How to Know If You’re In Love, According To A Therapist
“You’ll just know.” This was my mother’s vague response when I asked her how to know if you’re in love with someone, and needless to say, I was less than enthused by her response. To be honest, it seemed like a cop-out. Why, I wondered, can’t anyone seem to accurately describe what being in love feels like? We’ve all heard rom-com movie characters talk about fireworks and pop stars sing about the all-consuming obsession that comes with a new romance, but is that really love? Or is it just infatuation? How can you tell whether you're just experiencing fiery passion or you’ve truly fallen for someone?
As it turns out, there are ways to know you’re in love. And no, they have nothing to do with feeling butterflies in your stomach. In fact, research has revealed some common signs of being lovestruck. For example, people reported having new interests and personality traits after entering a loving relationship, according to one 1995 study. Another study revealed that falling in love can cause you to exhibit symptoms similar to those that come with anxiety, such as sweating more (woof, I know).
Of course, if you’re thinking and talking about the person nonstop, or you're already envisioning a future with them, you may suspect you’re in love. Still, those signals don’t always indicate that it’s the real thing. After all, in the beginning, your excitement around this new relationship could cloud your ability to see whether there’s real potential for a long-term relationship. The sex is great, you have endless topics to talk about, and you haven’t discovered all of their quirks, irritating habits or “flaws” yet. So it’s pretty easy to fool yourself into thinking you’ve fallen head over heels.
Sometimes that fire fizzles out, but sometimes it grows into something pretty extraordinary. Luckily, according to Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, licensed clinical psychotherapist and founder of LoveVictory.com, there are ways to evaluate if what you're feeling is true love.
It could be true love if...
The word “safe” may not sound very sexy or romantic, but the truth is, safety is one of the most important factors to consider when trying to suss out whether you’re in love.
Many people mistake the thrill they feel early in a relationship to signal that they're in love. The lightning bolt strikes, and suddenly, you feel like you can’t get enough of that person. While hopefully, that spark will stay alive in some form, the high is bound to come down somewhat. And when that happens, if you feel safe with that person, there’s a good chance you may be in love.
“Healthy, lasting love finds its own ‘cruising gear’ where you feel fulfilled, happy, positive, and sure of your choice of partner,” says Dr. Wish. “You are actually surprised at how calm you feel. You are no longer jumping over the waves, but instead, you are wading and floating in a peaceful pool.”
Not only will you feel physically safe, but you'll also feel emotionally safe — like you can express your thoughts and feelings freely without fear. This tends to come with a confidence that no matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, you can face those challenges as a team.
“You've found your ‘wing-person’ who you can trust and rely on,” explains Dr. Wish. “Finally, you discover that you make a good problem-solving team: Your complementary styles teach each other how to improve and and you learn from each other."
Conversely, if you constantly feel on edge that this person may leave you, that you don’t know where you stand, or that you can’t be honest with them, that's the kind of uneasiness that creates distance between two people, thus standing in the way of real, lasting love.
Dr. Wish recommends asking yourself a few questions before jumping to the conclusion that you’re in love. These include:
- Does my partner understand and respect me?
- Do I feel that I have to "explain" or "defend" my choice of partner to others?
- Do I overlook signs of bad behavior just because I want to be with someone?
- Do I justify this emotional blindness by saying to myself, "No one is perfect — including me"?
Another way to tell if you’re in love, according to Dr. Wish, is if your insight into your past relationship missteps becomes suddenly very clear. “You now have the inner strength to face — and understand — why you chose and then broke up with your exes," she says.
People also tend to feel an overwhelming sense of empathy and concern when they're in love with someone. It's so powerful that you may be able to actually feel their pain and joy as if those feelings were your own. A few months into dating my current boyfriend, I distinctly remember ordering a healthy snack box delivery service to his office because I knew he'd often forget to eat on busy days, and the thought of him going hungry legitimately distressed me. If you start worrying a bit more about bae or making an effort to take care of them in any way, there's a good chance you'll have a reason to say those three little words very soon.
Or it could be mere lust if...
Real talk — however exciting your budding romance feels, it may not be love. Sometimes we mistakenly perceive signs of lust or infatuation as signs of the real thing.
So, how can you tell if that’s the case? According to Dr. Wish, “In general, you feel the extremes of feelings: on top of the world, a bit manic, and overly absorbed with your partner and relationship. You feel rescued, swept away, and saved from your current life. Or, on the other hand, you feel that you found a good-enough person — which, in your mind, is better than leading the kind of single life you've been plodding through.”
In case you weren’t aware, hormones are some seriously deceiving little suckers. When we’re attracted to someone, a whole slew of these chemicals rush in, and can seriously confuse things. As Rutgers University’s Dr. Helen E. Fisher outlined in a 1996 report, testosterone and estrogen in the brain drive the feeling of lust, which makes sense when you consider that these hormones play a big role in reproduction (and thus are associated with lust, which is purely physical). Meanwhile, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are responsible for feelings of attraction in that second stage of falling for someone. Dopamine is released when anything feels good, including having sex or spending quality time with a crush, making you feel giddy or downright euphoric. Serotonin is another mood-boosting major player, which can actually affect your appetite, and norepinephrine can impact your sleep and appetite, or trigger that feeling that your heart is racing. It's important to remember that these physiological responses are merely signs of attraction, and not necessarily love. Oxytocin (aka “the cuddle hormone”) and vasopressin (which is linked to monogamy) are the two hormones that contribute to “attachment,” a phase that can form the foundation of real love.
True love is pretty difficult to define because every person and situation is unique. Regardless of the relationship, though, there are signs to look out for that can suggest it's the real thing. Spoiler alert: It’s usually hard to tell if you’re actually in love with someone after a few weeks. However, once the veil of intrigue has faded a bit and you’ve had your first couple of misunderstandings or arguments, if you still feel attracted to your partner, that’s a good sign. In other words, the anxiety and stress has subsided, but the passion remains. On top of that, you’ll ideally feel emotionally safe, calm, and ready to face anything with them.
Real love means letting your guard down and not only accepting your partner for who they are, but feeling accepted yourself. When all else fails, you can heed my mother’s wisdom: you’ll just know.
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