The Psychology of Romantic Love by Nathaniel Branden (Part 1) | Made of Lovely

Relationship House: The Psychology of Romantic Love (Part 1)

As we keep diving in to this concept of building a strong, stable, and lasting relationship house. We will see some overlap or even a repeat of concepts. 

Just like in building a house, the elements/materials are intertwined, connected, and build upon each other.

The idea is that as you keep learning, and keep hearing the same concepts presented in different ways that they will begin to resonate & register with you on a much deeper level.

Today we are looking at the work of Nathaniel Branden, from his book “The Psychology of Romantic Love”, to be able to acquire some of the elements of our house’s walls, windows, foundation, and even a little bit of the ground on which the house is built.

Let’s start with the question: What is love? Or perhaps more specifically romantic love?

To paraphrase Branden’s answer:

Love is two individuals sharing from their fullness. Romantic love is a passionate spiritual-emotional-sexual attachment that reflects a high regard for the value of each other’s person. That attachment is experienced as passionate or intense, at least to some significant extent. There is some sort of spiritual affinity, some deep mutuality of values & outlook, some sense of being “soul mates”. Deep emotional involvement. Strong sexual attraction. Mutual admiration.

– Nathaniel Branden

Romantic love like every other value in life requires consciousness, courage, knowledge, and wisdom to be sustained — without putting irrational and impossible demands on it.

Basic Human Needs

We experience love as a source of fulfillment for profoundly important needs. Love in a general sense is our emotional response to that which we value highly. But love is more than an emotion; it is an evaluation (either “for me” or “against me“, and “to what extent“) and action tendencies. Love is the highest, the most intense, expression of the assessment “for me“.

Thusly, romantic love can respond to some of our basic human needs. Not that we will die without them, but they make an enormous contribution to our well-being and to our efficacious functioning (aka survival value).

Here are some of the most important:

  • companionship
  • to admire and be admired
  • to love and be loved
  • to feel truly seen, known, and understood (visible)
  • to care and be cared for (nurtured)
  • a form of objective self-awareness
  • self-discovery
  • sexual fulfillment
  • to be able to fully express oneself
  • for a private universe; support, fuel for outside struggles
  • a refuge from the struggles of the world
  • share in our excitement in being alive
  • to enjoy and be nourished by the excitement of another
  • someone to talk to
  • to be with
  • to have emotional closeness & intimacy
  • to respect and be respected
  • who makes us believe in the possibilities of the world, the triumph of life
  • a confirmation of the value of life
  • a channel for our energy
  • a source of inspiration

To be able to participate in this kind of needs fulfillment, the requirement is that love becomes each person sharing from their fullness. But what makes up this fullness? Those are the pre-requisites that each individual must meet.

Individual Requirements for Romantic Love to be Possible

We each are islands of consciousness — and this is the root of our aloneness. To be an individual, experiencing a unique perspective on the world, and to be self-conscious is to encounter the unalterable fact of one’s aloneness.

Aloneness entails self-responsibility. No one can think, feel, live our life for us, or give meaning to our existence except for us. To most people, this fact is terrifying.

People would rather live in denials: refusing to think and following uncritically the beliefs of others, disowning one’s deepest feelings in order to “belong”.

The tragic irony of people’s lives is that the very attempt to deny aloneness results in denying love. There first must be an “I”, a self — then there’s the possibility to know the exquisite joy of one self encountering another.

Therefore the overarching requirement for each person is truly proper development of self (aka maturity). If a person is stuck in a child-like state, we will see how that makes it near impossible for them to be able to show up in the way that romantic love requires.

Here are the prerequisites that each individual must have (the absence of them become formidable barriers):

  • Healthy self-esteem (living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully, and personal integrity)
  • An understanding of selfish love
  • Ability to nurture
  • Self-connection/Self-Disclosure
  • Ability to communicate
  • Desire/Ability to see their partner
  • Feeling of excitement existing within themself (this is reflected in the excitement in the relationship)
  • In a position to be available to love at that point in their lives
  • They view the success in their relationship with this partner as imperative as the success in other areas of life

Be careful about black and white thinking, absolutes, the all or nothing. You may see you have some of these, and others you need to acquire. Romantic love does not require perfection, it simply requires a good foundation built on a strong sense of self — which you can develop. Balance and degree are key issues.

