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Does Sexual Preference Influence Love?

To understand some of what’s involved here let’s first take a look at a few important questions and some possible, or probable, answers that have to do with sexual preference.  Then we will apply that knowledge to love.

Question 1. What causes people to have different sexual preferences?

Answer: The preponderance of scientific evidence points to all sexual preferences – homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, transsexuality, etc. as primarily being biologically predisposed, probably before birth.  There is considerable scientific evidence which shows that atypical gender identity development is influenced by variations in prenatal hormonal and neurochemical factors, which also influence the incidence of left-handedness and finger ratio measurements concordant with sexual preference development.

Furthermore, there are anatomical brain differences, especially in the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, a brain area vital to varying sexual behavior tendencies.  Then there are the genetic influences illustrated by sexual preference inheritability being high among monozygotic twins, and less strong but also high among fraternal twins.  Whatever your sexual inclination you were probably predisposed toward that inclination biologically, probably before birth according to the preponderance of the most recent scientific research.

Question 2. What is some of the other evidence that tells us biological predisposition is causal?

Answer: First, brain studies show a number of different parts of the brain of homosexuals, bisexuals, heterosexuals and transsexuals tend to be different from each another.  Especially different are the parts of the brain known as the corpus callosum, medial pre-optic nucleus and the hypothalamus.  Brain chemistry also is somewhat different.

Second, over many decades hundreds of well conducted, psychological studies have been done trying to discover the psychological cause of homosexuality, and no psychological cause has ever been discovered and substantiated by replicated research.  A number of newer theories still are under investigation but so far nothing definitive can be said to have been discovered.

Third, about 10% of most mammals exhibit homosexual preference and another 15 to 20% exhibit bisexual behavior.  Many bird species show similar results.  Bisexual behavior is extremely common among some mammal species like the bonobo apes.  There also are brain differences in various homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual animals.  By the way, some researchers think there is evidence to support the contention that bisexuality is on the rise, especially among human females.  Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that all people are at least a little bit bisexual.

Question 3. Why do different sexual preferences exist in nature?

Answer: Nature is all about variety and keeping its options open.  We never know when a variation will turn out to help a species survive or advance in its development; for instance the bisexuality of bonobo apes seems to have contributed greatly to solving the problem of violence within that species.  Bonobos when faced with conflict literally ‘make love not war’.  Inter-species aggression so common among baboons, chimpanzees and humans is virtually nonexistent among bonobos, who are the most sexual and the most bisexual of us, who are classed as primates.

It also is to be noted that there are species that change gender, being female for a while, then male for a while, and being heterosexual part of their life, and homosexual another part of their life.  Likewise, there are species that are both genders simultaneously.  Furthermore, there is some evidence among humans that in times of war and other great stressors women give birth to more ‘bisexual and homosexual to be’ children who are then thought to become more tolerant, flexible, harmonious and generally peaceful in their adulthood than is average among heterosexuals.

Homosexuals and bisexuals also are thought to give higher than average child raising supportive and protective care to their heterosexual brother’s and sister’s children, thus, increasing the survivability of a family’s genetic line.  Consequently homosexuality and bisexuality give certain of our species a noteworthy evolutionary advantage.

Question 4. Are there other things that influence the emergence or development of different sexual preferences?

Answer: There is some evidence which would suggest that some young children may go through a critical period in which exposure to more or less equally interesting, pleasuring and loving males and females may influence the early emergence of bisexuality.  Certainly the social acceptability of various sexual preferences causes especially homosexuals not to try to suppress their emerging sexual tendencies.  In those societies which are strongly anti-homosexual much greater inner conflict and stress results, which may cause some people to be able to inactivate their natural predispositions, especially if their sex drive is not very strong.

Question 5. Are people of one sexual preference or another more likely to be mentally ill, prone to criminality or addictions, or in other ways destructive to themselves and society?

