultimate marketer/salesman (see Ezekiel 28:12-19).
Disney and other fairytale versions of love stories present fantasies of happily ever after. These stories center around inexplicably romantic infatuations, even though the majority of relationships we engage in aren’t romantic (e.g. family). You will note that many plots focus exclusively on intimate and marital relations as though this is the solution for the loneliness/emptiness problem we all face—as though this all encompassing relationship will fulfill our every need. How often does a story end with someone reconciling with their parents? Or culminate with the girl finally finding real friendships? Or with the lead actor/actress finding God? These all do occur at times, but they are hardly the focus.
The plots run something like this when targeted toward a young female audience: “I shouldn’t love him but I do. After all, he is a frog, a vampire, a lama, or an actual beast. But I can see the good in him, and I can bring it out of him if I am just nice enough, pleasing enough, attractive enough, giving enough, generous enough, open enough, loving enough, etc. Then I can transform him and make him love me, make him appreciate me, and we can live happily ever after.”
The male alternative is hardly better, whether portrayed in action films or the widespread phenomenon of pornography. The plot (if there really is one) runs something like this: “She is perfect, and I want her. I can have her if I can rescue her. If I am strong enough, charming enough, take charge enough, clever enough, convincing enough, imposing enough, commanding enough, demanding enough, then she will enjoy pleasing me all the time, and we will live happily ever after.”
When Disney’s Jane married action movie Jack, their relationship was on fire, with passion, and a blur of touches and kisses. But this ended up in a loss of interest on his side, and an anxious irritable nagging on her side. She says that he is cold and distant. He says that she is critical and demands the impossible. She is hurt by his unwillingness to “love her the right way”, and he is unsatisfied with her inability to “keep him interested and excited”. All the while the real problem is that their knowledge of one another and of themselves is inadequate. They neither know exactly what is needed from them, nor what the other person is actually capable of providing. The most difficult part of this ‘aftermath’ is that the person you fall in love with (especially your first love) remains a part of you. While it’s not at all impossible to heal, it is impossible to walk away without scars. Why? Because if the relationship progresses to a deep, emotional intimacy, and/or a sexual relationship, the two have become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Someone once gave me a wonderful illustration about this: having a sexual encounter and breaking up is like thoroughly gluing two pieces of paper together, one on top of the other, and then later attempting to tear them apart. You can try this, but neither of them are getting away without some damage.
But this is not the end for Jack or Jane. Time may be lost, scars may be left behind, but like natural scars, they don’t necessarily have to result in serious losses of function. They do have a cost, but if we bring them to God, He can heal us. He can work a benefit from disappointment, though this is not an endorsement of falling into future sinful relationships of course (see Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28, Romans 5:20, Romans 6:1-2).
Perhaps Jack and Jane reconcile by remembering what they truly love about one another, by revisiting expectations, by healing past wounds and family relationships, by getting to know one another all over again, and decide to remain married after all. Perhaps they move on. In either case, it’s not the end.
The realization that we love God because He first loved us fills the void in our hearts like no one else can do.
There are three key points when it comes to the solution.
- Don’t awaken love before it’s ready (see Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, and 8:4). How do we know when we are ready for sex and marriage? If we look flatly at biology, then the most sensible answer is when we are ready to have and raise children in a healthy environment. While people may disagree about the details of sexuality and the expression thereof, most understand that being a parent is a responsibility that takes more than physical maturity. Biologically this requirement makes sense because sex is, at least in part, the fulfillment of the call to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
If we look more deeply at the Biblical understanding of sex and marriage, in order to be ready one must“know the other. This has implications that are very difficult to summarize and do justice. Both my experience as a therapist and a human being have taught me the Biblical principle found in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see through a glass (literally in a mirror), darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” A principle conveyed here is that we see others about as clearly as we see ourselves. My experience has taught me that people who know themselves well are more capable of truly knowing others.Further, because we should know ourselves, it is important to recognize that our most drastic changes occur during our formative years (approximately 0-23). The direct link between brain and personality development is obvious as we aren’t quite the same people we were as young children. Those who continue to develop over their life span will look back and realize how much they have changed since high school. Additionally, we know that the brain doesn’t finish developing until we are at least part way through our twenties (between 25-30 years old). Interestingly, the Scriptures are full of this, which is why priests could not serve until they were 25, and those who were called children in Israel were nineteen and under (see Numbers 8:24, and Numbers 14:29). While it is true that there are some that mature early in life, it should be fairly clear that waiting until we are at least of legal marrying age or later is best.Getting to know another takes time. Luckily, when there is that initial attraction/infatuation, this makes the process enjoyable! We actually, really enjoy learning about the other person, and taking our time is critical, so we can determine if what we learn about the other person is a deal breaker. Like a new diet, we should both enjoy how it tastes and how we feel after (and perhaps even how we look). Remember, marriage is founded not on feeling alone, but on knowing. The other solutions that follow are related.