Without proper development of self, it seems an individual will keep struggling/floundering until either they acquire what is needed or the relationship comes to an end. 

photo credit: Nick Owuor (astro.nic.visuals) via Unsplash

Self-Esteem

Self-esteem means confidence in our personal efficacy and worth. It is the integrated sum of self-confidence and self-respect. It is the experience that we are competent to live and worthy of living. It is the experience that we are appropriate to life and its requirements & challenges.

It is self-trust, confidence in our ability to think, to cope, and in our right to be successful & happy. It is the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs & wants, to achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our efforts. 

It is a sense of basic competence and a sense of basic worth. It is believing, “I am lovable, worthy, deserving, and capable.”

Essentially, we must enjoy our own being, to be happy in a profound sense of who we are, to experience the self as worthy of being valued and loved by others.

Self-esteem is also a continuum — not either you have it or you don’t. So degree is of the upmost importance.

It is self-esteem that gives us the courage not to fight change, not to fight growth, not to fight the next moment of our existence. Our greatest chance at permanence lies in our ability to handle change.

We must be in the moment, feel it, experience it then let go, then move onto the next moment and the next adventure. And we cannot demand always to know in advance what that will be. Stillness is impossible. The moment can be lived, but it cannot be captured. This attitude requires self-esteem and is important for romantic love — love has the greatest chance to endure when it does not fight the flow of life but learns to join with it.

Let’s look at three specific things around self-esteem that impact romantic love: self-acceptance, autonomy, and worthiness.

#1 Self-Acceptance

The old adage of only being able to love others when we love ourselves rings true.

If we are harsh and moralistically judgmental toward ourself, we will not treat our partner any better. The acceptance of our feelings is the foundation of our acceptance of the feelings of others

The extent on the ability & willingness to accept and respect abstruse traits within ourself will allow us to be better able to accept those traits in others (ex: if a man disowns his sensitivity within himself he will typically be impatient with that trait in a woman).

Simply put: you only can give to your partner what you can give to yourself. If you are unable to accept your feelings and traits hidden within yourself, you will have great difficulty doing this for your partner.

#2 Autonomy

Autonomy & self-esteem are inseparable; both presuppose successful separation & individuation.

Autonomous individuals know that other people do not exist merely to satisfy their needs. They have accepted the fact that no matter how much love & caring exists between two people, that each of us are ultimately responsible for ourselves. 

This does not mean that they do not provide support or nurturing for their partner, but rather, they are not waiting to be rescued/saved.

Autonomous individuals have grown beyond the need to prove to anyone that they are a good boy/girl, just as they have outgrown the need for their partner to be their mother/father. 

This does not mean there are not moments in which this is needed. But it does not form the essence of the relationship

They do not require anyone else’s permission to be who they are, and their egos are not continually on the line – IOW his/her worth is not a matter of continuing doubt. The source of approval resides within the self.

The tendency of non-autonomous individuals is to translate incidents into evidence of rejection, evidence of not really being loved — small conflicts escalate into major conflicts.

To simply demonstrate this: The autonomous individual on meeting someone new thinks, “What do I think of this person?” Whereas, the immature/dependent individual thinks, “What does this person think of me?”

Autonomous individuals also respect their partner’s need to follow his/her own destiny, to be alone sometimes, to be preoccupied sometimes, not to be thinking about the relationship sometimes but rather about other vital matters that may not even involve the partner in any direct sense, such as work, personal unfolding and evolution of personal developmental needs. So autonomous individuals do not always need to be center stage, they do not need always to be the focus of attention, they do not panic when the partner is mentally preoccupied elsewhere.

Autonomous individuals give this freedom to themselves as well as to those they love.

#3 Worthiness

Which brings us to worthiness. Healthy self-esteem, the feeling of worthiness, allows us to fully believe that we are loved by someone else and to be able to receive/accept that love.

We must have a vision of ourselves that contains the rightness of being loved, the naturalness of being loved, the appropriateness of being loved. People who know how to make themselves happy in love relationships are people who are OPEN to accepting love. In order to accept love, they must love themselves. People who love themselves do not find it incomprehensible that others should love them.

Worthiness also impacts what we believe about our right to happiness. When we believe that we are worthy of happiness it is the sense of our right to assert our own interests, needs, and wants.

When someone lacks a feeling of worthiness, there’s often the fear that something will take away their happiness, or something terrible will happen to counterbalance it (Dr. Brené Brown calls this foreboding joy). Happiness becomes a source of anxiety – longing for it while also dreading it.