Answer: Yes is the arguable answer; and the most destructive people according to gender preference are – heterosexual.  Actually the differences are fairly negligible according to most reputable studies.  In many cultures men and women who are homosexual have had far more societal stressors than heterosexuals or bisexuals, and those stressors are causal in mental and emotional illness and other dysfunctions for many.  In societies much more accepting of people of different gender preference these problems turn out to be the same or slightly better than heterosexuals according to several authorities.

Those people who are one gender externally but another gender internally, like many transsexuals, are likely to experience even more stressors.  Unless their stress coping mechanisms are good they are more likely to experience one type of dysfunction or another.  Interestingly, highly androgynous people seem to do rather well in life in most cultures.  Hermaphroditic people who have the physiology of both genders rather equally are too rare to have had significant data gathered.

Probably not enough good, quality research has been done in this area and we have more to learn. Your sexual preference makes a difference in who you are attracted to, who you come to love and make a primary life partnership with, if you do that.  Other than that most studies seem to point to the idea that being homosexual, or bisexual or heterosexual doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to the vast majority of other varying aspects of life.

Now let’s look at the love factor.
Question 6. Does your sexual preference make a difference in how you do love?

Answer: There is some evidence suggesting that homosexual men and women give more thought to how to do love than the average heterosexual.  Furthermore, those who have sufficient emotional maturity may do love relating rather better than many heterosexuals. Both bisexual males and bisexual females actually even may be better at love.  Contrarily, there is some evidence to suggest that homosexuals who are immature may have a harder time getting beyond romantic idealization and the many problems that accompany it.

Strongly bisexual males and females seem to have a somewhat harder time than homosexuals or heterosexuals when, and if, they attempt to be monogamous.  However, if their primary mate relationship compatibly allows for some multi-person involvement they are thought to do better than average according to several researchers who study this sort of thing.  For the most part, homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals demonstrate the same range of behaviors when attempting to do a love relationship.  All do better to about the same degree when they learn more about how love is healthfully given and received.

Question 7. How do people of different sexual preferences do at family and child love?

Answer: The evidence points to homosexual couples working harder than heterosexual couples at doing family love and child love well.  Consequently they get better results in most areas measured.  Other forms of sexual preference have not been studied sufficiently but there is some evidence which suggests bisexual people do no worse and possibly a little better than the average heterosexual.

Question 8. How do people of different sexual preferences do at healthy self-love?

Answer: Because of societal condemnation, and especially judgmentalism and condemnation in religious communities homosexuals have had a terrible time developing sufficient healthy self-love.  Self-hate, self rejection, low self esteem, escapist addictions and suicide have been measured as quite high, although now with more social acceptance and more available support networks these problems are reducing.  In those cultures where different sexuality is common and accepted these problems for the most part don’t exist in larger percentages than is true of heterosexuals.  Even though bisexuals have been able to ‘hide out’ in heterosexual communities they have exhibited some of these self love problems also.

Question 9. Is there any reason to believe that people of one sexual preference or another will naturally or automatically do healthy, real love relating better or worse than people of other sexual preferences.

Answer: No!

Question 10. Do people of one sexual preference or another do spiritual love better or worse than people of other sexual preferences?

Answer: People who have more stressors, and difficulties and differences than average go looking for help and answers more than is typical.  That often includes searching into religion and spiritual matters.  Homosexuals, and bisexuals and other people with sexual differences have to cope with more stressors when they live in sexually, anti-democratic, social environments.  Therefore, it is thought a fair number of these people search for spiritual solutions and spiritual development more than the average person does.

Those who search tend to find and, therefore, grow their abilities in spirituality.  Homosexuals living in sexually anti-democratic societies especially run into lots of social and sometimes religious prejudice, rejection, hate, pseudo-love and related difficulties.  Consequently they often turn away from organized religion and toward independent spirituality.  Other than that there does not seem to be much of a spirituality difference between heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, and other sexualities.

Among people who give arduous study to these sort of things there is this conclusion – the love of life, the love of nature, the love of a deity, the love of fellow humans and all other forms of love can be just as strong and done just as well by people of one sexual preference as it is of another.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
Can you give and receive family love and friendship love equally to people of all different sexual persuasions?

Can Love Overcome Incompatibility?

