The new book Love Sense by clinical psychologistÂ Dr. Sue Johnson tries to take some of the mystery out of that big emotion. While that may not sound very romantic, Johnson is dedicated to the scientific exploration of love so that we may have better, more-fulfilling, more intimate long-term relationships — especially in a world where independence, isolation and non-monogamy are growing more common. Her book offers real-life examples and practical exercises, based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy she developed in her own practice. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter, which outlines a brief history of love and why it still matters in the 21st century.
“Love Sense” by Dr. Sue Johnson
from Chapter 1
My memories are full of the sounds and sights of love: The ache in my elderly grandmotherâ€™s voice when she spoke of her husband, gone nearly fifty years. A railway signalman, he had courted her, a ladiesâ€™ maid, for seven years on the one Sunday she had off each month. He died of pneumonia on Christmas Day after eighteen years of marriage, when he was forty-five and she just forty.
My small enraged mother flying across the kitchen floor at my father, a former naval engineer in World War II, who stood large and strong in the doorway, drinking her in with his eyes, and she, seeing me, stopping suddenly and fleeing from the room. She left him after three decades of slammed doors and raised fists when I was ten. â€śWhy do they fight all the time?â€ť I asked my granny. â€śBecause they love each other, sweetie,â€ť she said. â€śAnd watching them, itâ€™s clear that none of us knows what the hell that means.â€ť I remember thinking, â€śWell, I wonâ€™t do this love thing, then.â€ť But I did.
Telling my first great love, â€śI refuse to play this ridiculous game. Itâ€™s like falling off a cliff.â€ť Weeping just months into a marriage, asking myself, â€śWhy do I no longer love this man? I canâ€™t even pinpoint what is missing.â€ť Another man smiling quietly at me, and I, just as quietly, leaning back and letting myself plunge into the abyss. There was nothing missing.
Sitting, years later, watching the last of the ice finally melting on our lake one morning in early April and hearing my husband and children walking through the woods behind me. They were laughing and talking, and I touched for a moment the deepest joy, the kind of joy that was, and still is, entirely enough to fill up my heart for this lifetime.
Anguish and drama, elation and satisfaction. About what? For what?
Love can begin in a thousand waysâ€”with a glance, a stare, a whisper or smile, a compliment, or an insult. It continues with caresses and kisses, or maybe frowns and fights. It ends with silence and sadness, frustration and rage, tears, and even, sometimes, joy and laughter. It can last just hours or days, or endure through years and beyond death. It is something we look for, or it finds us. It can be our salvation or our ruin. Its presence exalts us, and its loss or absence desolates us.
We hunger for love, yearn for it, are impelled to it, but we havenâ€™t truly understood it. We have given it a name, acknowledged its force, cataloged its splendors and sorrows. But still we are confronted with so many puzzles: What does it mean to love, to have a loving relationship? Why do we pursue love? What makes love stop? What makes it persist? Does love make any sense at all?