Love is one of the greatest experiences of the human condition. But it's also a lot of work, and society makes that work tougher than it needs to be.
If you feel guilty when you're not attracted to your partner during every waking moment of your life, it's because society's narratives about love are often flat-out wrong.
From the time we're infants all through adult life, we're made to believe myths that make everything difficult.
Society places impossible standards on us about love and relationships. It's no wonder we struggle when things don't work out the way we wish they would.
Both you and I instinctively know that many of the narratives behind relationships are wrong.
Sadly, we just don't live in a Disney “happily ever after” world.
But there is good news: We can learn better ways of relating to people to create more happiness and meaningful relationships.
To do this, let's explore the most common myths society teaches us that make us feel guilty when, really, we shouldn't.
Butterflies in your stomach.
The first myth is you should feel butterflies in your stomach every time you look at your partner for the rest of your life.
We can recognize this is a myth by understanding the true nature of love. And the best place to start is with the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, who described three forms of love: philia, agape and eros.
Philia is often translated as “brotherly love.” These are the emotions you feel and the relationships you have with family and close friends.
There's no spark attracted; it's the affectionate emotions that underlie a deep, stable bond. This is the feeling of friendship that develops out of a long-term romantic relationship.
Agape is a spiritual form of love. It's less important to our current discussion because it's usually discussed in a religious context, rather than long-term intimate relationships.
But it's worth noting because it's often been described as the highest level of love, such as by CS Lewis in his book "The Four Loves."
There's no reason to feel guilty attraction is fading, as eros always fades.
Finally, we have eros. When most people use the word attraction, they're referring to eros, but a better way to describe it is lust.
Think of the fiery passion between Romeo and Juliet. Eros feels like a high, and for good reason: it releases dopamine in the brain.
In fact, it usually lasts less than one year — a “honeymoon” period. What's undeniable here is there's no reason to feel guilty attraction is fading, as eros always fades.
I only have eyes for you.
Society also tells you once you commit to a partner, you should only be attracted to them and your eyes should never wander for the rest of your life.
That just isn't the case. It's completely natural and normal to be attracted to other people, but it's wired into our psychology because competitive mating strategies are more successful in the propagation of our species.
Feeling fleeting moments of attraction for people who aren't our partners also provides us the benefit of always striving to be our best in a relationship, if for no other reason than out of fear our partner will leave us if we start slacking off.
Evolutionary psychologist Christopher Ryan recommends considering monogamy the way you think of being a vegetarian: It's a choice you make, and even if you've chosen to be vegetarian, that doesn't stop bacon from smelling delicious.
Monogamy is like vegetarianism: It's a choice you make, but that doesn't stop bacon from smelling good.
Arguing is a sign of dysfunction.
John Gottman is the foremost researcher on relationships. He's famous for the Love Lab, a research lab that systematically observes couples in a natural environment.
Couples will stay in the lab, which is set up like a home or hotel. Everything is filmed like a reality TV show, and researchers monitor and code all of their behavior.
From this research, he's developed an impressive skillset: His team can predict whether or not a married couple will divorce from just three minutes of conversation, with 96 percent accuracy.
One of the counterintuitive findings from his research that contradicts society's narrative is that arguing is a sign of a bad relationship.
You may feel guilty for arguing with your partner, or feel it's a sign of your attraction fading, but how you argue is what's important, not the fact that you argue.
How you argue is what's important, not the fact that you argue.
In Gottman's book, "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," he describes “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse,” aka four signs a relationship is doomed.
These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Criticism is when someone attacks their partner as a person, rather than expressing a complaint about a specific behavior.
Contempt is a lack of respect for a partner as a human being. This includes insults, name-calling, demeaning sarcasm, mockery and eye-rolling.
Defensiveness is blaming someone else for issues in a relationship rather than taking responsibility and trying to solve the problems at hand.
In any relationship there are actually three entities: you, your partner and the relationship. Defensiveness hurts all three.
In any relationship there are actually three entities: you, your partner and the relationship.
Stonewalling is when you actively disengage from your partner. Tuning them out doesn't just remove you from the conversation, it removes them emotionally from the relationship.
These Four Horseman are what really show that a relationship is in trouble, as we know from the Love Lab's 96 percent accuracy. It's not the fact that you argue, yet again proving another societal narrative wrong.
Understand that it's totally normal to not feel attracted to your partner 24/7. You've been fed some BS stories by Hollywood and Hallmark to sell movie tickets and cards.
I want to reiterate that a relationship is a completely separate entity. You and your SO both need to work on it regularly to make it thrive.
If you're not feeling particularly attracted to your partner in a given moment, just stop and think about what life would be like if they died tomorrow. It might put things in perspective.
Unfortunately, we often fail to value what we have until it's gone.