Synopsis: We start with worst-case incompatibility getting unstuck; then go on to compatibility choices; the better other choice; some how-to’s; deal breakers; and the great importance of experimenting.

A ‘Worst-case’

Tabitha, with tears running down her cheeks, wailed to her lover, Jamail, “We’ve got to face it!  We love each other but we are just two different.  We can never make it as a couple”.  Jamail looking very distressed pleaded, “We should try anyway.  Are we not taught that love conquers all”?

Tabitha responded, “You’re deep into your religion and I am an agnostic.  You are a capitalist and I am a socialist.  You want sweet and tender lovemaking and I want rough and tough passion.  You want to live in different countries and move around a lot and I want to put down roots and stay in one place.  You want to make a lot of money and retire early and just play.  I want a lifetime of doing good to others and giving back to my community.  You want rice with everything and I am allergic to it.  You want a passel of children and I’m not sure I even want one.  How in the world can you think we could ever be compatible enough to succeed?”

Jamail, with a strong, serious look replied  “I think we could each give up some things for each other, compromise on other things and just try hard not to fight about the rest.  I’m ready to sacrifice because I love you so much, and I know it’ll be hard but I bet we can do it if we try hard enough.  Do you love me enough to do that?”  Tabitha with a sad, soft demeanor replied, “I do love you more than enough to try and I think we could make it work for a while, but if we sacrifice, later we will grow resentful and depressed because we would be denying our true selves and I don’t think that can ever work”.

Jamail retorted, “Even if that’s true, we still try and if it doesn’t work we would know that we had done what we could.  Unless we try will never know for sure. I would hate to think that if we had only tried we might’ve made it”  Tabitha said, “I guess you’re right but I don’t want to spend my life trying what you suggest.  I have seen to many others do that and they were too incompatible to make it work.  I refuse to live like them.”  Jamail then beseeched, “Give it a year, six months, even three?  Tabitha with a hint of a smile responded, “Six months with the option to renew for six more – okay?”
Jamail quickly answered, “OK, and look at what we’ve just done.

With love and talk we have arrived at a compatible, next step from our mutual incompatible positions.  Maybe that’s a good omen.”  Tabitha laughed and said, “I don’t believe in omens but you’re right, and okay we can give it a try so long as we keep showing each other love during the hard times we are going to have.  I know if we don’t mix love into the times we get upset with each other, we will never make it.”  Jamail then said, “I know I have to do a lot of work to do in that area, and that is the first place we have to grow more compatibility in to make the rest of it work.  So, when I don’t come across loving enough, just remind me, and if it’s okay with you, I’ll do the same with you.”  Tabitha added, “Sometimes we both will need timeouts, so we have to not pester each other or get more upset with each other’s timeouts like we have before.”  “Yes, and see we’re doing it again; we’re working it out, replied Jamail.  Hugs and kisses followed.

Compatibility’s Choices

Most people seem to think that compatibility is something a couple just has or they just don’t have.  One finds it or can’t find it, or just hopes it will magically show up one day because they are so in love.  Our love mythology leads so many people to think couple compatibility is all a matter of luck or fate.  So, when they don’t find it they just break up or resign themselves to their miserable incompatibility destiny.

One problem with that view is that it takes a fair amount of time to figure out whether or not you are sufficiently compatible or not.  Lots of couples caught in a False Love Syndrome, slowly or after a few years of trying, sometimes suddenly raise into their awareness how incompatible they really are.  Several False Love Syndromes seem to be particularly good at blinding people from seeing their incompatibility.  Many such couples go into denial and repeatedly struggle on, until they finally do give up.  Some of those who give up, stay in the relationship trying to just live with and tolerate the incompatibility.  Several forms of False Love Syndrome lend themselves to overtly tolerating the incompatible difference while secretly or subconsciously looking for a new love that is real, and hoping to switch to a new, more compatible, better person.  That leads to affairs, divorce, and breakups.  It sometimes does lead to a much more compatible, real, love relationship that is far better, and other times not.

