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Passionate Love: Like a Drug, or Mental Illness

The passion of early love! Giddy, and intense. Heart thumping in the yearning breast. Can’t eat, can’t sleep. Can think of little else.

In fact, passionate love is like a drug. Or a mental illness.

Researchers asked volunteers to look at photos of their partners. Those in passionate love responded in ways similar to drug addiction, as captured in brain imaging. Lead researcher, Helen Fisher, commented, “When I first started looking at the properties of infatuation,” she said, “they had some of the same elements of a cocaine high: sleeplessness, loss of a sense of time, absolute focus on love to the detriment of all around you.”

According to Psychology Today, a brain chemical connected to falling in love rises with infatuation, heightening euphoria and excitement.

Meanwhile, brain areas that control impulses, fear and negativity become less active. Obsession and reckless behavior increase. As Dr. Fisher put it, “Infatuation can overtake the rational parts of your brain.” Passionate love resembling mental illness.

The turbulent times are marked by ecstasy and fulfillment when love is returned; but sadness and despair when it is not.

Over time passionate love settles a bit. Not a bad thing, really, for who can function drug-addicted and mentally ill?

Something is lost, but something may also be gained as greater intimacy and commitment join passionate affection, rounding out the three pillars of love, which psychologist, Robert Sternberg has identified in his “triangular theory of love.”

Sternberg calls love that is marked only by “intimacy,” but not passion or commitment, “liking love,” or good friends.

When love consists only of “commitment,” nothing but duty keeps a couple together. He calls this “empty love.”

But when intimacy and commitment meet passion, a couple moves into “consummate love,” the best of all worlds.

Few couples continually stay in a state of consuming love. And many will go through various loving styles as feelings rise, fall, and rise again.

Perhaps the trick is going with the flow and creating ways to enliven the relationship.

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