Comparing romantic with parental love

couple in love

So couples in love tend not to see each other’s faults.

Photo credit: Samuel Muigai | Nation Media Group

Hopefully you really love your spouse. And your children. The feelings involved can have a lot in common, but there are also some important differences.

For example, parental love’s pretty automatic, and most men quickly fall for their girlfriends. But a girl’s feelings for her boyfriend build far more slowly. Fortunately, there’s lots that boyfriends can do to help things along! For example, she’s much more likely to fall in love with him if she’s excited or scared, because all those emotions overlap.

So, do exciting things with your girl! Fewer dates in the same old familiar restaurant, and much more time doing something new. Especially thrilling sports and scary movies that raise her heartbeat and get the adrenaline flowing. Because as her mind starts to associate those sensations with you, she’ll start to fall in love.

Make sure she always feels good when you’re around. Then she’ll also associate you with happiness. And once she’s tagged you with excitement and happiness, you’re half way there!

Avoid getting tagged with negative associations by not going out with her if you’re feeling unwell, or even just in a bad mood. And if she hates her job, don’t call her at work. You want her to associate you with feeling good, not feeling fed up.

Romantic love is more complicated than just pleasure and excitement, of course. For example, it turns off the brain systems involved in spotting problems. So couples in love tend not to see each other’s faults. Maybe the way lovers overlook each other’s shortcomings isn’t such a bad idea, because being too picky might stop you from ever getting into a relationship. But it also means you can end up missing red flags in a new partner.

The same systems are also turned down in parental love, which means that we don’t notice our children’s faults either. While other people have no such illusions! Does that sound familiar?

And perhaps it’s also no bad thing that parents think that their children are such little angels, or they might just stop rearing them.

You’ll also no doubt have noticed how couples who’re falling in love are easily aroused sexually? That’s all completely switched off whenever you’re with your children, of course. Instead, your face analysis circuits go on to high alert whenever they’re around. Because of every parent’s need to interpret their young children’s facial expressions. Hungry? Happy? Another nappy change needed?

The systems involved in guessing what’s on another person’s mind are highly active in romantic love. Helping new lovers to figure out how to please one another as they try to grow and maintain their relationship. But they’re nowhere near as effective when we’re trying to work out what our children are thinking. Probably so that we go on looking after them, even if they don’t love us in return!

So as has often been observed, love really isn’t designed to make us happy, just to rear lots of children!