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Monday, January 6, 2014

The Psychology of Romance

(As seen on Seekerville)

My husband and I have been in marital counseling recently. We have a cross-cultural relationship, which is why my latest book features an Islamic heroine with Lebanese roots. It's great for fiction fodder, not so great for smooth-sailing romance.

Our latest counselor recommended we read a book called Getting the Love You Want. And boy was it an eye-opener. Talk about demystifying the romance process. The author breaks down those wonderful tingles, shivers, and ecstatic emotions in a very scientific, and not very flattering, sort of way. To summarize: romance is the process of picking someone who will trigger your worst emotional issues and wound you more deeply than anyone else could. And the more earth-shattering the romance, the more doomed it is for failure.

Ouch! I resemble that remark.

When I first read this book I joked that romance authors should stay far away from it. But as I have begun to see the fruits of this book in my own marriage, I'm starting to think the opposite is true. Every romance author—certainly every responsible Christian romance author—should probably read this book.

Let me give you a quick summary of how this all works to pique your interest. You know that “man of your dreams,” that person who you meet and feel like, “I've known him all my life.” That guy who “completes you.” In other words, the one who stirs up those feelings of “falling in love.” In reality that person just happens to fit a construct in your subconscious called your “imago” or image. And that image is created early in life through an odd combination of familiarity, emotional wounds, and unfulfilled desires. (You have to read the book to thoroughly understand this part and why it happens.)

But let me give you an example. A woman's mother is cold and distant. (This isn't me by the way.) All of her life she longs for her mother to be more loving with her. Enter appropriately handsome man who is cold and distant. He feels familiar to the woman. And in a sort of serendipitous moment, she strikes some familiar chord with him as well. The physical attraction is mutual and romance buds. In the early stage of the relationship the woman feels fulfilled because she has found a cold, distant person and magically created a warm, loving relationship with him. In that way, a sort of healing takes place inside of her, and she feels complete. Now without dragging this out too long, assume some similar but different phenomena is happening with the man.

Sadly, a few years down the road, the initial chemical spark wears off and the woman is left with a cold, distant husband who triggers all of her worst childhood wounds and fears. We've all heard a thousand times that the trait that initially attracts you to your spouse later drives you crazy. And the man is probably experiencing something similar as well. If this couple doesn't have a deep belief in vows and commitments, they will probably split within the first five years of marriage. If they do have those strong core values, they might tough it out ten, twenty, even twenty-five years until the kids grow up. But at some point if they don't get serious help, they won't be able to survive the relationship any longer. At best (or worst depending on your perspective), they might stay married but live separate lives.

However...this same potential for intense pain can be turned around and become an avenue for intense healing. If the couple learns to communicate properly, and even counsel one another, they can begin to heal together. If they can learn to meet one another's hidden needs and soothe one another's wounds, they will develop a deep and abiding love that lasts for the rest of their lives. A God kind of love.

In this way, marriage becomes a symbol for the ultimate romance between us and our savior. It is a conduit for unconditional love, reconciliation, healing, and fulfillment.

Perhaps this is why I so often find myself writing stories of couples who wounded each other terribly during adolescence. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they come back together as adults and help each other heal, ultimately falling back in love. A love that is destined to last because it has endured adversity. The truest kind of love of all.

I know romance is fun. I know hot, sexy hunks who sweep women off their feet are exciting. Everyone loves tingles and shivers and passionate kisses. But in real life when a feisty heroine and domineering hero overcome their mutual stubbornness because of their intense sexual chemistry, they probably aren't headed toward happily-ever-after. Without some serious intervention, they are more likely doomed for disaster. It is the friendship relationship that gently blossoms into romance and results in a logical decision to join two lives that has the much higher success rate in marriage. Even arranged marriages fare much better.

I hate to be a kill joy. I'm not trying to rob you of your fun. And I'm not trying to make romance ugly by putting it under the scientific microscope. I just think as we start this new year, it's important to know the ins and outs of this subject we're writing about. Then we can write in a way that will draw people deeper into the great love story that drives the whole world.

All that being said, structurally my newest novel is more women's fiction than romance. But let me assure you that it in fact contains three romances: tingles, shivers, and all. So think of it as a three-in-one romance collection with a sisterhood frame story. How's that sound? If you give it a try, I think you will enjoy seeing how I use romance to develop deep healing and a true Godly kind of love. 

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