Couples with long-term commitments often say that love is an ongoing choice. You decide every day how and if you cultivate love in your relationship.
You can experience great love in many ways – romantic, platonic, amicable – but it is rarely a force out of your control. At some point, love is a choice – and a lot of work!
Love is a choice and a decision because your actions determine whether it lives on or ends. You are in control of how you act in your relationships and how much you push past conflicts and challenges.
When you decide to work on communication, trust, intimacy or emotional security, you choose love.
What about hormones? If love is driven in part by biology, it may seem like something you have no control over and will continue indefinitely.
But while hormones can drag you along in the early days of love, Elizabeth Earnshaw, a Philadelphia licensed marriage and family therapist, explains that lasting love requires conscious decision-making.
Hormones can make you feel sexually attracted to your partner, for example, but that’s different from love.
“As your relationship grows, your hormones will no longer be the driver of the feelings,” she says. “This means that you have to be the driver of the feelings. You do this by actively choosing to be a loving partner.”
It can feel easy to find love at first — your hormones are leading the way. Building love, which involves emotional intimacy, can take effort and action.
If you feel that you love your partner despite the lack of loving gestures and actions from them, you may be dealing with an anxious attachment style or a personality disorder.
Love is a biological cascade of hormones and feedback pathways in your brain, but it is also a deep psychological connection and bond that creates a sense of comfort, intimacy and trust.
There are several theories about attachment styles and the stages of love. Not all of these are a choice, but some may be.
Some experts focus on three biologically defined phases of love, while others believe there are seven or more emotion-based phases.
Biologically, the framework for love was established in the 1990s by Dr. Helen Fisher, who along with a team of researchers from Rutgers University mapped the stages of love for unique hormone processes in the brain.
- lust: The phase ruled by the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. This stage promotes the need for sexual satisfaction and reproduction.
- Attraction: Like the lust phase in purposefulness, attraction is determined by the dominant role of dopamine and norepinephrine, which contribute to feelings of elation, energy and euphoria.
- Appendix: Ruled by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, this phase encourages emotional bonding in long-term relationships.
Not all types of love include all three stages in Fisher’s model. For example, companionship or friendship usually does not involve lust.
The emotional phases of love are usually less easy to define because love is a unique experience for everyone.
One of the most popular theories encompasses four stages of love, including the first “honeymoon” stage that people associate with “falling in love.”
“Euphoria and obsession characterize this stage, and thankfully it doesn’t last or we wouldn’t be able to get our job done,” says Marlena Del Hierro, a graduate counselor from Winston Salem, North Carolina, of the honeymoon stage.
After the honeymoon, or infatuation, comes:
- early attachment: You are now aware of your partner’s quirks, but you are still learning about each other, enjoying new experiences, and building memories.
- crisis and tension: During this phase, the relationship is severely tested by a crisis, major life change, or personal growth that can lead to drifting apart.
- deep attachment: Relationships that have endured difficult times successfully engage in deep attachment and a sense of understanding, acceptance, and respect, as well as emotional security.
It’s okay if you don’t know how to choose love at first. There are simple strategies that you can apply right away to show that love is a choice – your choice.
1. Finding Ways to Show Gratitude
“The strongest tip for actively choosing love is to choose to look at the gratitude in a relationship,” says Del Hierro.
She recommends asking yourself, “What has my loved one done that helped me today?”
Even small things, like making coffee, deserve a “thank you” or a hug, kiss or reciprocal act. This could also be something as simple as washing your mug so your partner doesn’t have to.
Sometimes, just acknowledge the other person and say, “See you. Thank you!” is enough.
2. Show affection
Del Hierro also recommends finding ways to express affection. Hugging, kissing and touching are obvious things, but they are not easy for everyone.
However, affection doesn’t have to be just physical. It can also be shown by thoughtfulness.
For example, it can be an expression of affection to leave out your partner’s favorite blanket on a cold day or to clean the car before work in the winter.
You go out of your way to do something nice for your partner because you choose them.
3. Show appreciation for who your partner is
Loving the person, not the action, can be an important aspect of love. This means that you love your partner for who they are, not for what they do for you or what they are offering you right now.
You can show appreciation for who your partner is by simply complimenting or affirming what makes them special. For example, if you notice that they have a great work ethic, you can tell them.
4. Taking care of yourself
Earnshaw points out that taking care of yourself is also a way to actively choose love.
By taking care of yourself, you can show that you want to be the best version of yourself for yourself and your partner.
Eating right, exercising, and focusing on health can be ways to show that you’re looking forward to growing old together.
Because love is a choice, doing things that go against the principles of love can damage your relationship.
These love-damaging actions and attitudes can include things that challenge attraction, deep connection, trust, or respect.
Here are some signs that love is not a choice for you or your partner:
- ignore or reject your partner’s needs and concerns
- not communicating
- emotionally abandon your partner
- taking your partner for granted
- be critical and judgmental
- keep secrets
- revealing things your partner has entrusted to you
- forcing someone to change the way they are to satisfy your preferences
- belittle your partner in private or in front of others
- show no more affection
Falling in love can be a hormone-driven whirlwind of excitement and happiness, but lasting love is a choice made by everyday actions.
This doesn’t mean that love has to be an exhausting sprint, but it does mean that you have to consciously decide on actions that constantly build and protect intimacy, trust, and affection.
Small gestures of appreciation and consideration go a long way to building unbreakable bonds.