Love vs. In Love: Which One is Better?
“To give and not expect return. That is what lies at the heart of love.” – Oscar Wilde
Love makes the world go round. If you had to choose between love and being in love which would you choose? As a counselor, I spend a lot of time talking about love and being in love. A common question is, “What’s the difference between loving someone and being in love?” Most of the time when people ask this, they’re wondering about their love life. So while I recognize you can love many people in your life in many different ways, I will be focusing on romantic love for the purposes of this article.
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Love vs In-Love: The Chemistry
Being in love is a heady, lusty, lovely experience. It’s a state of near obsession with your partner or love object. You don’t see flaws. You crave their presence. Being in love is indeed like a drug. Being in love is usually a phase at the beginning of a relationship. It’s chemistry, it’s infatuation and it’s short-term. We can be glad about that because many people report a loss of appetite, increased energy and insomnia in the throes of being in love. Being in love is a foundation for long-term love. Though there’s no way to keep the infatuation going as strong as it is during the NRE (New Relationship Energy) phase, couples that do well with pro-relationship behaviors will find themselves being in love many times across the years.
Love is different from being in love. When you love someone deeply, the chemical balance in your body is affected. Oxytocin is released when you see them, prompting you to form and develop your bond. Oxytocin is the cuddle hormone that helps you bond to other humans, as well as animals. Loving someone can be best described as an attachment. The long-term bond is strengthened by the action of a hormone called Vasopressin.
Falling in love is a different chemical process. Falling in love requires lust and sexual attraction. It accesses the chemicals in your body that get your heart racing, literally. Dopamine is activated which makes you feel euphoric. Norepinephrine promotes nervousness, making your hands sweaty and your heart beat faster. Serotonin makes you feel so deliriously happy, it’s as though you’ve lost your mind. Falling in love is an overwhelming experience, but you shouldn’t make decisions about your partner here. It’s not likely you will have a real chance to review their flaws.
Benefits of Being In-Love
Falling in love is energizing. It is exciting and thrilling. This is a necessary stage for long-term bonding and attachment. All that exhilaration can’t last forever. That’s why being in-love eventually gives way to a deeper form of love if you stay with your partner.
Some couples find themselves in committed long-term relationships without ever having experienced a phase of being in love. Often, a client will reach out to discuss their concern about committing to their partner if they have never felt a strong sexual connection. The benefit of experiencing the crazy-in-love stage is that it builds a basis for the long haul. Couples renew and refresh their love tank when they return to the in-love stage that catapulted them into coupledom. It is important to understand that while chemistry isn’t everything, it helps enormously in the rough patches you will inevitably hit in long-term love. If you are considering committing to your partner, and have never felt sexually attracted to them, you must be clear about why you are planning to sacrifice your sexual satisfaction for the remainder of your relationship.
Benefits of Loving Someone
Once you get past those initial stages of being in love, you begin to assess the true compatibility of your partner. This is where you assess whether your values, personality, future goals, and lifestyles match up. You consider a future together. When you love someone, you care what happens to them. You do whatever you can to foster their happiness as well as your own. There are compromises and sacrifice. You form a long-term attachment which helps you face stress and struggle, disappointment and challenge. Healthy love is built on respect. It feels safe to be with your partner. You count on them and they count on you. You’re a team. Loving has many benefits. The benefits of love are emotional – you’re not facing life alone anymore. You have someone to celebrate and commiserate with. They are financial and logistical – it’s easier to cover costs when there are two of you. You can share household and parenting responsibilities. They are physical – in a safe, loving relationship you will have lower blood pressure, increased immunity and less depression.
When a couple has bonded and survived the power struggles that follow initial attraction, they can look forward to more experiences that feel like the early days of being in love. While this is not a constant, you can ensure you’ll experience being in-love again by practicing relationship behaviors that make you and your partner feel good. Basically, you’ll need to date, have time alone, show up looking good for your partner, maintain a good attitude toward them and avoid destructive stuff that makes your partner feel neglected (working too much, flirting with others, avoiding sex). Practicing good relationship behaviors means you will cycle in and out of being in love with your partner. The more effort you put in, the longer these in-love phases will last. And when life interrupts these cycles of being in love, you have history, understanding, friendship, loyalty, shared lived experiences, commitment and hope to keep things going until the next in-love cycle shows up.
Drawbacks of Being In-Love
Being in love is temporary. All that lust and attraction cannot be sustained over the long-term. Being in love is all-consuming – it can make you feel crazy and out of control. When you fall in love too easily, or only crave the thrill of NRE, you go from one relationship to the next, never enjoying the closeness and comfort of long-term love. Being in love can be addicting, especially if you expect your relationship to always feel this exciting.
Drawbacks of Loving Someone
The drawback to love is that it’s not as exciting as being in love. Love takes work, sacrifice and time. You must be committed to putting in the effort that a long-term relationship needs. This takes maturity and level-headedness. There will be periods of disappointment and restlessness in the relationship. There will be times you don’t like your partner. You will hurt each other. You will need to communicate well, be willing to settle conflict and set aside your own needs fairly regularly.
Help Understanding Love
If you are troubled about your love experiences, I encourage you to see a counselor. It’s important to get feedback if you’re struggling in your relationship or have patterns in your love life that you feel may be destructive. Whether you are in love or hope to be, or loving someone or hope to be – love should feel good. If your love is hurting you, seek help today. My book, “Mindful Mates” is available on this website. It is a workbook to help individuals and couples solve relationship problems and find long-lasting peace.
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Traci Baxendale Ball, LMSW, CAADC is the founder of Vibrant Health Company LLC
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