What is true love? Understanding it, achieving it and maintaining it

There are some who believe in it, some who mock it, some who deride it, and some who place all their bets on its existence.

True love – that elusive, ever-lasting romance that keeps two people together all their lives, through all the ups and downs, trials and tribulations.

But what is true love, really, and how can it be achieved?

What makes the difference between a typical relationship with laughter and kisses, and a relationship that stands the test of time, bonding two individuals for decades?

Here we discuss everything there is to know about true love – understanding it, achieving it, and maintaining it for life.

What is True Love?

It’s a question for the ages, one that philosophers and poets have been asking for as long as we’ve had words with which to speak: what is true love?

Some will say that true love is the love that manifests when soulmates – two halves of a single soul, or two souls that were destined to be together – find each other.

Others, perhaps less romantically, say that true love is the result of years of hard work. Of the determination and drive of two people to continuously seek solutions between them that keep the love alive, lasting, and even growing after years spent by each other’s side.

It is difficult if not impossible to explain what makes up true love, what constitutes as the scientific basis for creating the foundation of a relationship with true love.

Perhaps the simplest way to begin is to examine love itself, and the feelings associated with intense love.

Because if nothing else, we can all agree that true love is the advanced form of love, something most of us have experienced at one point or another.

So what are the feelings that make up love?

Selflessness: You think more about your partner than yourself. You want to improve who you are as a person not for your own benefit, but to provide a better partnership to your lover.

Excitement: They are on your mind all day long. When you find yourself separated from them, you itch with anticipation at the thought of seeing them again. You are excited for every day, every week, and every month you get to spend with them.

Loyalty: You are immensely loyal to your partner. You have no time or room for anyone else, and even the thought of betraying them – or being betrayed by them – is enough to cause heartache.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as this trifecta of feelings that come with love may be, in many cases they do not last.

And this is perhaps what separates love and true love: whether or not the feelings last.

Which begs the question – how do you make love last long enough for it to become true love?

The Foundation of True Love: A Physical Manifestation or a Destiny of the Soul?

You can argue about the spiritual basis of true love for as long as you live, but you will never prove or disprove whether it has anything to do with destinies, souls, or any kind of Grand Plan.

However, science can prove that there is a significant neurological aspect involved with intense love, and this is proven in two ways: our brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, and the activities of the brain.

Several neurotransmitters and hormones have been found to have direct relationships with specific moods and reactions related to love. These include:

Serotonin: Increases the intensity of your current mood, making love feel even greater and more significant

Oxytocin: Known as the biological basis for feelings of love and romance, oxytocin is generally released during physical intimacy, leading to greater feelings of attachment

Vasopressin: Believed to work hand-in-hand with oxytocin in increasing the feelings of attachment to partners of physical intimacy

Dopamine: Related to feelings of reward and desire, leading to the brain feeling pleasured and satisfied when rewarded with intimacy by your partner

Norepinephrine: A neurotransmitter typically released in the brain during moments of anxiety related to love, leading to physical manifestations such as a quickened heartbeat and sweaty palms

What this shows is that there are proven, physical ways that the brain can be manipulated into falling into love with another individual.

Does this mean that true love is simply a combination of the required triggered set of neurotransmitters and hormones working in harmony at the right moments?

Not exactly. All it proves is that there are biological factors involved behind our feelings and emotions, and perhaps by embracing the biological underpinnings of love can we truly maximize it.

In fact, many long-time researchers studying true love or long-term love have come to an interesting conclusion: people who believe that true love is destined are less likely to achieve it.

Why Believing in True Love and Soul Mates Is Harmful to Your Relationships

There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to the idea of long-lasting love.

Some people believe in soul mates, believing that the destiny of our relationships is pre-determined, and the goal of an individual is to seek out and find the perfect person they were meant to be with if they want to achieve ultimate happiness.

Other people do not believe in soul mates, and believe instead in the power of “working it out”.

These people care more about preserving current relationships and finding solutions to complicated problems that may arise between them and their partner.

We all fall in one of these two categories, each of which has its own scale – you may very strongly believe in soul mates or just slightly believe in soul mates; and you may very strongly believe in the power of working it out with your partner, or not so much.

To find out how much people believe in “working it out” or soul mates, researchers developed the Relationship Theories Questionnaire, in which a series of statements were presented to each participant, and they were required to assign a number from 1-7 to the statement (with 1 as “strongly disagree” and 7 as “strongly agree”).