Without successful separation & individuation, one does not sufficiently discover their own internal resources & strength. The growth of romantic love requires an appreciation that happiness is our human birthright. If happiness feels natural, feels normal, we can allow it, can be open to it, can flow with it then we do not feel the impulse to sabotage and self-destruct. 

The Impacts Of Low & High Self-Esteem on a Relationship

Self-esteem impacts many other elements in romantic love’s ability to thrive or in its defeat. Here’s a few examples of how:

  • Low self-esteem creates an inability to tolerate things about our partner; “The point is that conflict can often be resolved by recognizing & owning in ourselves those traits and characteristics that sometimes frustrate/annoy us in those we love; learning to accept those traits in ourselves, we are better able to accept them in others.”

  • Low self-esteem creates the need to hide, thus the more ambivalent towards visibility they are likely to be; both longing for it and terrified by it.

  • Validation (confirmed, approved of in one’s being & behavior) is a normal desire unless it gains such ascendancy in one’s hierarchy of values that one will sacrifice honesty & integrity in order to achieve it, in which case one clearly lacks self-esteem. There’s a lack of confidence in mind and judgement, resulting in excessive preoccupation with gaining approval & avoiding the disapproval of others. Because the person does not believe in themself, no outside source of support can ever satisfy this hunger (except momentarily). Love is to celebrate self-esteem — not create it in those who lack it. It’s natural to hope & expect that others will perceive our value, not create it. We want others to see us as we actually are, even help us see more clearly, but not invent us.

  • Low self-esteem individuals are more inclined to perceive differences as threatening. Whereas, the firmer the self-esteem of the individuals the more likely they can experience differences as enriching/stimulating.

  • Low self-esteem creates less accountability, with the tendency to blame their partner or the relationship dynamics. Whereas higher self-esteemed individuals will not be blind to the role they play in creating the situation that is causing suffering.

  • When high-self-esteem people fall in love, admiration is most likely to be at the core of their relationship. They are most likely to admire and to be admired.

  • Self esteem also helps us be able to nurture our partner (aka create the feeling of being cared for). With a solid level of self-esteem, we know that what we do matters to another human being, one way or another. We will feel effective; we will be aware of our ability to have an impact on another person – we will know we have the power to nurture the person we love.

  • When we enjoy healthy self-esteem, when we feel love of our self and in harmony with ourself, then sex is a natural  and spontaneous expression of our feelings for our partner, for our self, and for life. “But when we are deeply insecure about our worth, when we live with a chronic sense of feeling threatened or doomed, sex becomes a means to proving & playing out our unresolved childhood traumas. What successful romantic love requires is a sexuality that is integrated with the self, that is not experienced as being at war with other cardinal values of the self. If we are not divided against ourselves, if we are not engaged in a constant struggle to “prove” our worth or to “prove” anything, then we are free to enjoy our own being, to enjoy the state of being alive, to enjoy and appreciate our partner; we do not experience a split between mind and body, between spirit and flesh, between admiration and passion. Then we truly think and feel that our partner is wonderful; we take pride in the direction of our sexual desires”.
photo credit: Kenny Eliason

Understanding Selfish Love

Romantic love is selfish love. “Of all the nonsense written about love is that it is selfless, but the truth is what you love is the embodiment of your values in the other person; love is a profound act of self-assertion.”

To love selfishly doesn’t mean to be indifferent to the needs/interests of the partner. 

When we love, our concept of our self-interest expands to embrace the well-being of our partner. That is a great compliment to love to declare that another human being and their happiness is of selfish importance to ourselves (Dr. Gottman described this same concept in the motto of thriving couples, all about the partner’s payoffs).

To love is to see myself in you and to wish to celebrate myself with youthis is the essence of love.

And when we who are in love have the wisdom to spend time together alone…doing nothing as the word doing is ordinarily understood… just being together, just sharing our beings, sharing our thoughts, our feelings, our fantasies, our longings.. sharing the voyage into that self, using each other to go deeper and deeper into that self, using each other as a guide, a facilitator, a mirror, a sounding board for the exploration of the self, making of love a pathway to self-discovery, making of love a vehicle for personal growth, making of love a doorway to personal evolution—is this not the noblest and most exalted expression of intelligent selfishness?

