Psychology
01 Aug 2018

Must passion fade?

Couples relish the rush and excitment of passion, but, unless intimacy and love grow as well, the relationship will fail. Passion alone is not sustainable.

Wysokie Obcasy
Agnieszka Jucewicz Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Must passion fade? - NewsMavens
Bungee jump, PixaBay

The following selections from Agnieszka Jucewicz’s interview with sexologist, Dr. Andrzej Depko, appeared in the Polish weekly “Wysokie Obcasy”.

Dr. Andrzej Depko: Passion, by nature, will always fade away sooner or later. 

Agnieszka Jucewicz: There are no exceptions?

That’s the nature of emotion in general. It always ends.  Of course, in long-standing relationships passion turns into intimacy and then into engagement, and these become the foundations of the relationship. Through them it is possible to have great sex, and to feel desire, but the original passion will disappear.

Nonetheless, there are people who always confuse passion with love, and when the former ends, and nothing else has been built in its place, both passion and the relationship will fade.

Prof. Bogdan Wojciszke once compared passion to an avalanche. I would say that it’s like climbing Mt. Everest. First there is a hard climb to the summit, or strong, violent emotion. We reach the first base camp, then the second, then the third and then the fourth -- we plant our flag at the summit -- and then there is a rapid descent, say, to the second base camp. We stay there for a while, and then we have the next descent. Then something in the form of depression appears, a feeling of absence, a deficit. Fortunately this is temporary, and in the end the body returns to stabilization.

AJ: What causes that depression? Readjustment?

Yes, but this readjustment is associated not only with the fact that the object of passion turns out to be an ordinary person and not an image from a dream, but also with reducing that toll that passion has taken on our body.

The goal of living organisms is always to return to equilibrium, so if someone is struck by lightning and starts to ignite -- burning in the flames of love -- then at a certain moment the body must extinguish the flames and balance out this enormous expenditure of energy.

AJ: What happens in the mind of a person who is “on fire”? Many people say they completely lose their heads in that situation. As far as I’ve observed, that’s how it really looks.

In the nervous system we have a structure called the “reward system.” This system is associated with the control of emotions, among other things. In the reward system, the dominant neurotransmitter (the substance responsible for the conduction speed of stimuli in the brain) is dopamine, the “happiness molecule” that gives us the motivation to act and charges us up. Its chemical nature is such that it also activates other systems, such as the adrenal system, which speeds up the heart rate and breathing, accompanying the various surges of passion.

When we enter this state of passion, dopamine is activated and literally floods our brain. Our reward system is swimming in it.

AJ: It sounds beautiful. It just seems that this flood makes you stop seeing anything but this one person.

Yes, there is a narrowing of consciousness, but there is also this passion, a motivation to do things like moving mountains. The need to sleep declines, and also the impulse to eat disappears. The whole body is energized toward one thing. One feels happiness next to that person, but sadness when they are far away.

AJ: A little like addiction.

Not a little, but exactly the same, because the reward system is responsible for addiction.

If we are in the phase of passion in which we literally cannot live without each other, and we have to go away from our beloved for a week on a business trip, we feel like an alcoholic who has been deprived of alcohol.

We suffer from withdrawal symptoms. In the majority of people, this need subsides eventually, but with those who are predisposed to addiction, they become equally addicted to passion. They need to keep feeding the flame all the time.

AJ: And how do they do that?

When one passion ends, they look for another one. Or maybe they have a partner who satisfies their every conception of domestic life, but they have affairs on the side. A good relationship gives a feeling of connection, peace -- and here there are other neurotransmitters operating, such as oxytocin and certain endorphins. But some people need new stimuli all the time and they are addicted to the rush caused by dopamine, and they can’t live without it.

AJ: There wouldn’t be any other way to obtain dopamine?

Some people find it: bungee jumping, paragliding, speed boating, or running ultramarathons. Behavioral addictions also stimulate the reward system.

AJ: Are romance and bungee jumping really the same?

Of course the brain feels the difference, because the cerebral cortex has the ability to analyze, but as far as the effect on a person’s body goes, there is no difference at all.

Please remember that we have one more very important mechanism in the brain -- the ability to exert rational control over our actions, and there are people who manage their impulses in this way.

Instead of entering into an affair, they say, “I’d better go paragliding, because why should I destroy a fine relationship? Maybe, even if it’s lukewarm, there are other ways in which I get a lot out of it, and I can get my kicks in some other way.”

***

Andrzej Depko is a physician specializing in sexology, and is President of the Polish Society of Sexual Medicine. He is a certified forensic sexologist as well as supervisor of psychotherapy for sexual dysfunctions for the Polish Society of Sexology. Dr Depko teaches at Medical University of Warsaw and SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities. He is the author of many books. And with Ewa Wanat, he hosts the show, “Love Each Other Long and in Good Health” on the Polish radio network, TOK FM.

--Translated by David A. Goldfarb

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