- We must love God first and foremost (Deuteronomy 6:5). In Genesis we learn that the first person that both Adam and Eve got to know was God. Adam was made first and spoke with God before Eve was created. Eve was created while Adam slept and was later brought to him by God. They had a relationship with God before they had a relationship with one another. This order makes even more sense when we realize that the process of getting to know God teaches us a lot about ourselves. Note this verse in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Through reading His word we realize how much He loves us, and we begin to love Him in return. 1 John 4:19 says: “We love him, because He first loved us.” This realization fills the void in our heart as no person can do. Therefore, getting to know God leads to loving Him, and ultimately having more peace in and with ourselves.
- We are to love one another. In the general sense, people who have difficulty loving others in a non-romantic context (e.g. family) tend to have difficulty doing so in intimate relationships. The love we are to have for one another is to be reciprocal (“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:31).). In fact, Paul encourages us to “owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Romans 13:8). Paul indicates that we are always indebted to show love to each other. In a healthy relationship, each person is to constantly try show how much they love the other person. There is no quota to fulfill.
- Lastly, love is to be lawful. “(…) For he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). The Bible is clear that true love is lawful. This makes sense. If you are in a relationship or marriage with someone, there are always conditions (God calls His conditions laws). For instance, most people expect fidelity (no cheating), to be treated with love and respect (e.g. show kindness and do no harm), and to only have sexual relations with consent. Every relationship has rules, because people have feelings. We expect to be generally happy and loved, and that requires conditions by definition, because we all have preferences, likes, and dislikes. So does God.Scripture summarizes the connection between the law and love in these two verses: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” 1 John 5:2, 3).
If you have found yourself in Jack and Jane’s situation, in either a lonely longing for someone to love, or an initial infatuation, I pray that this brief overview of relationships in the light of entertainment, biological and emotional needs, and God’s Word may be a blessing to you.
- David Jones, MA, LMFT, NCC is a clinician in private practice, and is the Clinical Director in a local community-based division of a nationwide behavioral health cooperation in Northern Nevada. David is most importantly a lay minister.
- Baumgarten HG, Grozdanovic Z. (1998). Role of serotonin in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Br J Psychiatry Suppl. 1998;(35):13-20.
- Felitti, V. (2009). Adverse childhood experiences and adult health. Acad Pediatr. 2009;9:131-132.
- Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. Am J Prev Med. 1998;14:245–258.
- Field, T. M. (2003). Touch. Cambridge, Mass: MIT.
- Fisher, H. (2005). Why we love: the nature and chemistry of romantic love. New York, NY: H. Holt. (as cited in Popova, M. (2015, September 17). This Is Your Brain on Love. Retrieved May 29, 2017, from https://www.brainpickings.org/2010/06/11/your-brain-on-love/)
- Gilbert LK, Breiding MJ, Merrick MT, Parks SE, Thompson WW, Dhingra SS, Ford DC (2010). Childhood adversity and adult chronic disease: An update from ten states and the District of Columbia, 2010. Am J Prev Med. 2015;48(3):345-9.
- Johnson, SM. (2013). Love sense: the revolutionary new science of romantic relationships. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
- Linden, DJ. (2015). Touch: the science of hand, heart, and mind. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
- Touch Research Institute: Research Abstracts: MASSAGE THERAPY ABSTRACTS (2010-2014). (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2017, from https://www6.miami.edu/touch-research/Massage%20Abstracts%20New.html