-Nathaniel Branden

To help you understand this idea of love being selfish: do you want your lover to unselfishly hold and caress you, with no personal gratification in doing it? Or do you want your lover to hold and caress you because it is a joy and a pleasure for them to do so? Do you want your partner to spend time with you, alone together, and to experience that as an act of self sacrifice? Or do you want your parter to experience that same time as glory?

And if you want your partner to feel glory, if you want them to experience joy in your presence, excitement in your being, ardor, passion, fascination, delight, then let us stop talking of “selfless love” as a noble idea.

Often when we experience a person as selfish, the issue is actually immaturity. Romantic love requires a grown-up’s understanding of selfishness. Romantic love is not for children.

photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Ability to Nurture

Practically all of the qualities and attitudes needed for the fulfillment of romantic love require maturity — this can hardly be stressed enough.

If we can see only our own needs and not the needs of our partner, we are in the relation of a child to a parent, not of an equal to an equal. In romantic love, independent equals do not drain each other; they nurture each other.

To nurture another human being, in the sense meant here, is to accept him or her unreservedly; to respect his or her sovereignty and integrity; to support his or her growth and self-actualization needs; and to care, on the deepest and most intimate level, about his or her thoughts, feelings, and wants (Gottman describes this as attunement). It is to create a context and environment in which a person can live and flourish.

To nurture another human being means to accept that person as he or she is, and yet to believe in possibilities within that person still unrealized. It is to be honest with that person about our needs and wants, and always remember that the other person does not exist merely to satisfy our needs and wants.

It means to express confidence in the person’s strengths and internal resources and yet be available to offer help when it is asked for (and sometimes to recognize that it might be needed even when it is not being asked for).

It is to create a context in which the person can experience that he or she matters, that the expression of thoughts and feelings will be welcomed, and yet to understand that there are times when what our partner needs is silence and aloneness.

To nurture is to caress and stroke, without making demands; to hold and protect; to allow tears and to offer comfort; to fetch a cup of tea or coffee unasked.

Without any implication of immaturity, there exists in each one of us the child we once were, and there are times when that child too needs nurturing.

We need to be aware of the child in ourselves and in our partner. We need to be in good relationship with that child. To nurture someone we love is to nurture the child within that adult person and to accept that child as a valid part of who that person is. To nurture is to love not only our partner’s strength but also his or her fragility, not only that within our partner which is powerful but also that which is delicate.

It is just this pattern of mutual caring and nurturing that we can know how to love. Out of the fullness of our own being comes our ability to nurture.

We also do not want to be nurtured as an act of self-sacrifice, rather we want to feel that our partner is selfishly invested in the act of nurturing. 

An accumulation of past hurts/resentments may make us emotionally blocked with our partner — inhibiting the flow of feeling and energy that nurturing entails. Or after years of frustration, we may have disowned and repressed our own need and desire for nurturing and, in consequence, are out of touch with that need in our partner.

We cannot hope to outgrow a condition whose reality we will not own, will not accept, will not allow ourselves to experience fully. And so we remain the prisoner of our immaturity, of the unfinished business of our childhood, which keeps us from the joys and gratifications of adulthood. In this trapped state, romantic love can be felt only as a painful longing for a distant, unattainable ideal, possible, perhaps to others but never to oneself. 

photo credit: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

Self-Connection / Self-Disclosure

Couples in love tend to show more of themselves to each other than to any other person. This implies that they have created an atmosphere of trust & acceptance. But more importantly, and foremost, it implies that each is willing to know and encounter himself/herself.

The issue is that many of us were taught to repress feelings in childhood either by being squelched or modeled this behavior. The child learns to disown their feelings, effectively ceasing to experience them. When a child learns that certain feelings & emotions are unacceptable, but are felt, the child produces a solution: unconsciousness.

The same solution is created when any emotion is experienced as threatening/overwhelming (even ones like joy or happiness) — all feelings can become blocked.

To the extent that we suffer from self-disowning, we are in a chronic state of disharmony with ourselves.

This disconnect from self with time feels “normal”.

So many people are suffering from a sense of personal unreality, that they have lost touch with themselves, that too often they don’t know what they feel but act with numb obliviousness to that which prompts or motivates their actions. For romantic love this is disastrous.

Because it is precisely the self that we wish to make visible and to share

If we do not know ourselves, our inner world, experience what we feel, then we can’t have intimacy — which means we’re incapacitated for romantic love.

