The Difference Between Love and Limerence

A Therapist Explains

In 1979, before we knew about "the love drug," psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term "limerence" to describe the chemical reactions that happen in the brain when we fall head over heels for someone — "crazy in love," so to speak. Regardless of whether the person is a good match for us, the overwhelming download of chemicals into the brain can overpower sanity.

We find ourselves justifying relationships that are unrequited, toxic, or just lacking in fulfillment of basic needs. Over the next four decades of research, Tennov joined poets, playwrights, and pop songs in the conversation about the madness of love.

Here's what being
love-crazy looks like:
  1. Obsessive thinking about the limerent (that's the object of affection/fixation), which can become intrusive to daily functioning.
  2. Irrationally positive evaluations of their attributes and denial of red flags (e.g., "She is a serial murderer, but that's OK. My love will overcome that.")
  3. Longing for reciprocation, and when it doesn't happen, fantasizing about it until it becomes reality in your mind.
  4. Feelings of ecstasy in the presence of the loved one, even if they are barely aware of you.
  5. Deep, wild mood swings, from delight to agony and back again.
  6. Total anguish when the relationship ends: not ordinary grief, which accompanies the termination of all relationships, but the feeling that you actually cannot go on living without the person.
  7. Unsettling shyness in the limerent object's presence.
  8. Extreme exaggeration of any response from the limerent to be interpreted as "a sign" your feelings are requited regardless of actual evidence.
Irrational love — love based on "just a feeling" — can wreak havoc in the lives of people who are otherwise sane and functional. Unfortunately, our culture often promotes these unhealthy behaviors, with songs that are so popular people sing along without really hearing the lyrics.

For example, when Percy Sledge recorded the popular "When a Man Loves a Woman," I wonder how many people actually considered the words he was singing. Here are just a few of the things he refers to:

Can't keep his mind on "nothing else," can't see it, if she's bad, would spend his last dime, would turn his back on his best friend, and would sleep out in the rain.

What about "Every Breath You Take" by The Police? The refrain actually says, "I'll be watching you" — every move, every word, every night because, after all, "you belong to me." That's not what healthy, reciprocal love sounds like to me.

Thus, we understand that limerence can refer to an obsessive relationship in which one will behave in ways that might be harmful to him or herself for love's sake (in Sledge's case) or observe and analyze the limerent relentlessly and unwelcomely (much like stalking) as with The Police's protagonist.

Here's some advice to consider if you think you might be under the influence of limerence:

Remember that the strength of your obsessive feelings does not relate to how deeply in love you are. It simply relates to the strength of your limerence.

If you have a pattern of falling in love with the fantasy of a person rather than the reality, you're probably suffering from this state of mind.
  1. Keep an honest journal of all of your relationship events — including the disappointing and painful ones, which will give you something with which to challenge your fantasies.
  2. If the majority of your friends and family see red flags in your partner that you don't, it could be a sign that what you think is love is actually limerence.
  3. Make an objective list of the qualities of a partner who would always be able to support you, even when you don't give him/her what he/she wants, and holds strength in living his/her own life. Do not include feelings. Do not try to make your list match the personality of someone you want to be in a relationship with. Make the list independently of other influences. Then, when you meet new potential partners, you can check your list to see if this person actually has the qualities you know you need in a partner.
  4. If your feelings of unrequited love are affecting your daily life and normal functioning, consider speaking with a counselor.
Dorothy Tennov once said, "Limerence is a distinct state that creates that 'feeling of being in love' — that state which Hollywood loves to portray as 'love' ... but limerence is really as far from the genuine article as a zircon is from a true diamond."

A zircon love affair is doomed to break your heart. You are worthy of a diamond.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

The Single Most Destructive Factor In Your Relationship

And How To Face It Head On

"When we are not able to speak authentically, our relationships spiral downward, as does our sense of integrity and self-regard."

―Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection

Relationships: Linda Carroll

When we feel disenchanted with being in love (which most people experience), it’s easy to think that we’re the only ones struggling with such troubles. We tend to compare how we feel about our relationship (on the inside) with how other couples appear (on the outside). What’s ironic is that they too may be feeling unhappy about their marriage, though they act as if everything is fine. They may even be looking at us and secretly wishing that they had the relationship we have.

Given my work with hundreds of couples and my own marriage, which is my greatest teacher of all, I believe that a number of predictable troubles befall most long-term partnerships. As hopeless as they may feel in the moment, there are ways you can learn to overcome them and to move from surviving to thriving. Here are a few of those common struggles and strategies for getting past them.

Lumpy carpet syndrome:
Conflict is part of every relationship, yet many couples believe that strong differences of opinion means that their marriage is troubled, and because none of us wants a troubled marriage, we deny these differences by pretending that we agree, even when we don’t. What we get is something called "lumpy carpet syndrome," whereby we sweep the tensions that accompany our unspoken conflicts under the rug.

After a while, the carpet becomes so lumpy that we have to watch our step as we search for the few remaining smooth spots. It becomes increasingly difficult to cross the rug toward each other.

When we finally do face up to our differences, we may let loose with whatever we think and feel, and this is rarely an effective way to de-lump a carpet. Successful conflict management tends to seem counterintuitive, as it means listening to the uncomfortable things that our partner says about us.

It also means stretching to understand our part in the conflict and speaking in a manner that rationally communicates our feelings to our partner. It may even mean apologizing and finding ways to rebuild trust or to change our behavior. These skills take considerable courage, patience, self-awareness, and practice; yet all of us can — and must — learn how to restore openness and to reconnect.

How to deal:
It is essential to learn how to listen to and to talk about our partners’ grievances. We need to stop pushing matters under the rug and to deal with hurt or conflict right away or discard it as inconsequential. In healthy relationships, there are no lumps in the rug; instead, we need to stay in the moment. This means that instead of keeping a black book of resentments, we try to manage the situations that cause them when they happen.

