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Navigating the Journey of Love: From Idealization to Intimacy

Most people aspire to fall in love, particularly those who are codependent. For us, love represents the highest ideal, and relationships bring meaning and purpose to our lives. They invigorate and motivate us. A partner offers companionship and helps us take initiative when we struggle on our own. Being loved enhances our self-esteem, alleviates shame-based doubts about our worthiness, and soothes our fear of loneliness. However, a beautiful romance can often turn sour, transforming a wonderful dream into a painful nightmare. The ideal partner can become a disappointment. The unconscious mind is powerful, and logic doesn’t always prevent us from falling in love or make it easier to leave when we need to. Even in toxic relationships, ending things can be as difficult as falling in love was easy.

**The Chemistry of Romance and Falling in Love**

Our brains are wired to fall in love—to experience the bliss and euphoria of romance, enjoy pleasure, and bond with others. Feel-good neurochemicals flood the brain during each stage of lust, attraction, and attachment. Dopamine, in particular, provides a natural high and ecstatic feelings that can be as addictive as cocaine. Deeper feelings are enhanced by oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone," released during orgasm, which is directly linked to bonding and increases trust and loyalty in romantic attachments.

**The Psychology of Romantic Love: Whom We Find Attractive**

Psychology also plays a significant role in whom we find attractive. Our self-esteem, mental and emotional health, life experiences, and family relationships all influence our attractions. Positive and negative experiences shape our choices, making someone appear more or less attractive. For instance, we might be drawn to someone with similar traits or repelled by someone who exhibits behaviors that remind us of past betrayals. Subtle physical attributes that resemble family members can attract us unconsciously, and we can be drawn to those who share emotional and behavioral patterns with family members even before these traits become evident.

**The Ideal Stage of Romance**

Love often blinds us, and healthy idealization helps us fall in love. We admire our partner, explore their interests, and accept their quirks. Love also brings out dormant aspects of our personality, making us feel more alive. Early in dating, we are usually more honest than later on when fear of a breakup might cause us to hide our true selves.

However, healthy idealization shouldn't blind us to serious issues. When we’re depressed or have low self-esteem, we are more likely to idealize a prospective partner and overlook signs of trouble, such as unreliability or addiction, or tolerate disrespectful or abusive behavior. The neurochemicals of romance can lift our mood and fuel codependency and love addiction, especially when we seek a relationship to fill a void of loneliness or emptiness. Without a strong support system, we might rush into a relationship and become attached quickly before truly knowing our partner, often referred to as “love on the rebound” or a “transitional relationship” following a breakup or divorce. It's better to recover from a breakup first.

**The Ordeal Stage of Romance**

After the initial ideal stage, typically around six months, we enter the ordeal stage where we start noticing things about our partner that displease us. Traits we initially found endearing might become annoying. For example, a warm and friendly partner might start to feel neglectful at social gatherings, or a bold and decisive person might seem rude and close-minded. As the initial high wears off, both partners revert to their ordinary personalities, leading to unmet needs and complaints.

Two damaging behaviors often emerge at this stage. First, we hold back our feelings, wants, and needs out of fear of losing our partner, which creates walls to intimacy. This can lead to withdrawal and resentment, expressed through sarcasm or passive aggression. Second, we try to change our partner to match our initial idealized image of them, feeling cheated and disillusioned when they don't meet our expectations. This can make our partner feel controlled and resentful, causing them to pull away.

In some cases, we might discover serious issues such as addiction, mental illness, or abusive behavior, which require significant commitment and often years of therapy to address. Many codependents, who quickly get involved for reasons mentioned earlier, may sacrifice their own happiness and stay in the relationship for years, trying to change and fix their partner. Dysfunctional family dynamics from childhood often repeat in these relationships. Healing the past and overcoming shame and low self-esteem are essential for change and feeling entitled to love and appreciation.

**Getting to the Real Deal**

Continuing a relationship with addiction, abuse, or other serious problems might not be advisable. (Refer to *Codependency for Dummies* for a list of both minimal and optimal ingredients for successful relationships.) Without major obstacles, moving past the ordeal stage to the real deal requires self-esteem, courage, acceptance, and assertiveness. It involves honestly communicating our needs and wants, sharing feelings, compromising, and resolving conflicts. Instead of trying to change our partner, we should focus on accepting them (without tolerating abuse). This struggle for intimacy requires a commitment from both partners to get through the ordeal stage with mutual respect and a desire to make the relationship work.

**Steps You Can Take for Lasting Love**

1. **Know yourself:** Understand your needs, wants, and limits.

2. **Take time to get to know your partner:** Learn who they truly are and how you both handle conflict.

3. **Be aware of the bonding effects of sex:** Remember that oxytocin released during sex increases bonding.

4. **Be honest from the start:** Don’t hide your true self, including your needs and dislikes.

5. **Discuss expectations:** Talk openly about what you want in a relationship. If your partner doesn’t want the same things, it’s better to end it early.

6. **Build self-esteem:** Research shows relationship outcomes are predictable based on partners’ self-esteem. Healthy self-worth is essential for a healthy relationship and helps you receive love and reject abuse.

7. **Set boundaries:** Learn to be assertive in expressing your feelings, needs, and wants, and establish clear boundaries to maintain intimacy and respect in the relationship.


Need Help Developing A Plan For Self-Care

Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White
Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:

Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC

Art Wellness Studio and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balance lifestyle.

Best Regards

Dr. Nikki LeToya White


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