Intimacy pertains to sharing of the self on the deepest and most personal & private level — an exchange of vulnerabilities.

We stay alive, psychologically, by staying in touch with our feelings, with our emotions, with our thoughts and longings and fantasies and judgments — with everything that pertains to the world of our inner experience. And we keep our relationships alive by sharing this inner world, by exposing it, by expressing it, by making it part of the lived reality of our existence. And this includes, as an essential feature, remaining sensitive to what we see in our partner and to how he/she affects us, the feelings and thoughts our partner inspires in us, all of which pertain to the need of psychological visibility.

Relationships can starve to death though silence, the absence of this flow of energy between two people, the absence of exchanging the experience of visibility.

Self-disclosure creates the experience of visibility, making support & validation possible, and stimulates growth.

It’s not that we need a partner to applaud everything we think, feel, fantasize or desire. We need to merely be able to express ourselves without fear of moral condemnation or attack, in an atmosphere of respect and acceptance. And we should also do this for our partner.

But again, it’s very hard to give to another person that which we have not learned to give ourselves.

When a person feels free to share their fantasies, to express their wants, acknowledge their feelings, and communicate concerning their thoughts, with each confident of the other’s interest and engagement in the process, then they are masters of one of the most essential elements in fulfilled romantic love.

We need times of stillness to enter into ourselves, to experience who we are, to revitalize the ourselves. The same is true of two people in a relationship. A relationship needs time; it needs leisure without the distraction of any routine activities, so they can sit together, sometimes not talking, sometimes thinking aloud, permitting their thoughts and fantasies to lead them, slowly going deeper and deeper into who they are and what they feel, and what they mean to each other. There is the risk of boredom, but the risk is necessary. A person who schedules every moment  of the day without ever facing the fear of boredom, or having nothing to do is condemned to living on the surface of their mind, living superficially, living mechanically, living off the known and the familiar – because the new resides in the depths, and for entry into the depths, time without activity is needed.

-Nathaniel Branden
photo credit: Raffy John Jimenez via Unsplash

Ability to Communicate

There is no aphrodisiac in the world so powerful and, in the end, so reliable as authentic communication that flows from the core of one being to the core of another.

Romantic love is made or broken by the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of communication. The essence of mutual self-disclosure is communication — and the most important element is the communication of feelings and emotions.

While fights have their place, we should not need the force of anger to break down our walls. We should master the art of shattering them ourselves if we wish to participate in romantic love.

Communication is the lifeblood of a relationship. It requires discrimination, respect, & benevolence.

We want our partner to be interested, and have the desire & willingness to listen. We want our emotions to be taken seriously, to be respected. We do not wish to be told that we shouldn’t feel something or to be lectured.

If we bury our negative feelings, we will also disown our positive feelings. We become silent, withdrawn, remote. Building a protective wall of indifference. Our partner is not experienced as a source of pleasure but becomes a source of pain against which we protect ourselves by numbness. We shut down, refusing to give our partner the pleasure of feeling visible and appreciated.

But visibility (to be seen, known, and understood) is a basic need, and thusly, a requirement of romantic love. So we must be brave enough to be vulnerable and to share the good and the bad.

Expressing & Hearing Pain

Sometimes the simple act of expressing our pain is enough. We want our partner to understand our pain and our partner needs the same. We need to learn to listen, not necessarily agree with but to accept our partner’s feelings for what they are and not to turn into a punitive parent. Just listen, just be there, just be available, without any obligation to say something brilliant, or to find a solution, or to cheer our partner up. If we are the one who caused the pain, the appropriate response is to listen, to give our partner the experience of being heard, to show that we care, to acknowledge our error honestly if we have made one, and to take whatever corrective action.

Expressing & Accepting Fear

If we can express our fear with honesty and dignity, or to listen to our partner’s expression of fear with respect and acceptance, something beautiful can happen. The fear itself, through being discharged, can disappear. Or at minimum the speaker can gain the courage to act against the fear.

It is not the fear as such that causes the damage but the denial of the fear, the refusal to own it and to deal with it honestly. Each senses this hostility in the other, and his or her own fear and hostility are subsequently reinforced. If it is a love affair, it is a love affair between two fortresses. When there is trouble between them, the man or woman does not say, “I love you and I am frightened of losing you.” He or she says “I am no longer so sure I love you.” It takes courage to say, “I’m afraid.”