According to Dr. Patricia Love — writer, speaker, and therapist — relationships run in a cycle, which it is essential to understand and to manage. Stuffing difficulties under the rug plays no part in this cycle. The cycle is as follows: Connection–Rupture–Protest–Repair–Reconnection.

We begin with a connection, and then, in all relationships, there is a rupture. This can be a big problem or something small, such as hurting your partner’s feelings unintentionally. The important thing is that it happens without intention; like falling in love, it is outside our control. It’s what we do next that determines the future of the relationship.

The person with the hurt feelings needs to find a way to 1) protest if it is significant or 2) truly let it go if it’s not. Sweeping it under the rug will not go well for either partner. Protesting skillfully doesn’t come naturally, nor does listening non-defensively. This is where our willingness to learn these skills comes into play. If we protest, and we understand the art of apologizing and forgiving, we can move forward to reconnection; if we don’t understand this art, we tend to sweep the issue under the rug, where it shows up as a grudge, a damaging blowup, or a quiet resentment that eats away at our love.

Rules to live (and love and fight) by:
One of life’s foremost myths is that the success of our relationship and our happiness is determined by what our partner says and does. The most valuable lesson you learn from releasing this myth is that all relationship change begins with you. Once you shift your focus from your partner to yourself, you gain enormous power to affect both your relationship and your own well-being.

The second point that I want to make is that many of the difficulties — both small and large — that we face when the rug has turned into a minefield will only be resolved when we apply courage and skill. Remember, long-term relationships have many seasons, some cold, others foggy or stormy, and this fact can help us to understand that, when difficulties arise, there is not always something wrong with our relationship; these seasons are normal, and now we have a map to help us traverse our lump-free rug.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

5 Factors to Evaluate Before Choosing a Life Partner

On my book tour for
Love Cycles, three of the most common questions I was asked were these: "How do I know this person is right for me?" "How can I tell if they will make a good life partner?" "What is the most important thing I can ask them?"

Linda Carroll's Blog
None of these questions has a simple answer. When we're under love's spell, most of us are willing to do anything, say anything, and be anything. Anyone who has watched Oprah can give the right answers; it's how we live that holds the key to really knowing us. The way we feel when we fall in love doesn't necessarily mean that we are with the right person. This is why we call it "falling" in love. It doesn't mean that we are compatible — only that we are human and have body chemistry.

It's better to look for clues using the logical part of our brain to determine whether the other person has the right "stuff" to make a suitable long-term partner than to feel our way to this decision. Our course, what we feel is essential, and someone may be a great fit with all the important qualities that we are looking for, but if our body doesn't react to them — no attraction, no chemistry, no "wow" — it's just as important information on which to base our decision. We need both heart and head to decide.

Here are five clues that will help you find out whether or not someone has the qualities to go the distance:

1. Family history
Here we're concerned with how connected a potential partner is to their family members and the quality of these relationships. I look for two red flags when I'm talking with a client about their family history. One is when they indicate that everything is or was terrible; the other is when they say that everything is or was perfect. Try to determine how much they are able to accept, forgive, and have family members' backs.

Look for how much they blame or make trouble for others. A good sign of balance is, for example, the following description of a family member: "Well, my dad's an interesting guy. He's so loving and generous. He had a hard struggle with depression. He's a glass-half-empty sort of guy, yet he tries hard to be more upbeat. The problem is he's very reluctant to seek help and kind of stuck in his ways. But, growing up, I remember how, most of all, he always loved and supported me. Although he didn't often show up for my activities, I always knew that it wasn't because he didn't care." This is balanced; he tells it like it is.

2. Past relationships
It is important to discover what kinds of friendships someone has had or currently have. The best sign is that they still keep a few of their oldest friends. See if they've been able to take some responsibility for their failed relationships. Do they speaking of past lovers in derogatory terms, such as "She's a total narcissist" or "What a borderline he is"? Occasionally, it might be true, but most of us look pretty unappealing to the other at the end of a relationship, and it's not usually the whole truth. Ask whether your potential partner tries to be fair-minded.

3. Handling anger
This involves your observing rather than asking. Watch how they behave when they don't get their own way, are disappointed, or feel angry. In life, we have to manage not getting our own way as well as hurt and disappointment. How people act with others under these circumstances says a lot about how they will one day act with you.

4. Generosity
Since this is considered the No. 1 key to a good relationship (according to a long-term study at the University of Virginia), watching how generous your potential partner is in their treatment and discussion of others is extremely important. When we are love-struck, we are all generous and loving, but you need to look for indications of how generous someone will be when the love potion wears off.

5. A full life
Determine whether they have meaning in their life that doesn't relate to you — interests, passions, a history of expanding themselves. Do they have big dreams or a history of making those dreams come true? Paradoxically, the key to intimacy is the ability to be separate. Until you know yourself and feel whole and clear in what you want for your life, you'll never be able to be the best partner you can be. It's counterintuitive, but we really only get the most intimacy out of a relationship when we have done the most work on ourselves.

The Interview
Imagine there are two parts to an "interview" with a potential partner (like with a job applicant). In part one, trust your heart, the chemistry, and your intuition.

If only things were so simple. This is clearly not enough. I bet 99 percent of you have felt that someone was "the one," only to be shocked and disappointed when, later in the relationship, you find out a whole lot of things that you totally missed. In part two of the interview, look at their abilities, their references, their experience, and all the other objective data that points to whether they are a good fit.

We have two parts to our brain, both of which are essential to use in the interview. The "feeling" part is an important indicator, but the part where rational and reasonable decisions are made must be an equal partner.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

5 Signs You're An Emotionally Intelligent Person

Linda: Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”) is the King of all intelligence, reflecting the strength of our connection to other people, in public or in private, at work or in love. This kind of intelligence helps us to deal with “difficult people” successfully, to use humor appropriately (even to laugh at ourselves), and to respond in a compassionate and skilled way to people when they’re upset.