Some of these statements include:

Soul Mate Scale Working It Out Scale
The reason why most marriages fail is that the people weren’t made for each other. If people were more reasonable, there would be more happy marriages.
You can feel the bond you have with a person almost immediately after you meet them. Relationships are more about effort than compatibility.
There is someone out there who is a perfect match for me. Time is the best way to get to know your partner.
Marriage should only happen if you are passionately in love with your partner. Successful marriage can happen between strangers as long as they work together.
Love is found. Love grows.

Participants who were involved in these studies were scored based on their assigned numbers to the statements, showing whether they believed more in soul mates or working it out, and how strongly they believed it.

In a series of studies performed over several years by various researchers and universities, it was found that people who believe in soul mates and destiny are those who are less likely to end up in happy, long-term relationships.

The most significant issue found by researchers is that those who believe in true love only coming from soul mates is their unwillingness to persevere with their partner through tough times.

Whenever the relationship begins to fizzle out, they convince themselves that their partner isn’t their soul mate, and they end up falling out of love instead of trying to put more effort in.

Some actions they do include:

  •     They “ghost” their partner, or ignore them and stop giving them proper attention
  •     They avoid conflicts, which can be helpful in the short-term, but leads to the development of long-term resentment due to lack of resolution
  •     They focus on small differences, making big issues out of things that shouldn’t matter
  •     They say things like, “this person never really understood me” and “this just proves we were never meant to be”

And they do not realize that they end up poisoning their own relationships, simply because they stop valuing the relationship the moment they feel that it isn’t perfect.

They believe that since a soul mate exists and is simply waiting to be found, any relationship that doesn’t feel perfect is no longer worth their time and thus should not be given any value.

Fantasy Bond: The Long-Lasting Relationship Without True Love

But what happens when a soul mate believer doesn’t give up on a relationship?

This may lead to what is known as a “fantasy bond”, or a relationship in which one or both partners are unwilling to admit that their relationship is not perfect, and instead live out their relationship in a fantasy, pretending that they are in a state of true love.

How does this kind of relationship happen?

Fantasy bonds occur when the love in a relationship is slowly replaced by a “going through the motions” type of behavior, and there are a few reasons why a couple might go down this path.

These reasons include:

  •     Fear of loneliness: Many people have a fear of loneliness or fear of meaninglessness in their lives, and they use their relationship to create meaning. They cling onto relationships even if they no longer feel the love, simply because they are afraid of being alone and starting from scratch.
  •     Fear of conflict: No matter how great a relationship may be, it will always eventually have to face challenges. Challenges can be difficult and intimidating, and some people do not have the emotional maturity to face them, or do not believe that the relationship can survive the challenge. So instead of letting the relationship grow, they ignore whatever obvious difficulties are present between them and their partner, and live for years in a tense partnership with unresolved conflict.
  •     Fear of the future: Relationships offer a sense of stability that many people yearn for as adults. They act as a kind of guarantee of the future; while we won’t be able to predict how our career or personal success might turn out over the next decade, a relationship gives us a rock of certainty for years to come. When people value this certainty more than they value the relationship itself, they fall out of love with their partner.

Almost all fantasy bonds are unconscious, with neither partner aware that they are living in one.

How can you tell when your long-term relationship is all out of love and has officially regressed into a fantasy bond? Here are some signs:

Loss of Intimacy

You no longer feel close with your partner.

Many people excuse this as “just something that happens in a relationship”, but this is actually one of the biggest indicators of a long-term fantasy bond.

Not only do you no longer have a physical or mental bond with your partner, but you actively avoid reestablishing it.

Signs include:

  Little to no eye contact

  Boring or routine lovemaking, with no playfulness or surprise

  Stalled or nonexistent communication

Loss of Identity

Your “I” has become a “we” in all aspects of your life. Your identity and your independence have disappeared, and you no longer see yourself as an independent entity from your partner.

Instead, you see yourself as an extension of them, and you see them as an extension of yourself.

This means you no longer appreciate the differences between each other, and instead just feel of both of your identities as a singular blob.

Signs include:

  You speak as one person, saying “we” for everything

 You have no hobbies or areas of your life that are totally separate

  You don’t care to learn new things about your partner because you feel you know everything, and vice versa

Loss of Spontaneity

There is no more surprise in your relationship. You might say: how can there be a surprise in a relationship over 5, 10, 15 years old?