When they lack this courage, the price often paid is the destruction of a relationship.

Expressing & Accepting Anger

The proper expression of anger is to express/describe feelings honestly, to describe what we see/observed, or what we think has happened. This opens the door to productive communication. This is not attacking your partner’s character, psychologizing about your partner’s motives. There is an art to expressing anger, and that does not include denying/disowning it, smiling outward while burning inward, it consists of being honest about your feelings.

If you are the listener, do not interrupt, fight back, just listen. After your partner has expressed everything they need to then it’s appropriate to respond. If we believe that our partner has misinterpreted the facts, we can point that out. If it is clear that we are in the wrong, the solution is to acknowledge that.

The repression of anger kills love, kills sex, kills passion. We often turn “off” to the person who has inspired our anger, we solve by numbing, but relationships are buried by such “solutions”.

Expressing & Accepting Love, Joy, Excitement

Not only is it imperative that negative feelings be shared, but also positive feelings (love, appreciation, desire, care, how deeply you feel) and the communication of the perceptions, thoughts, fantasies — in other words, the full range of our mental and emotional world. To share a life means to share our inner processes, our inner experiences, all that pertains to self. Further, the ability to accept these from our partner is crucial. People who cannot handle the realm of emotions, either happy or unhappy, complain that inevitably passion dies.

Expressing Wants

It’s true that no one can always give us what we want and we must accept this. No one else exists solely for satisfaction of our desires. However, for intimacy the expression of thoughts, feelings, and desires is imperative.

If you’re afraid to know what you want or to express it unambiguously, then too often, rather than own the fear, you’ll blame your partner. You’ll feel hurt and resentment over the fact that your partner has failed to provide that which you have not taken responsibility for — knowing what you want, let alone communicating it. When the truth is that there is a fear that our partner will not care, will not respond. There is a fear that we will put ourselves in his/her hands, give the partner too much power — through letting the partner see our naked feelings and desires.

But we need to be brave and express clearly our needs & wants and allow another to support us.

Even in the most intimate and loving of relationships, we need to be aware of and to respect our own needs and wants. Not that compromise and accommodation have no place in a love relationship; obviously they have. But if too often a person ignores or sacrifices their own needs and wants in order to please or satisfy the other, they commit a crime against both parties: against themself, because of the treason to one’s own values and to their partner, because in allowing them to be the collector of sacrificial offerings, they are allowing their partner to become someone they will resent. Love is hardly served by such a policy.

Neither is love served by manipulations to get needs met because there is a lack of honest expressions of thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Honest communication has a great deal to do with our willingness and courage to be who we are, to show who we are, to own our thoughts, feelings, and desires — in other words, to give up self-concealment as a survival strategy.

We must leap into honesty.

Romantic love is not for liars or for cowards. Honesty and courage serve the growth of romantic love. Dishonesty and cowardice inevitably subvert it. 

photo credit: Clarisse Meyer via Unsplash

Ability to See (aka A Foundation of Realism)

An active desire to see our partner and an ability to see them with fresh eyes encourages the process of growth & the unfolding within him/her vs. having an attitude of mental passivity believing that you know everything there is to know about your partner, that there is nothing new to see or discover.

The ability to see our partner means seeing our partner as they are, with shortcomings as well as virtues; rather than attempting to carry on a romance with a fantasy.

Fantasy is where people do not meet your expectations — you are likely to feel hurt, resentful, and betrayed while being able to cast yourself as the bewildered victim. The reason people create a fantasy version is because they have a great many disowned needs, longings, hurts, and desires that they are consciously unaware of, while subconsciously seeking to satisfy, resolve, or heal. 

But the truth is if there are no real affinities then it would only be a matter of time before they get bored of the partner in spite of such passion & intensity in the beginning. 

On the other hand if we know who we are choosing we are not shocked when they act in character. When passion and sight are integrated love can flourish.

Additionally if a person has the ability to see a partner with fresh eyes they know that it is never true that there is nothing more to understand. There is always more, if only because a person is engaged in a constant process of unfolding. When we have an active desire to see our partner in this way it encourages the process of growth and the unfolding within him/her.

Couples who know how to sustain love over long periods of time, very commonly ask each other, “What do you think? What do you feel?” They will watch each other with genuine interest. They will lean forward with excitement, their eyes sparkling with awareness. They enjoy communicating what they see or sense about the other.