The root of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, sometimes called mindfulness, which takes us deep beneath the surface of our identities as “doers” and the roles we play. When Socrates advised “know thyself,” he didn’t mean it in terms of what we do for a living, either, or how we want others to see us. To know thyself includes being aware of your core longings and values, as well as your wounds and the ways you protect yourself.

To know yourself also means to acknowledge that in some ways you don’t know yourself — there is always more to discover. True self-knowledge involves embracing everything about ourselves, even those parts we avoid or don’t understand.

Wonder how your EQ rates? Well, you can start by checking out the following five signs of great emotional intelligence skills, and do your own self-assessment as to how well you score. Keep in mind, of course, that you can build on your skills. As human beings, each of us has the innate ability to become savvy in our EQ.

1. You have the ability to self-regulate.
“I just had to say it.”
“I sent that e-mail before I thought about it.”

Each of these statements reveals someone whose emotions rule their behavior and actions, often with disastrous outcomes. By contrast, people with a high EQ register their feelings as information and make an informed decision about how to act in a way that’s productive.

Ultimately, all of our emotions are useful. Each feeling is like one of the strings of a musical instrument: each gives us a unique vibration and provides us valuable information about ourselves. It’s how we interpret the emotion, and then how we choose to act, that determines whether we’re going to create havoc or enhance our lives.

2. You respond rather than react.
Sometimes, we blame our rash reactions to people or situations by saying we just “needed” to express ourselves. But the truth is that we don’t need to react out of raw feeling. When we give ourselves time to explore the feeling, we realize that the feeling has a job to inform us about what’s up.

The skill that grows through the practice of any form of mindfulness is the ability to witness our internal process before we do anything about it. Then we can respond with a mixture of feeling and logic. To take the time simply to observe the emotion as it arises decreases the sense of urgency to act.

Strong positive and negative emotions may cause us to express ourselves inappropriately if we’re overwhelmed by them. When emotions run strong, it’s hard to know what’s really going on until the body has settled. That’s why meditation and deep breathing are helpful. They give us space and time to settle, and then to decide how to express what it is we feel.

3. You know your triggers.
Each of us has particular triggers that set off certain emotions. Some of these triggers ricochet back to an earlier stress or trauma. To know your triggers is a critically useful piece of awareness to have, just as it’s essential to know how you typically react once one of your triggers is pulled.

None of us likes to be told what to do, but my inner teenager really can’t stand it when I’m in the kitchen. Give me a suggestion when I’m cooking (which for most people usually is a 1 or 2 on the irritation scale of 10), and it can feel off the charts to me. My first instinct is to retort with an ungracious remark like “Why don’t you take over and make it yourself?”
But this kind of defensive, temperamental reaction is never helpful.

But because I’ve come to see that I tend to behave like a diva in the kitchen, I’m usually prepared to make a counter-instinctive move: I take a deep breath and observe myself with compassion and amusement. Nowadays, I may even be able to give a suggestion serious consideration. After all, it’s my trigger that’s the problem here, not the tip to add more mustard to the salad dressing.

4. You really listen.
To hear the spoken word with our auditory system is a passive, mechanical process. To listen, however, is an active process, one in which we engage with another person, which requires us to interpret and read the nonverbal cues that accompany what they say and what we hear.

There’s no room in this encounter for you, the listener, to dismiss, to argue, or to assume that you already know where things are headed as a person tells you their story.

5. You are a good communicator.
Although many books on communication skills emphasize the importance of directly expressing our emotions, there’s a lot more to being a smart communicator than simply saying what we feel as we are feeling it.

The ability to give and receive tenderness and to express and respond to upset feelings are skills that require time, patience, and the discernment to know what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of how much to share.Good communicators know that to talk about what’s going on inside us is a prerequisite, but this inner examination needs to be done with patience and practice.

The commitment is well worth the effort, though. The improvement in our relations with other people everywhere in our lives can be tremendous. An advance in your EQ can indeed change your life.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

How to Speak to Someone About an Unspeakable Loss

“It’s not about saying the right things. It’s about doing the right things.” ~Unknown

Years ago, my family and I moved to a bucolic little town in New Zealand, where we were immediately swept up into a group of ex-pats and locals. We felt deeply connected to this community by the time I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in the local hospital.

When our son was three months old, a doctor heard a heart murmur. Twenty-four hours later, he died.


In the days and weeks that followed, I wandered in my own fog of grief as I went about the necessary tasks of ordinary life: shopping for food, taking our other kids to school, doing the usual mounds of laundry.

Meanwhile, my new friends kept their distance. I saw them take great care to avoid me: to cross the street, switch supermarket aisles, literally do an about-face when they saw me coming.

Invitations stopped coming. The phone went silent. My grief was marked by a deeper isolation than I’d ever known.

Later, many of these people apologized. They told me they were terribly sad and distressed about what had happened, but hadn’t known what to say. My loss was so enormous that words seemed inadequate, even pitiful.

They said nothing, out of fear that they would say the wrong thing.

Linda Carroll: on loss
This sort of experience repeats itself in many different forms: a friend gets dumped by the love of her life, a colleague is given notice at a job he’s held for two decades, or a loved one receives the dreaded news that she has inoperable cancer.

What can you say?

While it’s not an easy question to answer, one thing is certain: It’s worse to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. Here are five ways to respond helpfully to people who have suffered an enormous loss.

1. Manage your own feelings first.

When we learn that disaster has befallen a loved one, we initially feel shock. Our heart rate increases, our thoughts either speed up or slow down, and we may experience nausea or dizziness.

The anxiety we feel is real and personal. Our instinct, though, is to ignore it, find ways to numb it or minimize it. That’s a mistake.

