Where Does Our Love Go?
Its obituary has been announced internationally… in the plot of a thousand books, films, TV shows, articles and tabloids – the sad loss of the initial spark in a relationship. Disapproving wives on evening sitcoms make snide remarks at their lazy husbands. Movies depict failing marriages, worn by routine and destroyed over infidelities. The excitement that builds in the intoxicating plot of a sweet romantic comedy ruined by the tiny tragedies that incur in everyday life. Why does this happen? What turns two happy people into one miserable couple?
To many in the field of psychology, the answer is in the question. It is in this unfortunate fusion between two independent individuals that excitement is killed, identities are lost and routines are established in place of independence, passion and spontaneity. This process is what psychologist and author Dr. Robert Firestone describes as the “fantasy bond.”
A fantasy bond is established when real love, respect and camaraderie is replaced by an illusion of connection; when the substance of the relationship is replaced by the form. Couples are rarely aware of this transition, they just find themselves one day wondering where their love has gone.
To understand why a fantasy bond is formed, it is important to realize that most of us are afraid of real intimacy and closeness. It contradicts our negative feelings about ourselves and threatens our self-protective defenses. Being vulnerable to another person arouses anxiety and fear in us. At this point, we often escape into a fantasy of union to avoid relating on a deeper, more intimate level.
When a bond develops, the couple fails to distinguish between each other as separate individuals. They begin to show less respect for each other, offer more criticism and exhibit less affection, enthusiasm and support. They begin to substitute routines, roles and behaviors for real acts of warmth and kindness.
“As partners start to sacrifice their interests, friends, and other aspects of their independent functioning to become one half of a couple, their natural attraction to one another is jeopardized,” said Firestone. “Responses based on conventional form consist of the everyday routines, rituals, customs, cursory conversations, discussions of practical arrangements and other role-determined behaviors that support their illusion of still being in love. These more habitual responses gradually replace the real substance of the relationship–the genuine love, respect and affection.”
Society perpetuates the myth that love fades as a relationship matures—which leaves us resigned to accepting less than satisfying relationships. It is empowering to realize that this decline is not part of a natural process but the result of our having established a fantasy bond. When we recognize that we are responsible for destroying the intimacy in our relationship, we also recognize that it is within our power to reestablish it. We can go about identifying our harmful attitudes and behaviors that have been creating distance and animosity and consciously act against them.
We can identify ways that we have given up our individuality to create a fantasy of union and oneness. As we do, we can become aware of ways that we are disrespectful of the individuality and independence of our partners. We can stop expecting ourselves and our mates to live up to a fantasy of what love should be like and finally, appreciate one another as interesting individuals with distinct characteristics, each bringing unique and valuable qualities to the relationship.Tags: break-up, couple, defenses, fantasy bond, fear of intimacy, intimacy, love, marriage, relationship