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Feeling of Excitement

Excitement is the felt energy that we experience flowing within us and that we have available for our responses.

The enemy of excitement, and therefore of the ability to experience and express continuing appreciation of our partner, is emotional repression, self-disowning, self-alienation/disconnection.

People learn to turn against themselves, to turn off so as to avoid getting hurt or to win approval or status; they then complain of feelings of emptiness and futility, and loss of passion.

Many people live automatically; they live off past thinking and past perceptions and past learnings. Hence life loses its freshness very early. Enthusiasm dies quickly. Passion dies quite soon. They have turned themselves more or less into machines, and as machines, they speak with great authority on the fact that inevitably passion is short-lived, as inevitably romantic love must die, as inevitably all enthusiasm must flag. Their delusion is that they are speaking about reality; the truth is that they are speaking about themselves.

Then you have the ones who have a fear of excitement. Who learned in childhood to conceal their excitement, subdue & submerge it, to extinguish it in order to appear grown up  — they are afraid to let their partner to see how much they feel, how much love radiates through them, and how much pleasure their mate can inspire. They withdraw and shutdown. But fear of excitement kills romantic love.

However, there are some who delight in consciousness and in the activity in consciousness — and their experience is different. 

The capacity to see life afresh every day and therefore to be able to perceive the unexpected, to leap into the unfamiliar, to be open to the novel is precisely the attitude required to sustain passion. Therefore a lack of excitement in your relationship, is directly related to the lack of excitement within you.

In a Position To Be Available to Love At That Point in Their Lives

While Branden only offered this point as a single blip in the book, we can extrapolate from everything that he laid out so far that romantic love requires another key condition: being available to love.

We all desire love because it is a source of fulfillment for profoundly important needs, well-being, and happiness. However, the desire to receive and give love, does not mean that we are available to love.

The people who are lacking self-awareness/concept/development, maturity, and who are ruled by their fears/insecurities around vulnerability & intimacy are not in a position to be available to love. As already stated, several times over, love requires a lot from us.

Love requires maturity, wisdom, consciousness, courage, and knowledge in order to be sustained. It requires communication skills and effective methods of conflict resolution. Love requires the art of being able to integrate it into the rest of their existence.

Thusly, being available to love is the sum of one’s healthy development and desire to develop further under the experience of romantic love.

Viewing The Success of The Relationship As Imperative

Hopefully you are seeing that having the right attitude makes a big difference in romantic love. Treating a relationship with care, consciousness, courage, knowledge, and wisdom are required to sustain romantic love — while not having an attitude of sulking, of self-indulgent self-pity, of the avoidance of responsibility for solving problems.

We need to take responsibility for our existence, to relinquish the belief that frustration & defeat are our natural and inevitable fate. We need to make time for our relationship.

When we are young, we are so often reckless with life, reckless with love. We imagine that we, and those we love, will live forever. If, at times, we are neglectful of love, fail to be sufficiently nourishing to our partner because we are involved in our work or some other activity, we tell ourselves, “Later. I’ll take care of it later.”

The biggest time-threat comes, not from our work but from our social relationships or what we tell ourselves are our social obligations. Often it is against these that love needs to be protected. The time that we and our partner spend in the company of friends or colleagues can be a source of pleasure, but it is not a substitute for time spent alone together. Nothing is. Evenings spent with people who do not matter to us, or do not matter nearly as much as the one we love, cannot be reclaimed at a later date, cannot be taken back and relived. It is now or never.

Don’t be reckless with your relationship, and unmindful of time — we are not immortal, don’t assume you will have all the time you need, none of us know who will still be here next week. Be here now. Let your love happen now.

Summary of Part 1

Romantic love requires two mature people. Love is sharing from one’s fullness and thusly, it requires a properly developed self — one that is capable and comfortable with interdependence.

The development of self includes:

  • Healthy self-esteem, meaning confidence in personal efficacy and worth. We must enjoy our own being, to be happy in a profound sense of who we are, to experience the self as worthy of being valued and loved by others. We must accept ourselves, traits & feelings, so that we can offer the same to our partners. We must accept the dichotomy of ultimately being responsible for ourselves (vs. needing to be rescued) while also being able to lean on our partner (vs. hyper-independence). We must believe the source of approval resides within the self (vs. compromising our values for external validation). It’s our sense of worthiness that allows us to fully believe that we are loved by someone else and to be able to receive/accept that love. Our worthiness gives us a right to happiness which gives us the sense of our right to assert our own interests, needs, and wants. We must open ourselves to love and be able to accept nurturing, admiration, care, etc. from our partners.