If we address our own anxiety first, we’ll be in a much stronger position to respond well to the person most directly affected. Do the things you know how to do to manage stress. A walk in the woods, some meditation or yoga, or talking to a trusted friend can help.

Make sure your own body and emotions are regulated before you turn to the person in grief.

2. Now focus on the other person.

Remember that the isolation they feel is almost as painful as the shock and the sadness of the loss itself. If you avoid them because you don’t know what to say, this avoidance serves only your needs.

Our friends and other loved ones need our comfort, support, and involvement during times of sorrow.

Although there isn’t a right thing to say, there are some things to never say. They include the current favorite, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “I know just how you feel.” How do you know there’s a reason, and what difference would it make to a grieving person, anyway? And you don’t know how they feel—only they do.

3. Admit that you don’t know what to say.

That’s a good start. Try something simple that breaks the ice and starts a conversation, or at least sends a message to the other person that they’re not alone.

“I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I wish I could say the perfect thing, but I know there’s nothing to fix it. I just wanted you to know I care and am here with you.”

4. Listen.

If the person is willing to talk, listen. It’s the single most vital thing you can do.

Listen to their story without interrupting. Don’t turn the conversation back to you with statements like, “I know what you’re going through—my dog died last year.”

Don’t tell them what they will, or should, feel. Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it’s like for them.

We all have different styles of managing shock and distress. Some people are angry, while others seem numb. Still others turn to gallows humor. Your job is not to correct them but to give them space to be the way they need to be.

5. Rather than saying, ”Let me know if I can do anything,” offer to do something practical and specific.
Taking on an ordinary task is often most helpful. Offer to shop for groceries, run errands, drive the kids somewhere, or to cook a meal or two. Ask if you can call tomorrow, or if they want to be left alone for a few days.

When Survey Monkey’s CEO Dave Goldberg died suddenly, his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the following:

When I am asked, “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, “My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?” When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

Today, as I recall the loss of my own infant son, I think about the one person who did truly comfort me. She arrived at my house with a bottle of fine brandy and said, “This is everyone’s worst nightmare. I am so, so sorry this has happened.”

Then we sat on the lawn and she poured me a drink as she listened to every horrible detail.

As I look back now, I still feel how much her gesture helped me cope through those early days of pain. She didn’t try to fix me or try to make sense of what happened. She didn’t even try to comfort me. The comfort she gave came through her being in it with me.

You can’t fix what happened, but you can sit with someone, side by side, so they don’t feel quite so alone. That requires only intention, a willingness to feel awkward, and an open, listening heart. It’s the one gift that can make a difference.

This post originally appeared in TinyBuddha.

The 7 Essential Stages Of Spiritual Growth

(And How To Know Where You're On The Path).

We hear so much about finding our "whole selves” and “coming from authenticity,” but so many of us don’t understand how we actually reach that point. We don’t suddenly become that new, better version of ourselves because we read the right book or heard the right speech.

linda carroll blog
Becoming whole is a lifelong process. It is finding and embracing the new self and forgetting what you learned to be. In my book, Remember Who You Are, I describe the seven stages of seeking and claiming your Spirit Self.

Since one of my favorite personal growth tools is the map (in my counseling/life and love coaching practice, I’ve discovered that the structure or model of a map helps many people describe their feelings), I want to help you build one.

In this article, I provide an overview of the stages of claiming your spirit self and questions to help you build a map that will reveal where you are on the journey of finding your true self — and discover where you want to go next.

1. Forgetting or losing the connection to essential spiritual self.
This happens when we enter the physical world at birth. We develop a personality that allows us to adapt to our circumstances — familial and cultural. This original self is rarely remembered, although at times we catch glimpses of it.

Moments of unexpected grace — falling in love, acting from instinctive certainty rather than fear — are reminders. We reconnect with our essence, too, when our senses are moved by the natural world around us.

2. Remembering is the key to most world religions and to spiritual experience.
It may be prompted by a thought, a poem, a luminous dream, a dramatic event such as a mystical experience, or any transition or change. In whatever way we are awakened, we are reminded for a moment of a different realm of existence with its own truth. Such revelations often signify the beginning of the journey back to our true essence.

3. Exploring spiritual ideas and religious practices moves us toward an awareness of remembering.
We participate in traditional and unfamiliar forms of prayer or attend retreats and seminars. We explore the revival of spirituality through books and even pilgrimages to sacred sites — whatever “sacred” means to you.

4. Practicing allows us to begin using rituals that keep us in alignment with our spiritual path each day.
Some traditions use ceremonies, liturgies, prayers, or meditation at a specific time and place; some embrace a lifestyle that is its own kind of practice.

Without practice, the treasures we find in exploring will lose their light and promise. With practice, the spiritual can intertwine with the everyday, changing our sense of the world and ourselves in fundamental ways.

5. Shadows on the path reflect obstacles that inevitably confront us, as our spiritual exploration veers into the world of emotions and innermost thoughts.
We may feel grief for all the time we have lost to ego-driven choices. These shadows can also take the form of difficulties in our relationships with others, as we try to communicate what we are discovering. Our friends and loved ones may not understand — or may even be threatened — by who we are becoming as we recognize our true nature.

6. Reclaiming is that stage in which we begin to recognize and trust those things that have meaning for us.
At this point, we take hold of the direction of our lives, both inside and out. We work harder to be honest with others and ourselves. We are more accountable for our actions. Sometimes we are even able to challenge others and ourselves with more ease and less judgment, feeling greater compassion for our common human condition.

At the end of most stories about a sacred journey, the voyager returns with hard-earned wisdom and many gifts for his or her community. We may find ourselves in the same external circumstances where work and relationships are concerned but standing on different soil, seeing everything through new eyes.

7. Acceptance is less of a stage and more of a condition woven throughout the stages.
It is the knowledge that we never completely “arrive.” We are always on the path. We are always forgetting, remembering, exploring, practicing, integrating, and then forgetting again.

