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Love ... and Substitutes for Love
Making Love Last Martyn Carruthers

Online Life Coaching for Better Relationships

Few topics fascinate people more than love. We think about it,
we talk about it, we hope for it, we fantasize about it,
and we may feel that our lives are incomplete without it.

Most of us know how it feels to love ... and to be loved. We may not know how and why we fall in love or how and why we fall out of love.

Were you taught that romance is magical? Were you taught that falling in love was an important effortless step to a happy life? Were you taught that partnership is easy ... if you love each other enough? Do you still believe these myths?

Falling in love can be profoundly wonderful;
while falling out of love can bring profound suffering.

A Brief Psychobiology of Love

People's brains change when they are in love - in similar ways to some mental illnesses or illicit drugs. Falling in love can be very addictive, and falling out of love is often associated with withdrawal symptoms!

Scientists often focus on what can be easily measured, and rarely appreciate other
important aspects of human existence such as personality, beliefs and values.
Kosjenka Muk, MA, Soulwork Trainer

Falling in love seems to have three main phases, each associated with hormones and neurotransmitters.

  1. Lust is driven by estrogen and testosterone (affecting both men and women).
  2. Attraction is associated with dopamine and serotonin. People in love may feel obsessed. They may eat less, sleep less and day-dream about their partner.
  3. Attachment supports a lasting commitment and helps bond lovers together. This is associated with vasopressin and oxytocin.

There's convincing evidence that oxytocin is involved in mediating stability, pair bonding
and monogamy; the enduring parts of love
Dr. Hans Zingg, McGill University.

Most people experience a surge of oxytocin bonding during extended touch, for example during sex or massage, and a surge of dopamine during arousing activities. Both trigger feelings of love and romance.

As love can be addictive (probably to forms of amphetamine-like adrenaline), falling in love can have symptoms like substance abuse, and falling out of love can have serious mental health repercussions, similar to symptoms of withdrawal from addictive drugs.

Emotional Emptiness

If children do not feel loved and connected in childhood, they can split-off their needy hunger, to survive disappointment and stay sane. But they can become aggressive, passive-aggressive or passive victims as adults. Some adults confuse need with love.

Emotional emptiness (dissociation) is not love - nor even a desire for love. People who try to fill their lonely voids are unlikely to seek healthy relationships. They are more likely to fixate on or obsess about codependent or symbiotic relationships. Their split-off childish selves (inner child) may seek some sort of parental love.

We find that homosexual and bisexual fantasies often appear to be linked with same-sex parental entanglements.

Choosing a Partner

People select potential partners both consciously and unconsciously, and some people say that they cannot override their strong motivations. Depending on your history, you may feel particularly attracted to ...

  • people with authority
  • people who appear rich
  • people who resemble a media figure
  • people who act like a parent, sibling or past love

True Love

You may have believed your first infatuation was true love because you had never before experienced such emotional intensity. You will probably remember this experience for the rest of your life ... and compare future experiences to it. (And you may be irritated by people who dismissed it as puppy-love).

To fall in love with someone else, you may compare that person to your (often immature) first-love experience. If your feelings match your criteria, you may again decide that you are in love.

You may feel that a person is a true love because you remember your feelings with that person and your memories of that person as one thing ... but they are two things. (And you may later discover that you loved your feelings more than the other person.)

We help people learn from disappointments ... as steps to healthy partnership.

Love and Happiness

I often define happiness as a profound experience of well-being and fulfillment that survives and even grows during hard times. Many people feel emotionally whole when they care about the happiness of other people; and when those other people care about their happiness. When someone supports their happiness and life purpose, they may feel connected to that person and included in that person's life.

Yet love, as I was taught to understand it, is often a cover or an excuse for unhealthy behavior. When I coach people in unhappy partnerships, I often ask, "Why do you want to stay together?" Often the first answer I hear is "because we love each other".

You asked us, "Why do you want to stay together?" I said lots of stupid things at first but the real answer was fear ... fear of being alone, fear of a cold bed, fear of a worse relationship and so on. Canada

To enjoy a healthier intimate partnership, you can first examine your beliefs about romantic love. If your beliefs about romance are based on fairy tales, popular songs and movies from your childhood, then you are likely to be disappointed in your intimate relationships - again and again.

Conditional Love

Children notice that if they are obedient and cooperative, their parents smile and touch them gently and speak kindly. Parents communicate their love for their children by their behavior.

Real children sometimes fight, make noise, get bad grades and make a mess. Do parents still smile and speak gentle, kind words? Just as people communicate that we are loved, the absence of those behaviors can communicate a lack of love. Children learn: I am only loved if I do certain things.

Substitutes for Love

People who feel unloved often try to fill their emptiness with distractions and substitutes - money, sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, video games and chocolate are common.

Like other addictions, the pleasure of praise, power, fun, money and sex become increasingly brief. People work harder to get the desired effect, and eventually become exhausted and frustrated. They still feel disconnected.

I did everything I could. I praised him, I pleasured him and I tried to give him everything
he asked for. I just wanted the same treatment. I wanted us both to feel good.
But we just got more and more irritated with each other until we broke up.

Often, falling in love is jus an exchange of substitutes. Many people start relationships based on what they hope to receive and expect to give. This marketplace attitude may be great for affairs, but seems to be a poor foundation for partnership.

Rebuilding Failed Relationships

When troubled couples ask us for crisis coaching, they are often confused, wondering how they changed from soul mates to combatants.

At first we made each other very happy but later we both felt that each other had
somehow failed, and we both blamed each other for withholding love ... our
marriage became a stupid battle of, "Who failed first?"

Relationships based on substitutes will likely fail - no matter how wonderfully the couple felt in the beginning. Later, when the effects of substitutes wear off, as all lies do, such people are often left clinging to broken dreams and spreading damaging beliefs.

Relationship problems can be solved
with mature partnership skills.

Online Life Coaching for Loving Relationships

I thought you were just another therapist - but you were not just. Not even. Not only.

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright Martyn Carruthers 2004-2018
All rights reserved.

If you like our work, please link to us. If you know someone who might benefit,
please mention or

For online help, email us at:

Soulwork systemic coaching in America & Hawaii


Soulwork systemic coaching in England, Wales & Scotland

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Soulwork systemic coaching in Poland



Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
Do you want team success? Team leaders and their teams develop together
Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email