  • We must have an adult understanding that romantic love is selfish love. It is delighting in the discovery of self in another. It is an expansion of self-interest to also embrace the well-being of our partner. Romantic love is not selfless, nor is it self-sacrificing. Love is a profound act of self-assertion. 

  • Each individual must have the ability to nurture each other. Which means to accept him or her unreservedly; to respect his or her sovereignty and integrity; to support his or her growth and self-actualization needs; and to care, on the deepest and most intimate level, about his or her thoughts, feelings, and wants.

  • Each is willing to know and encounter himself/herself. This requires self-connection which is the ability to feel ones feelings, understands what prompts/motivates their actions, in touch with thoughts/longings/fantasies/judgements — essentially everything that pertains to the world of inner experience. And when each are able to share this inner world (aka self-disclosure) then they are masters of one of the most essential elements in fulfilled romantic love.

  • Both people are able to communicate with discrimination, respect, & benevolence. They are able to share their negative and positive feelings, as well as hold space for their partner’s negative and positive feelings. Both people are able to express wants and desires. Both communicate honestly, with a willingness and courage to be who they are, to show who they are, to own their thoughts, feelings, and desires.

  • Each individual sees their partner for who they are, both virtues and shortcomings. They are not building a fantasy version of their partner which is sure to disappoint them, and makes passion both intense & short-lived because they do not have any true affinity with them. Instead they build on a foundation of realism.

  • Each individual delights in consciousness, holding the capacity to see life afresh every day, leaping into the unfamiliar, open to the novel and continued discovery of their partner. They have the feeling of excitement flowing as energy within their being and it’s available to be reflected by their partner.

  • Each individual is available to love because they have the appropriate degree of maturity, self-development, and desire for continued growth & evolution.

  • They both have the right attitude. They do not engage in self-indulgent self-pity or sulking. They take responsibility for solving problems and for their existence. They both value the success of the relationship as much as they value success in other areas of their lives. They spend time alone together, and relish in that time.

Romantic love is not for children, it is not for liars or cowards. Romantic love can nourish us but is not a substitute for personal identity. But if we can learn to take more and more responsibility for our existence and well-being, and of expressing through our work & relationships more and more of who we are then we can continue going deeper and deeper into self-discovery — it is a properly developed self that has the capacity for romantic love…

UP NEXT: Part 2 Which goes over the couple’s requirements for romantic love to be possible.


Compatibility Questions

(From Part 1) Am I Ready For Love:

  1. Do I have good self-esteem?
  2. Do I understand that love is selfish?
  3. Am I able to nurture another?
  4. Am I connected to myself?
  5. Do I have good self-concept?
  6. Am I able/willing to self-disclose (vulnerability)?
  7. Do I have a desire (& the ability) to truly see my partner?
  8. Does excitement exist within me?
  9. Do I view the success of a relationship as important as other areas of my life?
  10. Am I in a position/point of my life to have a relationship & love?
  11. Do I use sex as an expression and celebration of love?
  12. Am I willing to create a private universe with a partner?
  13. Do I possess the ability to see the whole picture? (*Positive sentiment override)
  14. Can I tolerate temporary discord, frustration, & alienation?
  15. Do I know how to self-regulate / self-soothe?
  16. Am I able to handle conflicts in a mature way (ability to communicate & repair) or do I get hostile, mean, withdrawn, shutdown, etc.?
  17. Am I willing to be accountable?
  18. Am I curious about my partners inner world?
  19. Am I able to be truly committed (aka conviction, cherishing my partner, denigrating alternative matches, intentionally choosing my partner)?
  20. Do I nurture gratefulness or resentment when it comes to a partner?

Want to know if a person is a right fit for you? Check out Part 2 as Nathaniel Branden goes through more of what makes love grow or die with certain people.


In this post, I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can learn from Nathaniel Branden. If you’re like me and you want to learn AS MUCH AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN, then don’t you worry, I’ve got you. 

Here are my top recommended resources that will help you gain an even deeper understanding of what we went over in this post:

*Disclaimer: some, or all, of the products in this are affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission.

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