Acknowledging this, we learn to accept the inevitability of lapsing into old responses and our previously limited perspective. We develop more patience and empathy, more humor about our human fragility, and greater tolerance for the journey of finding our way back. That, after all, is life.

How to Start Your Search

  1. Ask yourself if “soul” is different than “spirit.” It is important that you have your own unique definition for these essential words.
  2. Create your own definition of spirit. Pay attention to what makes sense to you.
  3. Ask yourself what it means to you to remember who you are. What qualities do you consider to be a part of your soul self?
  4. Look at pictures of yourself as a child that reflect what you interpret to be your essential qualities. Describe what you see in your activities, body, or eyes that recalls these fundamental spirit qualities.
  5. Familiar childhood stories teach that we must leave home to find home; the happy ending requires us to heal ourselves and find our own internal truth. Sleeping Beauty wakes up, Pinocchio becomes a real boy, and Dorothy returns to Kansas, discovering that what she sought was in the place she left.

Remember a journey you took in which you had to leave your outer life to discover a part of your inner self. Meditate on that journey.

The late
Angeles Arrien once told me about a Native American folk tale that claims each person is born into this world with a special song that is his or hers alone. My hope is that articles and books such as this; publications like mbg; and practices including yoga, meditation, and attempting to live and love in a complete, authentic way will guide us each to our unique song and will inspire us to bring its music into this world.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

The Addictive Pleasure of Being Right

The satisfaction of saying “I told you so” can damage your relationship.

Our brain chemicals reinforce our behavior. They reward us by zapping us with excitement and bubbly happiness produced by dopamine, our biochemical feel-good drug. Then, just as quickly, those chemicals punish us. The dopamine high recedes, the magic disappears, and we feel flat again.

Linda on Communication
So we try again. It’s natural to want what feels good.

Think about gambling. You bet, you lose, and you feel let down. You try again. You lose again. You feel worse than you did the first time around. Yet you can still dimly remember the jolt of happy juice that turned you on the last time you hit the jackpot. That was 20 bets ago, but so what? You’re ready to lose as many times as you need to, just to get that hit of feel-good drug again.

There’s another kind of addiction that works in a similar way–the need to be right. Merriam-Webster tells us that righteousness means having a sense of “acting in accord with divine or moral law, often with an outraged sense of justice.” Adrenaline and dopamine reinforce the certainty of our righteousness, so we do what it takes to regain that feeling of self-important virtue as often as possible. This craving of ours creates a lot of trouble in work and love relationships.

Have you ever noticed how good it feels to be sanctimonious, to “know” that you’re totally and completely right, and that everyone else is absolutely wrong? (To feel you’re wrong never feels good, that’s for sure.) Interestingly, it’s often the people whose inner critic is the harshest judge that have the strongest urge to feel morally superior and to always be on the winning team.

When we decide we’ve met our soulmate, we leap at whatever stray evidence supports our joy and ignore anything that might signal trouble ahead.

Here’s an example. When Donna and Jon moved into their new home, they were delighted with their spacious backyard and installed a pond. A landscape gardener by trade, Donna planted ferns, lilies, and grasses to surround the koi and goldfish. Their neighbors admired her work but warned the couple that raccoons had been seen in the area lately and were liable to do some damage. Jon was concerned, but Donna assured him that she would rework the landscape right away to create some deterrents. Then she got busy with clients and put off the anti-raccoon project.

As the weeks went by, Jon repeatedly urged Donna to do something to ward off the masked invaders. He even offered to hire someone else to do the work.

“You don’t have to control everything,” Donna snapped. “I’ll get to it.”

Jon said nothing more. A week later, he was the first to awake to backyard devastation. Lilies had been pulled up, dead fish flung about, holes eaten in the pond liner, and most of the water drained. Although he was saddened and horrified, he also was aware of a surge of righteous indignation as he marched into the house to awaken Donna with the news. Jon felt almost giddy with satisfaction, intoxicated by the proof that he’d been right.

“What did I tell you?” His voice dripped acid.

Jon’s reaction points to a trap that many of us fall into. He used Donna’s procrastination as an opportunity to vent his anger about all sorts of grievances that had piled up over time and had little to do with raccoons or backyard ponds. What unlocked Jon’s rage was the conviction that he was in the right. Donna really had screwed up, which gave him license to unload on her.

Jon turned to the woman he’d once admired more than anyone else in the world and spit out, “You’re an idiot.”

In the first throes of love, when we decide we’ve met our soulmate, we leap at whatever stray evidence supports our joy and ignore anything that might signal trouble ahead. As the relationship continues and we begin to notice the fact that our lover is a fallible human being, infatuation gives way to disappointment, and now just about everything our partner says can become a justification to find fault. This behavior doesn’t happen only in love relationships, but also with friends, co-workers, and family.

How do we break this addiction to being right?

Admit and Accept

Once we accept that we’re driven to be right and that we derive a dark pleasure from it, we can also admit that what we’re up to is only human. There’s no need to condemn ourselves, but we do need to acknowledge what’s going on.

Inner Critic

Not everyone suffers from this addiction, so why did Jon have such a need to be right? One clue is his own inner critic. He spends a lot of his time talking to himself with criticism, frustration and disapproval about his own actions. criticism, frustration or disapproval about our actions. Awareness of this might help him interrupt his knee-jerk reaction to use the same tactics on Donna.

Catch It As It Happens

If we can create a “compassionate witness” to observe this drive we have to be right we can gently catch ourselves in the act. We note that we’re on our high horse. And we even admit to ourselves how strangely good it can feel to have the power over another person because we’re right. Finally, we are careful NOT to criticize ourselves for this, just gently stop it from happening.