There can always be elements of surprise, as long as both partners are committed to keeping the spontaneity going.

Instead, you live lives filled with routine, without ever going anywhere new, doing anything new, or talking about anything new.

You no longer want to do new things with your partner, as being with them has lost all its novelty.

Signs include:

 Your behaviors are determined by your roles rather than what you actually want to do

 Your week is filled with weekly routines that you haven’t bothered to change in years

 You find yourself saying the same things, the same lines, and talking about the same subjects

Understanding the “Work It Out” Approach

What then can we say about true love, knowing that the belief in soul mates, destiny, and pre-determined relationships can actually make us worse partners with toxic behaviors?

We have to take a page out of the “Work It Out” philosophy and understand that the only way to achieve genuine, ever-lasting true love is with work.

But is it still real love if you have to work for it?

Studies confirm that it is. In one study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, brain scans were performed on long-term couples (relationships lasting an average of 21 years) and young couples still enjoying their first few weeks together.

It was found that the brain activity of both types of couples – both long-term and newly in love – were surprisingly similar, with identical brain activity in the parts of the brain associated with feelings of love, the motivation and reward centers.

This means that the love of couples who had stayed together for over two decades still produced the same spark as the love of couples who had just met.

But how do you sustain this love, turning it into true love?

Characteristics of True Love

There are three characteristics that both partners in a relationship must have for any chance of developing true love. These characteristics are:

1) Independent

A strong sense of independence in both partners is absolutely essential for love to evolve into true love.

As mentioned above, one of the most prominent signs of a fantasy bond is the loss of identity, when the lack of independence allows both partners to fall into a state where they no longer know who they are as individuals.

Independence not only allows both partners to keep their sense of self during long-term relationships, but it also allows them to avoid the neediness that so often dampens the romance in multi-year long relationships.

People who aren’t independent end up relying too much on their partner, meaning even the most menial activities – from getting their own drinks from the kitchen to preparing their own clothes for the day – become expectations of the partner, rather than something they do on their own.

And this neediness destroys any sense of sexual or erotic connection between two partners. Years of relying on one another changes the way two partners perceive each other, as it saps away all genuine desire to care for our partners.

2) Passionate

For any long-term relationship to work out, keeping the love going strong even years after the initial union, both partners in the relationship must have a passion they bring to the table.

A study from Stony Brook University found that researchers could accurately predict the future, long-term success of a relationship by judging only the level of passion exhibited by the partners involved, even if that passion is unrelated to the relationship itself.

Why does this matter?

Because people who understand the importance of maintaining strong emotion, zest, and desire in their own interests generally also have the same ability to transfer that energy into their relationship.

If you find your long-term relationship becoming dull and boring, then it might be time to stop focusing on trying to fix the relationship; the problem might be in your interest in your greater life.

3) Self-Fulfilling

What does it mean to be self-fulfilling?

Being self-fulfilling means being aware of the things you need, the goals you need to accomplish, and the milestones you need to conquer to become your ideal self.

While anyone can list their dreams and goals, how many people actually actively work towards accomplishing these dreams and goals, every single day?

Not many; those that do can be considered self-fulfilling.

And this is one of the most important characteristics you and your partner must have to keep your true love alive.

Your marriage or partnership should evolve beyond the base needs of safety, security, and companionship, and must become a union that both partners can use as a tool to further exercise their self-fulfillment.

According to psychologist Eli Finkel, the average marriage is “weaker” than it used to be, with proof in the higher divorce rates and lesser satisfaction.

However, “the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being”.

You must view your companionship with your partner as something you ultimately need to become the best version of yourself you can be.

Only through that belief will you subconsciously work to keep it alive, investing the required resources to maintain a healthy partnership.

The Simple Secret Behind True Love

True love will never come easy, whether you are with your one and only soulmate, your high school sweetheart, or a new, frightening, and exciting relationship you never thought would come.

But no matter how many articles you read on being the perfect partner, and no matter how many movies you watch on romance and passion, your relationship will never make that giant next leap if you never take the risk.

The simple secret behind true love? Take the risk. Even when the going gets tough, and even when you think it would be so much better to cut your losses and end it now, ask yourself: is this really what I want to do? Or is there something better waiting on the other side?

Make the right choice, and find true love unlike any other you have ever known.

New video: 7 undeniable signs you’ve found your soulmate


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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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