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The Phases of Love

While it is recognized that there is a phenomenon of “love at first sight.” Generally love develops over time, and most agree that there are generally recognized phases of love, so it’s worthwhile to examine these in greater detail.

Dr. Person explains that the first step in the process of love occurs when an individual begins to fall in love and his thoughts and fantasies drift involuntarily toward the object of his love, followed shortly thereafter by repetitive, even obsessive, thinking about the other. This preoccupation is most often experienced as a “high,” one in which the lover feels swept up in powerful emotions and a consuming interest in the other. Fits and starts of desire are often followed by feelings of doubt about the other’s loyalty and their mutual interest in pursuing the same path. Vacillation between these two states continues until the lovers either pledge loyalty to each other or one of them gives up the pursuit.

This phase can be described as a “campaign” of sorts, waged with flowers, dinners, letters (or emails), cards, and a variety of other special kindnesses, as the pursuer attempts to convince the object of affection to join the quest for mutual love. Experts and laypeople alike agree that this stage usually involves idealization of the object of love to the point where they value every physical and emotional characteristic of the other. Person suggests that idealization does not mean that love is blind, only that the lover’s appraisal of the other diverges from that of “objective” acquaintances because the lover imbues his object with traits beyond the obvious. While the beloved may not be the most beautiful, her face is more interesting and it reveals her soul; others may be smarter, but he is more sensitive; others might be more successful, but she is more charitable; and so on. Person explains that the reason loving feels so good is because it is so creative in this way.

In the book, Can Love Last? psychoanalytic theorist Stephen Mitchell discusses Sigmund Freud’s view of idealization, called “overvaluation,” a mindset where we attribute an illusory value to how we see another person. For Mitchell, this only means that the object of your desire is no ordinary person but rather someone special and unique. It becomes the stuff of infatuation, a kind of magical spell that transform the mundane into something transcendent. Mitchell deems idealization, itself central to romantic love, the source of both its magic and its fragility, because ideals can so easily be tarnished. In other words, idealization is childlike behavior laced with fantasy, which can fade when familiarity and a more realistic view of the other, “warts and all,” settle in. The idealization that fuels romantic love cannot be maintained indefinitely and begins to fade once we see the other person for who they are. Traditional psychoanalytic theory takes a dim view of this romantic stage of love because it is regressive and childlike. In Mitchell’s view, Fisher also describes “crystallization,” a process distinct from idealization, in which the infatuated person recognizes the weaknesses in the other but simply ignores them or convinces themselves that the weaknesses are unique or charming!

Once reality intervenes, the lover can begin to see the other person objectively. We can then hope that this infatuation stage will be transformed into one that instead displays a more sober “liking” of the other.

This post is an excerpt from The Essential Rules of Love: A Practical Guide to Creating a Harmonious, Healthy, and Happy Relationship.

“This is a book born of tears and laughter. There is certainly no shortage of authors who have tackled this subject but few have overturned as many rocks along the way and unearthed such a wealth of insights in the process. Those of us who have managed to spend time with Mr. Russotti will attest to his resolve.”
- William Parker, LCSW
“We get education for our careers but we rarely ever get education for our relationships. Phil’s The Essential Rules of Love is a book that I WISH I had before I was married and divorced.”
- Theadora Vosse, Single or Divorced Relationship Podcaster
“The book was purchased as a gift for Valentine's Day, but instead of giving it away, I gave it to myself.”
- Emily C.
“This is, as it must be, primarily a love story. One told with striking depth of feeling.”
- Paul D.