Try Something New

Find a way to pull out of the curve of habit that can become addictive. Distraction is one way. Some moms hold out their bunch of keys to jangle and attract a baby with an eye on a cup of hot coffee. We’re just as capable of finding ways to divert ourselves, too. For example, when my husband would spend six hours in our garden, I would notice one thing; that he hadn’t put the hose away in the right way. All his planting ,mowing, and weeding was lost on my fixation on what he had done wrong. I remembered the trouble I have in keeping up the checkbook and how patient he is with me about that, so before I went to look at his love labor in our yard I said a silent appreciation to myself of his tolerance and acceptance of my imperfection. With a gentle nudge, we can bounce ourselves out of our usual orbit of reflexive righteousness. Repeat the nudge as needed.

This post originally appeared in The Good Men Project.

Why Every Couple Eventually Falls Out Of Love

How to Re-create The Feeling

We've always been fascinated by the idea that "falling in love" is not necessarily the same thing as "staying in love." In her book, Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love, Linda Carroll explores what makes us fall in love, what allows us to keep feeling love for a partner over time, and where the two diverge. This excerpt drills down to the fundamentals in a refreshingly straightforward way.

1. Human beings possess two distinct and opposing instincts: the desire to merge with another and the need to remain an individual.

Both are vital. Just as an infant and mother bond, so do newly joined lovers become immersed in each other. And, just as the infant must one day push against her mother to become herself, we, too, need to eventually move away from our lover and recover the edges of our own uniqueness.

2. Some lovers try to stay inside the love bubble as long as they can by creating their own private culture.

They invent a language of their own that nobody else can understand. They share jokes with punch lines that are funny only to them. Within the perceived safety of the bubble, their merge feels at once total and eternal.

It was in just such a bubble that film star Ingrid Bergman and her husband, Peter Lindstrom, named their daughter Pia, with the three letters standing for Peter, Ingrid, Always. Alas, the marriage fell apart, but Pia’s name remained a reminder of love’s possibilities and its fragility — always.

3. Not everyone experiences the “urge to merge.”

Some people never feel it at all. Or they enjoy an initial hit of ecstasy that quickly dissipates. Some people enter love slowly, with a friendship that gradually leads to an intimate partnership — one that may or may not be spiced with romance.

Others choose a partner because they feel that “it’s just time.” Some focus on similarities of ethnicity, race, religion, education, class, and life goals, which have little to do with falling in love. Nonetheless, so much of our culture — songs, movies, fairy tales, and novels — leads us to await the prince who will kiss us awake or for the woman who will melt our heart and soul.

4. It’s a kind of madness.

The biochemical changes that take place in new lovers produce symptoms similar to those of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, including loss of appetite and sleeplessness. How well we know the signs of obsession: Fantasies of the beloved fill our days and crowd our nights.

When we’re apart, we feel incomplete. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it also leads to constant chatter about the missing object of affection. This fixation and preoccupation is what others find tiresome about the love-struck. People roll their eyes and think us temporarily insane. Which, of course, we are.

5. New lovers have much in common with addicts.

Magnetic resonance imaging reveals that the nucleus acumens, the part of the brain that is activated in lovers, is the same part that lights up in cocaine users and gamblers when they act out their addiction.

Greek mythology provides us with imaginative and amusing ways to describe the felt intensity of romantic love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, had a son named Cupid. His job, as an archer, was to dip arrows into his mother’s secret love potion before he took aim.

Once Cupid’s arrow hit its target, the victim fell madly in love with the next person he or she saw. This myth has given rise to some of the most extraordinary love legends of all time, including those of Apollo and Daphne, Helen of Troy, Antony and Cleopatra, and Romeo and Juliet.

We now know that the “hit” of romance can be partially explained by biochemistry. It’s just an overabundance of particular chemicals.

As they float on a sea of
PEA (Phenethylamine), lovers report more sensational and adventurous sexual experiences than they’ve ever enjoyed before, such as “mile-high sex” and a heightened pleasure in sensory qualities that might normally be a turnoff.

Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, once wrote to Josephine, “I’m coming home. Please don’t wash.”

As if a generous shot of PEA weren’t enough, the love cocktail is also spiked with endorphins, which boost pleasure and decrease pain, and oxytocin, a hormone released during physical touch that promotes bonding.

This cocktail infuses us with euphoria and extraordinary energy, which is why crucial parts of life, like sleep and nourishment, seem unimportant. Our perspective becomes so skewed that we see only what is good and beautiful in our lover; we’re blind to all else.

6. To fall in love is natural.

It’s effortless — that’s why we call it falling. But to remain in that state of euphoria is not. Long-lasting love results from the necessary work that two people do — the self-work, primarily — to create a strong, durable partnership over time.

7. We need three types of skills to keep it alive.

We must foster self-knowledge, learn communication skills (like fair fighting and appropriate self-disclosure), understand our partner’s love language, and develop the kinds of attributes that spiritual traditions have emphasized forever: generosity, patience, and empathy.

With practice and courage we can often find ourselves back at the first place of magic again and again. This time we don’t get there by “falling” but through the actions and willingness that carry us back to the heart.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

I'm A Life Coach & I Have Panic Attacks

Here's What I Wish More People Knew

As a practicing psychotherapist and a life coach, I'd helped many people cope with panic attacks but never had one myself. That is, until about three years ago, when I was having lunch with a friend and suddenly felt something akin to a 400-pound bear jumping up and down on my chest.

Linda Carroll on Panic Attacks
Making vague excuses to my friend, I found my way to a nearby urgent care center. After one look at my blood pressure, the staff sent me to a hospital, where I spent the next 24 hours hooked up to machines, being tested for every possible illness.

Eventually, the hospital set me loose with the explanation that the symptoms I’d experienced had just been “a panic attack.” Relieved and bewildered, I was given a lot of sympathy but few instructions.

