Writing Lesson #7: Understanding The Psychology Of Love

Whether you write romance or just want to incorporate a love story in your thriller or sci-fi story you need to have some understanding of the psychology of love. When you write a love story you need to convince your readers why your protagonists fall in love with each other. Failing to provide good reasoning might result in a flat, boring, and unappealing love story.

As I have mentioned in previous lessons it is important to create likeable and sympathetic protagonists that readers will love and care about (Lesson #2). It is also important to create a believable plot: conflicts and complications that make sense in the context of your story (Lesson #3). Developing a convincing romantic connection is another component you need to pay attention to if you write a love story.

If you intend to write a love story it is important that you should educate yourself in the psychology of love: Why do people fall in love?  What causes crisis in relationships? How do lovers overcome crises? Understanding this subject should be an essential professional tool for you.

Here is a brief summary of some psychological theories that explain why one person is attracted to another person and what happens to make two people in love disenchanted with each other. I hope this information will help you with your story development and make you curious to learn more on the subject.

Love Theories

Sigmund Freud: Oedipus complex

Women are attracted to men who remind them of their fathers. Men are attracted to women who remind them of their mothers.

Carl Jung: Animus & Anima Projection

Each person, man or a woman, has both a feminine side (anima) and a masculine side (animus) in them. When a man falls in love with a woman he projects on to her his feminine side. He attributes to her qualities that are actually his own.  Women do the same: when a woman falls in love with a man she projects on him her masculine qualities.

(Author of “Getting The Love You Want”)

What attracts people the most in a romantic partner is what will later annoy them. People tend to be attracted to a person who reminds them of the parent who hurt them the most.

At the beginning of the relationship a person projects on their beloved qualities that are actually within themselves. After marriage, spouses tend to blame each other “You have changed. You are not the same person I have married.” In reality, the spouse hasn’t changed but what has changed is the way their partner sees them now: When the “honeymoon” period is over and the projection evaporates, spouses get to see each other for the first time for who they really are, without the “fog” of projection.

This is a shocking realization and people are usually disappointed to find out that their spouse is not the person they thought (or fantasized) they were. 

Any blame that comes with the words “never” or “always”, like: “you never call to see how I’m doing” or “you always forget to take the garbage out”, are usually linked to an Imago piece: meaning - projecting a childhood wound on the spouse.

This crisis is an opportunity for the couple to learn to see each other for who they are and to learn to appreciate and love their partner for that.

This crisis in the relationship is also an opportunity for each spouse to recognize their own childhood wounds and what they need from their partner to help them heal. 

For example: a woman whose parents got divorced when she was young and  grew up feeling neglected and forgotten by them, might recognize her need for loving attention.

She might blame her spouse of never caring about her, or that he is always forgetting her requests. By making these accusations she is actually projecting on her partner her childhood wounds.

If she becomes aware of her projection, she can acknowledge her emotional need for more attention. Using the Imago method/therapy she can ask her partner to do several specific gestures that will make her feel that he cares about her, such as: calling everyday from work to ask how she is doing, pick up dinner once a week, etc.

The Imago method trains partners to listen to each other without criticism. In each session only one partner expresses their emotions while the other repeats what he/she believed they heard, ending each verbal reflection with the sentence: “Did I get it right?” The speaking partner can correct the listening partner until he/she is happy with the listening partners understanding of the shared emotions.

This experience teaches couples to communicate without projection and it helps to make them feel “seen” and “heard” by the other.

John Gottman: The Marriage Contract

Marriages are based on a non-verbal and unconscious agreements between two people.

For example: She wants a man who will be a good provider for her children & he wants a woman to be a good mother for his children. He makes a good living & she is maternal, caring, and warm. We have a match.

When the contract is broken, as people and their needs change, the marriage falls apart. 

For example: Children are grown up and are independent. Wife is working again – she no longer needs a husband to be a good provider for the children or for herself. If the couple has nothing else that connects them and if they don’t need anything more from each other – their marriage will likely come to an end.

Gary Chapman: Love Languages
(Author of “The 5 Love Languages”)

There are 5 love languages:

1.     Words of Affirmation
2.     Quality Time
3.     Receiving Gifts
4.     Acts of Service
5.     Physical Touch

People develop their love language/s in youth based on their experience with their parents. A source of a conflict in relationships is when the two partners have different love languages and fail to recognize that and to communicate this with each other.

For example: She grew up in a loving house where parents showered their children with positive affirmations and quality time. He grew up in a rich house where he received anything he desired but parents were not very affectionate with their children. 

For him love is to shower someone with expensive gifts.  For her this doesn’t translate to love. On the other hand, she translates his long hours at work and sparse talking as being indifferent to her or being emotionally unavailable.