A lot of people do just find someone who is sufficiently compatible and that helps tremendously.  Nevertheless, such couples later do discover difficult differences and have to work at growing their compatibility.  Lots of couples, after the so-called honeymoon period, start discovering hidden differences and incompatibilities, some of which can severely sabotage or totally torpedo a couple’s relationship unless they start doing the work of growing their compatibility.  The research shows that no matter how compatible a couple starts out, they will experience compatibility struggles.

The Better Other Choice

Here is that really good news. More and more evidence points to what ‘successful couples actually do’ is not ‘find’ but instead ‘grow’ their compatibility.  Sure it helps to start out with at least a little compatibility, but even without much there is a way.  With enough healthy, real love, the right knowledge, plus dedicated and democratic, earnest teamwork, many, even severe incompatibility problems often are able to be overcome.  You see, Tabitha and Jamail are now 10 years together and most of those very happily together years.

See if you can wrap your head around the concept of lovingly and democratically growing compatible.  This actually is what most highly compatible couples have done.  Some of them started out with extreme incompatibility.  Of course, the more incompatible a couple is the more work it probably is going to take.  It is not magic, luck or fate.  It is work, or more exactly ‘teamwork’ that makes couples grow increasingly compatible.

Some How-To’s for Growing Compatibility

To start growing compatibility, you first might want to work on your ‘Toleration Love’. Tolerational love is one of the eight major groups of behavior by which social psychologists have shown that love gets given or delivered to another.  (You can read what you likely need to know about ‘Tolerational Love’ in Recovering Love.  There are several mini-love-lessons at this site which also will help.)  While you are growing compatibility, toleration love can get you through the disappointments, aggravations, irritations and frustrations of your incompatibilities.  One exception has to do with seriously unhealthy, destructive behavior.  There, it is important that your toleration not be enabling whatever is destructive.

A democratic approach and mindset is pretty much required.  If you have a “my way or the highway”, autocratic approach or mindset, growing compatibility does not stand much of a chance.  Two people in a relationship have to be willing to try each other’s ways, hear and consider each other’s thoughts no matter what they are, and have good emotional intercourse about everything felt (See the mini-love-lesson on Emotional Intercourse).

Constantly mixing in expressions of love in words and acts as you deal with whatever seems incompatible, and doing a good job of ‘Receptional Love’ at the same time makes the work of growing compatibility easier and more likely to succeed.  Be sure you do that in the way the one you love likes to be love (You might want to consult “The Five Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman for that).

Work to avoid ‘love destroyers’ and sabotage systems.  Especially important to avoid is diminishing your demonstrations of love in frequency or strength when dealing with incompatibility issues.  Also super important is to avoid demeaning your loved one because of their differences from you.  Guilt trips, putdowns, blame, indignation, making fun of, making derogatory comments, moralizing at your beloved, etc. are in no way helpful for growing compatibility.  Sometimes ‘making light of’ and having some fun with issues can be helpful if sufficiently, mutually enjoyed.  Slowing or stopping the demonstration of love is likely to be very detrimental.

Deal Breakers

Zea broke it off with Max a few days after their fifth get-together when he lit up a cigarette and explained he really liked smoking and had for years.  She knew she could not live with a smoker, having gone through the excruciating smoking-related cancer deaths of both her parents.  Her healthy, self-love would not permit it or risk it.  It had been far too painful.  Understand that, Zea was not being judgmental or condemning Max for smoking.  Zea was just realizing and ‘owning’ what was true about herself and acting on that knowledge.  She did explain it to Max and he tried to quit smoking, but gave up the effort after a little while, so Max and Zea were no longer ‘an item’.
This is pretty much the best way ‘deal breakers’ work.

No one needs to be unloving about it.  The truth is, some incompatibilities for some people are too big or too strong.  I like to suggest that couples who think this may be true for them in some area or another, first experiment with seeing if they can find a compromise, or a synthesis, or any other way to deal with whatever the incompatibility is all about.  Couples’ counseling can be a big help here.