The following week, I went to see a psychiatrist, who suggested I might be conflicted about publishing my book, Love Cycles, and sent me off with medication. Her explanation didn’t hit home for me, however, so I tried something different. I went to see a Reiki master, who did energy work to rebalance my chakras.

Nothing helped. The attacks kept coming. I read everything I could about them and got blood tests from my family doctor, who looked for obscure tumors and hidden troubles. Everything was normal.

I took meditation classes, began to walk every day, and went to a hypnotist. I became gluten-free and dairy-free and looked for hidden conflicts, childhood traumas, and unresolved tensions in my life.

Finally, I went to see my regular therapist, who suggested the cause could be nothing more than some misfired adrenaline. We might never learn anything more about the panic attacks, he said, but there were several adjustments I could make to help make a difference, should I experience them again. This time the explanation felt true.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, generalized anxiety disorder affects close to 7 million people a year (women are twice as likely to be affected), and 6 million people have panic attacks every year. In other words, even if your panic attack feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, it's quite common.

We know very little about panic attacks, and many of the theories about them are only myths. Let's look at some of the most common myths and their countervailing truths.

Myth: A panic attack is about something: you just have to find the cause.

Truth: Panic attacks are a biological response, which may or may not have psychological components.

Most experts believe a panic attack is brought on by a combination of genetics, biology, environmental, and psychological factors. The cause for one person’s individual panic attacks, however, may never be known.

Myth: Panic attacks are a sign that you’re going crazy.

Truth: An inability to predict when a panic attack is going to happen might make you feel crazy, but you’re not.

The average panic attack usually lasts less than 10 minutes, but the fallout can continue longer. First comes the actual attack — the trouble breathing, the pounding heart, the alarmingly high blood pressure, and the tingling in your hands and feet, all of which might make you feel like you’re going to die.

You’re neither dying nor going crazy: Your body is experiencing a chemical rush, which you can learn to manage. Biology doesn't have to win.

Myth: Panic attacks cause extreme harm to your body.

Many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks are indeed frightening: Your body trembles and shakes and you feel shortness of breath. Some people hyperventilate and fear fainting. Your heart rate might go as high as 200 beats per minute, and you might feel like you’re having a heart attack.

Truth: When you go for a long run, it’s common for the heart rate to rise just as high. Because we expect this high heart rate when we’re running, it isn’t frightening. With a panic attack, of course, the fear comes from having a high heart rate for a reason you're not accustomed to.

Myth: Deep breathing can always stop a panic attack.

Truth: Holding your breath causes hyperventilation and an increase in carbon dioxide, which contributes to dizziness and numbness, which then raises your panic levels.

The one thing we must do, which can help immediately, is to breathe more slowly than usual. Learn about belly breathing exercises, but know that they might not always be enough on their own.

Myth: Nothing will help.

Truth: There are many tools in the arsenal to use for dealing with future panic attacks. Here are a few:
  1. If you’re a coffee drinker, switch to decaf, and once your body adjusts, try to switch to green tea. Even with decaf, you will put less stress on your nervous system.
  2. Sleep. The connection between sleep and well-being is more and more firmly established every day. To improve your sleep quality, never look at a computer or check your iPhone right before you go to sleep. And if you wake up during the night, use yoga breathing (deep belly breaths) to calm yourself back into rest.
  3. Exercise. Exercise is a natural anti-anxiety medicine. When I feel butterflies in my belly, I take a walk. Ninety percent of the time, the panic recedes. The exercise stops the panic from escalating into a full-blown attack.
  4. Take precautions. I carry a list of all the tools in my toolbox, in case I lose the ability to focus when an attack hits. I also carry a low dose of anxiety medication as a last resort. Three years after my first panic attack, I have learned to head them off quickly and have never yet felt the need to use the meds.
One good thing that came out of my experiences with panic attacks has been my improved ability to help other people manage their attacks and to sidestep the many myths associated with them.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

7 Lies About Love That Are Keeping You From Finding The Real Thing

To fall in love is natural. For love to last is not. We’re more likely to succeed in building a lasting relationship if we’ve chosen our partner wisely in the first place. To do this, we have to overcome these seven cultural myths about love.

1. You’ll know immediately whether they’re “The One.”

Yes, you’ll know immediately when you’re attracted to someone. But you need more than sexual attraction (or even a strong instinct) to find someone that will be a good life partner. You need a lot of logical data, which have nothing to do with how you feel. (Data aren’t romantic.)

When people fall in love, they see only the best in each other. And while all of those fine qualities might be real, that does not necessarily mean that they possess the certain, specific strengths of character to go the distance in this relationship.

How well does your lover get along with their family? Do they talk a lot about their disappointments in past relationships, jobs, or other life experiences and blame other people?

Do they own their part in the problems they’ve had? If they tend to see themselves as victims, the day will come when it’s your turn to be the one to blame. If they hold onto grudges, eventually they will hold onto grudges against you.

2. You’ll know the right person because they’ll seem so familiar: like you’ve known them your whole life.
This illusion is tricky. People often think a sense of deep familiarity is a sign that they’re soul mates — fated to be together. What might be truer, actually, is that you recognize and gravitate toward certain personality traits in them that also belonged to your parents. Some of those attitudes and behaviors might have been very hard to live with.

imago relationships
Harville Hendrix, who developed Imago therapy, says we carry in our mind an image, perhaps unconscious, that directs us to seek out lovers that share not only the best but also the worst traits of our primary caretakers.

This tendency is nature’s way of creating a situation similar to the one in which we were wounded as children: Now we’ll go through the situation again, and this time we’ll heal ourselves.

For example, if we felt abandoned as a child, we might seek a partner who's remote and hard to stay connected with. We fall for their green eyes and beautiful hair and feel like we’ve known them forever. After a while, however, we begin to feel the same disconnected feeling we experienced as a child.

