Why do people fall in love? How do they grow such a strong personal affection for another human being? Why are some forms of love so lasting while others are so fleeting?

According to research, your hormones, values, interests, and past experiences all help influence who you fall for – and who in turn falls for you. Since your partner plays an important role in your long-term health, happiness, and even your self-confidence, the process of falling in love must theoretically be logical and reason-based. This proposition, however, is ideal and utopian at best; reason and common sense are typically known to be the whimsical footmen of emotions when it comes to love. 

In his book Deeper Dating, Ken Page, psychotherapist and author of the popular Psychology Today blog Finding Love, explains that there are two types of attractions that lead to love.

“Attractions of Deprivation” and “Attractions of Inspiration.”

The attraction of inspiration when we “keep feeling we have to do something to win our partner’s love, approval or care.” Attractions of deprivation are therefore what behavioral theorists refer to as “intermittent reward systems.” In these systems, you get rewarded only periodically and you have no control over if and when the reward will come. Ken Page writes that intermittent reward systems are some of “the most compelling forms of reinforcement and among the hardest to break free of.”

Attractions of deprivation iconically make us “weak in the knees, and they trigger our insecurities, as well as our longings.” Page explains that relationships based on this type of attraction are naturally riddled with upsetting and less-than-positive qualities. In these relationships, we are “desperately seeking a solid love – from someone who we know, deep down, won’t give it to us.”

The latter, on the other hand, are far more dependable and desirable. Attractions of inspiration are fueled by “the real sense of well-being that the relationship creates in us, not by the itching for something that’s denied us.”

Since recognizing these types of attractions supposedly takes time and patience, Ken Page explores some important markers: “Are you inspired by your partner’s goodness, decency, and integrity? Is your love fueled by respect for the kind of person your partner is? […] Do you like who you are in the presence of your partner? Does he or she make you a better you?”

Ken Page explains that the first step in the quest for such an admirable dynamic is to look for inspiration at least as much as we look for sexual attraction. Unlike relationships of deprivation, relationships of inspiration are potentially the catalysts of both lasting love and personal growth. Through them, “we experience our partner seeing into our very core – and valuing what is there. With this comes a sense of bravery and …[a] desire to share our gifts.” Relationships of inspiration are therefore characterized by mutual respect, affection, and trust.

Love is a basic and fundamental instinct

Recently, however, some psychologists have begun to argue that love is not a complex working of the subconscious mind, but rather a basic and fundamental instinct. Eric Berne, a Canadian-born psychotherapist, who in the middle of the 20th century, famously created the theory of transactional analysis to explain behavior, hypothesized that the best-suited partners are compatible on three different levels. Drawing somewhat on Sigmund Freud, in his best-selling book Games People Play, Berne claimed that every person has three “ego states”: 

  • The parent: What you’ve been taught 
  • The child: What you have felt 
  • The adult: What you have learned
Are you good at solving problems together?

For two people to fall in love, they must “connect along each tier” (Baer). Couples therapist Peter Pearson provided Business Insider with a few questions for determining the compatibility at each level. 

  • The parent: Do you have similar values and beliefs about the world? 
  • The child: Do you have fun together? Can you be spontaneous? Do you think your partner is attractive? Do you like to travel together? 
  • The adult: Does each person think the other is bright? Are you good at solving problems together? 

Although Berne’s theory certainly makes sense – two compatible people can naturally develop a close relationship – it seems far too simple. Berne overlooks attractions of inspiration and attractions of deprivation, both of which many people have experienced.

It is tempting to believe (perhaps because we want to believe) that emotional attachment follows reasonable rules. But just in case it doesn’t, Ken Page has one piece of interesting advice perhaps worth considering: the secret to lasting love lies in finding the relationship that makes us into just the kind of person we are looking for – one who inspires others simply by who he or she is.

Melissa is Yale Young Global Scholar 2015.

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