Why Falling in Love is Like Psychosis
Falling in love is one of the greatest and most ecstatic experiences a human being can have. Yet, in most instances, it’s also a form of psychosis. As a psychotherapist that focuses on couple’s counseling, I get to see the highs and lows of this experience on a regular basis. By exploring falling in love in more detail, I hope to help people avoid the bad decisions that can result from this dangerous brain “drug.”
The dictionary defines “psychosis” as: “a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.” That may sound like a harsh way of describing an amazing experience, yet I think it holds up. When two people fall in love, their thoughts and emotions often are “so impaired” that they do lose touch with what others would say is “reality.”
In some relationship circles, they have a name for this “love psychosis.” It’s called NRE or New Relationship Energy. People familiar with NRE know it will wear off in time, and they don’t make major decisions while in its grip. They enjoy the fantastic sex and endorphin rush, but are not surprised when the “honeymoon” starts to fade.
Perhaps you’ve seen this form of psychosis in your friends. A good friend excitedly tells you they’ve just met “the one.” You finally meet their new love interest, and you’re flabbergasted. The person who was described as “absolutely amazing,” hits you as barely mediocre.
What has happened? Your friend is overdosing on brain drugs such as oxytocin and various endorphins. When they look at their new love interest, they see an exciting artist who can do no wrong. When you look at their new friend, you see someone without a job, goals, or communication skills. The explanation is simple: your friend is having a psychotic break called falling in love.
I’m all for the “falling in love experience.” It’s what much of poetry, art, and songs are all about. However, there is a definite downside. When a person thinks their new romantic partner is better than they really are, they often make very bad decisions. I’ve seen new couples do really stupid things like decide on living together or getting married in the first couple months of courtship. I’ve seen the lovestruck decide to have a child together — even when they barely know each other. This form of psychosis may help to inspire great art and create more babies, but it can also lead to people being trapped with undesirable partners.
I remember when I fell in love with a woman a few years back. The endorphins were so intense that I could barely speak when around her. To me, she seemed like a perfect human being — a true angel — as well as a supermodel. As I showed pictures of her to my friends, I expected them to gasp at her sheer beauty, I was amazed when they were nonplussed. Only after a tumultuous six-month courtship and breakup did I see that she was not a supermodel. My “angel” was a very flawed human being — just like me. What a letdown.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to counsel couples experiencing the “high” of “love psychosis.” I only get to talk to them when they feel that Mr. or Ms. Right have suddenly turned into a very wrong choice. Actually, their partner hasn’t turned into another person; they’ve just begun showing their real self to their lover.
As couples feel safer with each other, their shadow side emerges. Expect it. In fact, it’s a sign the relationship is deepening. If you can navigate this new terrain, then you can have a true relationship based on who the two of you truly are. In fact, you can even look forward to discovering if the two of you can work out the issues that arise in any relationship.
For people who are surprised when the honeymoon turns dark, it often signals the end of the relationship. Yet, it shouldn’t. If your new friend suddenly seems less attractive, less kind, and more annoying than before, congratulations! Your psychotic episode is fading. Now you get an opportunity to practice your relationship skills, look at your own issues, and perhaps form a bond based on actual reality, caring, love, and compassion.
How do you know if you’re a victim of love psychosis? If you just met someone and you think they’re really great, bet on it. Most human beings are not great. Most people are selfish, flawed, and poor at communicating — even if things look different to you. If you want to know the truth about a person, ask their previous partners what they’re really like. If your new love interest won’t let you even talk to their previous partners, then that’s a red flag. You can pretty well know there’s plenty of trouble ahead.
Once again, I am not down on falling in love. If you’re currently experiencing love psychosis, enjoy it. It’s one of life’s greatest gifts. But while on your brain drugs, don’t assume that what you’re seeing about your partner is accurate in any way. Wait a year or more to see what they’re really like. Then, based on what you see and experience after that time, you’ll be in a better position to make long term decisions. It’s always best to make major decisions about who to love while sane and sober.