Only this time we decide we can learn how to be there for ourselves. Rather than get angry or become needy, we can practice the essential skill of self-soothing, of feeling sufficient inside ourselves. It’s possible to succeed at this effort. Some people do, and some people don’t. To try to heal old wounds this way, however, doesn’t mean we’ve met someone who’d make a truly compatible partner.

3. The more obsessed you are with a person, the more you should be together.
When you fall in love, it’s normal and healthy to think about your lover a lot. An obsession, however, means you think about nothing else, and this fixation isn’t a sign of great love. It’s a sign of great addiction.

4. If it’s “meant to be,” you’ll be able to resolve all problems.
The research shows that 68 percent of conflicts between couples never get resolved. Never. Apparently, the difference between a relationship that works and one that doesn’t depends on how well you learn to cope with your differences, how skilled you become in repair and collaboration, and how able you are to lose the expectation that you will ever always agree on everything.

5. Your mind and your heart will never wander.
It’s human and normal to think of your high school sweetheart, your college love, or the fellow fourth grader who gave you a Valentine’s Day card. It’s even normal to imagine what life might’ve been like with one of them. What’s important is what you do with these thoughts.
Allow them to pass, rather than act on them, and you’ll find your feelings for your partner usually return to the same place they were.

6. You’ll never feel bored, irritated, or wonder why you made this choice in a partner.
Boredom is part of life, and sometimes it’s natural to be bored and irritated by your partner’s same old stories, same old complaints, and same old way of responding to things.

If this reaction is a momentary thing, it’s normal. If you’re bored and turned off almost all the time, however, it’s a signal that you need to start to spice things up.

7. Sex will always be as spontaneous and easy as it is in the beginning.
Sexual cycles are like the cycles of love; they change, often, in a long-term relationship. For the first one to three years, our bodies retain all the chemicals in the so-called love potion, which keep us hot.

Once those chemicals wear off, however, we return to our regular state, along with our regular libido and any former sexual inhibitions. The magic isn’t the same, and the relationship has new stresses now. Instead of the chemicals that acted as an aphrodisiac, stress hormones, which often shut down desire, fill our bodies.

This is normal, and you can do something about it. Do the research, read some good books on how to get your sex life going again, and remember the things you did in the beginning to turn one another on and copy them. You might have to work at it a little harder later in the relationship, but your sex life can be as good as ever if you don’t just rely on spontaneity.

Long-lasting love results from the necessary work that two people do to create a strong, durable partnership over time. When we can combine the feelings in our heart with the wisdom and intelligence in our mind, chances are we will be able to choose someone who has the characteristics and ability to go the distance.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

How To Have A Great Relationship — No Matter What You're Going Through

When all is going well, most of us find it easy to be generous, appreciative, and kind with our partners. But what happens once things are less than perfect, and power struggles and differences in libido take over the relationship?

Our natural urge may be to punish (fight), evade (flee), or withhold (freeze). Yet our instinctual response is often the opposite of what our relationships really need. These five pointers will help you act in a positive, constructive way and power through relationship hardships.

1. Nourish your relationship in little ways, especially when you don’t feel like it.
Think of this practice in the same way you keep money in the bank, only this is a love bank account — even though that may sound corny!

Try and first understand your partner's love language. Some people like words and appreciate receiving cards, notes, flowers, and texts. Some enjoy being touched, whether with light tickles on the arm or big hugs and back massages.

Others like acts of service — my husband puts gas in the car and makes the bed because he knows I hate doing these things. These small displays of caring can really add up, and it's important that you do them even when you're having a bad day or exhausting week.

2. Remind yourself to always value your partner's needs.

If I mail a package for you, go with you to a ballgame, or make your birthday special even when I’m annoyed with you, I’m funding the goodwill account of our relationship. If I can care for some of your needs, even though they’re different from mine, I can strike some of the gold in our connection: true recognition of you, someone other than me.

Small displays of caring can really add up.

3. Unconditional giving may feel counter-instinctive. Do it anyway!
During the early stages of a relationship, unconditional giving is a pleasure and couples often believe that nothing will pop their love bubble. This isn't the case when we are annoyed, sad or mad.

Still, we need to
practice generosity throughout the relationship, not just on the good days. I am NOT saying that you should act like things are fine when they are not, or accept any abuse or damaging behaviors. Bad days are different than bad relationships.

4. Fill up your own self-care bank account.

When your self-care bank account is full, you can withstand, recover and repair a lot of inevitable relationship troubles. Don't try to tackle these problems when you're feeling exhausted, defensive or flooded with anger. People react to hurt and distress more constructively when they’re able to appraise each other with cooler hearts and leveler heads. So take care of yourself by spending quality time with friends, exercising and healthy eating, and maintaining those spiritual practices that keep you centered.

5. Practicing kindness does NOT mean accepting mistreatment.

Remember: Setting down boundaries gently in no way undermines their strength. There must be limits to our availability and generosity. It’s never okay for others to break their word, be inconsiderate, or repeatedly ignore our needs. If things are so hard that any caring gesture feels impossible, you should recruit someone — a therapist, a friend or a loved one — to help you talk about whats going on and look for resolution together.

How 11,000 lattes have helped keep my marriage together.
Here's a fun example of unwavering relationship kindness: Every morning for 30 years, my husband has brought me a latte. Some mornings, he hands me the steaming mug with a smile and a kiss. Other mornings he’s in a hurry, so he simply sets the latte down on my bedside table.

Then there are the mornings when he’s not happy with me, and he puts the mug down on his bedside table, so I have to lean over to reach it. Still, whether our feelings are running hot or cold, that latte is there for me every morning. Over time, those cups have added up. He and I have banked on them, as well as on many other sweet nothings, to carry us through hard times.

The greater our deposits of kind actions and generosity, the more our relationship can remain resilient and sustain the normal wear and tear of life.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.