Your Achy Breaky Heart
By using your head instead of your heart you can control how much you love someone – simply by focussing positive or negative thoughts about them.
Behavioural and cognitive strategies can reignite a failing relationship and ease a broken heart.
According to researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Erasmus University, Rotterdam, there are two types of love – infatuation and attachment.
Infatuation is something most of us have experienced at some time or another, usually in our youth. It can be overwhelming and is oft confused with ‘romantic love’ or ‘passionate love.’ Attachment, on the other hand, provides us with the comforting feeling of emotional bonding, and is closely related to intimacy, commitment and companionate love.
This new study is the first of its kind and was carried out in two parts. The first part involved a questionnaire while the second part involved both another questionnaire and a visual task.
For the first part, the researchers asked 27 participants 17 questions on a totally disagree/totally agree basis about their feelings of love and romantic relationships and was designed to assess the person’s perceived control of their feelings. The questions included such things as:
- Love is uncontrollable
- I had control over whether I fell in love with (name)
- Love is involuntary
The questions were couched in such a way as to measure the participants perceived control over love in general, and over infatuation and attachment specifically. They were also phrased in a way that would measure perceived control over one’s own – as opposed to other people’s – feelings of love, the intensity of love and over the object of their love.
Following the questions, the researchers discovered that a majority of the participants believed they were more in control of feelings when they felt attached to their partner rather than when they felt infatuating feelings.
I presume that the results took into consideration the way in which most people unconsciously tweak their responses in an attempt to present themselves as fine upstanding and intelligent level headed members of society.
Nonetheless, the results of this first and purely exploratory study show that people perceive feelings of love as controllable, somewhat uncontrollable or completely uncontrollable. Some participants did perceive more control over some aspects of love than others and the majority of people noted that they have used numerous techniques when struggling with a broken heart or while they were in a long-term relationship. Some strategies seemed specific for changing the intensity of feelings of love, rather than for regulating emotions or maintaining relationships.
For the next part of the study, the team recruited a new group of 40 participants, half of whom were in romantic relationships, and half had recently separated from their partner. This group also completed the 17 questions, but this time they were each given 30 digital pictures of their partner. Whilst looking at the pictures, the volunteers were asked to think of both positive and negative aspects of their partner and their relationship. They were also asked to think up imaginary future scenarios.
Whilst completing the task, each participant’s EEG was recorded while they viewed a slideshow of the images and positive or negative comments relating to their partners.
The researchers found that after looking at nice images and positive comments, participants felt more love for their partner, but less love after they viewed negative images and comments.
A common trick in hypnotherapy is to ask clients if there was ever a time in the relationship when they didn’t like their partner so much – maybe it was when he/she burped after a meal, or when they put on weight, or got drunk and called your mother nosey cow! Focussing on these less enjoyable moments in a relationship encourages the client, at an unconscious level, to like less the idea of being in a relationship with that person. A rare example of the mainstream scientists catching up with the fringe if ever there was one!
The full study was published in the journal PLOS One.