As Valentine's Day approaches I'm reminded of how often patients ask "What is love?" Unfortunately, the most accurate answer I can give them is, "It depends."
Love is a complicated topic and to prove this fact, the Greeks have three different words to describe it:
"Eros" is the word used to describe a kind of love rooted in physical attraction or chemistry. When we talk about "falling in love" we are referring to Eros.
"Philos" is more about affection and caring for a partner, family or friends. This is a type of love that makes us want to treat others kindly.
"Agape" is considered the highest form of love as it is selfless. It moves us to protect the well-being of others at any cost.
The cultural hype surrounding Valentine's Day is about Eros. On Feb. 14, cards, flowers and candy abound. Unfortunately, no one teaches us that Eros generally has an expiration date.
To further take some of the "romance" out of it, Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, claims that "romantic love is one of three basic brain systems that evolved for reproduction. Each evolved for a reason: The sex drive evolved to get you out there looking for partners. Romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your energy on just one person at a time, conserving time and energy. And attachment, the feeling of security you can feel with a long-term partner, evolved to help you stay together long enough to raise kids."
If you are suddenly feeling disheartened and cynical about your love life, here are some ways to keep romantic love alive long after Cupid shoots his arrow:
Realize that if romantic love is to endure beyond the intense Eros phase, you must have a solid foundation of friendship, shared values and goals, respect and some common interests.
Don't take your spouse for granted by being neglectful or disrespectful. Romantic love is conditional and can ultimately die if left untended.
Create time alone to enjoy each other's company. This can be as simple and affordable as a walk on the beach, or as complicated and expensive as an exotic getaway.
A happy, healthy sex life won't save a broken relationship but it will certainly make a good one even better. Even if it's been many years since you and your partner fell head over heels in love, take time this Valentine's Day to do something thoughtful for your Valentine and remember what brought you together in the first place.