You rarely hear that a relationship ends due to a lack of love. People speak of diminished satisfaction, a lack of communication, broken promises, an inability to commit or the lack of desire to do so. However, although there are cases, I rarely hear of people saying they have fallen out of love. There are those who were never in love to begin with or relationships where love did not have a chance to fully blossom. But time and time again, a disenchanted lover will profess that although they still feel love for you, the relationship cannot go on (or vice versa).
But how can that be? How can the same feeling that brought you together against all odds fail to sustain your union? Why do we no longer feel compelled to make the same compromises or sacrifices?
Is it a change of heart or a change of goals?
Many people see love as a FEELING. I agree that love is an amalgamation of many feelings, and it certainly incites particularly strong ones when it is threatened. However, the concept of LOVE is a motivational construct. This is not a novel idea. It was proposed by Helen Fisher (an anthropologist at Rutgers University) and scientific research of the brain has shown that several brain areas are active when we experience love. Some of these brain areas are responsible for GOAL ORIENTED behavior. I certainly prescribe to this description.
Even as long ago as the 1950′s, Eric Fromm (a German humanistic philosopher/psychologist) stated that love is an “act of will” in his book The Art of Loving. Fromm posited that it is this active commitment that makes the marriage of two individuals continue in liu of diminished passion or changing circumstances. Of course, not everyone honors their commitments. Certainly, in our modern world where most people are programmed with what Fromm describes as the “Marketing Orientation” – or the mentality that focuses on packaging, advertising, and selling yourself – we are prone to view love as a TRANSACTION and marriage as a contract like any other, one which can be voided if violated.
Perhaps many would argue that we cannot control when and whom we love, but the act of love need not be an act of will of which we are aware. When I speak of changing goals in the dissolution of a relationship I am referring to both conscious and subconscious desires and motivations. I think women in particular are constantly evaluating their mates to decide whether they will become sufficient and stable providers for their offspring (commitment, ambition, perseverance, intelligence, loyalty) and will increase the quality of the woman’s lifestyle and those of her children (status, power, wealth, resources). Men, on the other hand, are programmed to evaluate the fertility of a woman and her ability to give birth to healthy children that will carry on the man’s genes and resources (youth and physical attractiveness). These are, of course, only the most basic points of value for both men and women.
Depending on the individuals’ background and upbringing, other factors may drive the ultimate decision to stay or leave a partner. Some men will also evaluate whether the woman will be an emotional pillar in times of stress (understanding and emotionally stable); it may be important the woman can cook and clean and be a nurturer in times of physical need such as ailment…basically the traditional notions of a good mother and wife. Women may look for a man who has a sense of humor (often associated with intelligence and perceptiveness), someone who is honest and responsive, considerate, thoughtful, sensitive, social, and other qualities which will help create the embodiment of what that woman may consider to be a good lifestyle.
I believe the basic points of value are important in the initial attraction and passion that results when two people fall in love. Throughout the relationship, both men and women are evaluating their partner (whether they know it or not) and deciding whether they will result in the satisfaction of their long term goals and desires; they are also constantly re-evaluating their current levels of satisfaction based on these assessments.
This theory certainly worked against me a couple of times when my lack of affinity for cooking and cleaning rendered me a less valuable future partner. Something most of my partners disregarded in the beginning (I made no attempt to hide it) became relevant only as time went by and my partners began to evaluate what I can bring into the relationship. This is very in line with the modernist social contract. The “what have you done for ME lately” that Eddie Murphy joked about in his stand up.
So when a person says that they “love you but are not happy in the relationship”, it may seem confusing. If love is a feeling then how can someone feel love (a good thing) and unhappiness (a bad thing) at the same time? This contradiction can be resolved if we view love in terms of goal oriented behavior, one that has many different feelings at different times and is accompanied by different behaviors. It is the goal of wanting a particular woman to bear a man’s child that may drive a man to want to marry her and ensure that they will raise these children together. It is the realization that a particular man may not be a persevering enough in the little things that may make a woman feel that he may not be persevering enough in the big things which can make a woman decide that this man is not for her.
In conclusion, it is not the change of the feeling that makes us want to end the union, but the change of goals for that particular union.