Whether you like it or not, we’re bombarded with love messages. Even the smallest gesture, such as holding hands, can be perceived as a declaration of romantic love. And that’s not a bad thing: Research shows that people who display affection have higher self-esteem and are more likely to be happy. But if you want to truly find love, you need to make some choices.
For example, you need to understand that “love” is more than just a feeling. It’s also a commitment that requires work. You need to be willing to put in the time and energy to build trust, intimacy, and emotional security—and you’ll likely have to face some setbacks along the way. And you need to be prepared for the inevitable ebb and flow of feelings, from lust to attraction to infatuation to love.
These factors can influence how you define love and what you expect from your partner. They can also affect whether you are able to tolerate a partner’s shortcomings. But a true commitment to a relationship is about putting the other person ahead of your own needs. It’s about not letting your emotional whims control your actions or pushing a partner away when you aren’t feeling loved back. It’s a choice you must make every day.
When you do decide to say “I love you,” it’s important to be honest and sincere. But it’s equally important to be aware that this is a big step in any relationship and will likely create a climate of expectation. “If you aren’t able to handle those expectations, it might be better to save the words for another time,” says Dr. James Gilliland, a clinical psychologist.
In addition, your partner will probably have his or her own definition of what it means to love you. It’s important to listen to your partner and respect his or her opinions, even if you disagree. And if you can’t agree, it may be time to move on.
It’s also important to distinguish between love and infatuation. Infatuation is typically a temporary state influenced by hormones and can end just as quickly as it began. But true love, which is often a fusion of romantic attraction and attachment, usually lasts longer and can be sustained by a combination of hormones and conscious decision-making.
Happiness experts often describe a three-step process for falling in and maintaining love: Infatuation, lust, and true love. Infatuation involves the initial rush of chemicals that trigger a sense of intense physical attraction. Lust is a similar sensation that can also be caused by hormones and characterized by feelings of desire and obsession. Love, on the other hand, is a deeper psychological connection and bond that can include mutual support, care, and trust.
As you go through the stages of love, it’s important to prioritize spiritual/non-materialistic values and have a healthy (not arrogant) confidence in your abilities. You should also focus on what you can control, such as your attitude and actions. And make sure you get enough sleep, as a lack of it can negatively impact your mood, cognition, memory, and ability to cope with stress.