The Importance of Experimenting

To earnestly ‘try on for size’ what your beloved wants you to do, to truly see if you can learn to enjoy what your beloved enjoys, to work to find ways to appreciate or at least tolerate the people your beloved values, to learn to look through your beloved’s eyes even though your beloved’s understandings are so opposite and different than your own, to clearly and frequently ask for what you want and to genuinely try to weave it together with what your beloved wants; all that and much more is involved in experimenting toward growing compatibility.  Of course, it must all be done with lots of well expressed love.

It is amazing how often experimenting leads people to genuinely like and be enriched by that which they did not like or want as it first was presented by their beloved.  It’s also amazing how often a synthesis with a beloved’s ways develops a new and third better way for both.  Experimenting and working to find the value in the differences a couple brings to each other is a grand way of growing compatibility.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
What do you think of this statement, “You get to have it all your way, or you get to have love”?

Growing Closeness - A Love Skill

Synopsis: This love skill lesson starts with comments on growing close love; and goes on to understanding closeness; the emotional guidance messages in closeness; sexual closeness; trouble, communication and closeness; and ends with other closeness helpers.

Growing Close Love

“I feel so close to you.”  “I feel we are growing apart.”  “We used to be so close but now it seems we’re distant.”  “How do we get close again?”  In love relationships feeling close usually is very desirable and very important.  Feeling distant usually is seen as hurtful and harmful in a love relationship.  Growing a love relationship that is full of closeness helps the relationship grow stronger and last longer.  But how is it that people actually get to feel close and what happens to make them feel distant from one another?

Understanding Closeness

It is important to note closeness is a feeling or, more accurately, an emotional state.  When we feel the emotion called ‘close’ we also tend to feel good, safe, satisfied, connected and quite likely we have a sense of wellness.  When we feel distant we tend to feel the opposite of all that – more alone, isolated, unsatisfied, unsafe, apprehensive and if it goes on too long depressed. Feeling close to someone we love and who loves us is very healthy and generally quite good for us, as well as for whoever we are feeling close to.  Closeness tends to relieve stress, improve a number of biological functions, and can result in a sense of love-filled serenity.

Emotional Guidance

Our emotions give us guidance.  The guidance message we get from closeness tells us we are with someone who it is good for us to be with.  Feeling close with a person we love guides us into feeling increasingly nurtured and safe.  Sometimes that can be false or a mistake, but generally not.  Feeling emotionally distant directs us into thinking something is not right and we would do well to strive for increased closeness one way or another.

Compatibility and Closeness

The more people experience that they are compatible with each other, the more they are likely to grow a sense of closeness with each other.  Agreeableness and having similar experiences, backgrounds, interests, tastes and preferences can facilitate the growth of closeness. Compatibility tends to grow when people are willing to experiment with each other’s ways and be open to each other’s ideas, wishes, views and ways of being.  Being able to convey your own ways and be ok about someone else’s ways of being themselves is a tremendous help in compatibility and closeness-creation.

Since all humans and most mammals seem to experience emotions in very similar ways, there can be sufficient, natural compatibility for fostering at least some closeness with anyone and with many of our cousins in the animal world.  Thus, it is that loving closeness often is felt by pet owners and apparently by the pets they relate to.

Closeness Starters

Love-based, emotional closeness frequently starts and grows with the showing and sharing of one’s more personal self.  This especially is true with the sharing of a person’s more private and intimate emotions.  Sharing implies a two or more person process.  In this process one person lets some of their feelings be seen.  This is done by facial expressions, tones of voice, gestures, posture changes and the spoken word.  It can be done by the written word but that’s much trickier.  Then the person hearing or seeing another person’s demonstrations of what they are feeling responds in a receptive and understanding manner.  They may have a sympathetic look on their face, kind tones of voice, or say words that indicate emotional understanding.  From that, emotional closeness often starts and/or grows.

Two or more people can demonstrate emotional understanding to each other and a sort of core appreciation.  They can show respect and empathy for each other.  And if they don’t let a number of other things get in the way like judgmentalism, or giving too much advice, or being diverted to other matters then closeness becomes much more likely.

Smiles, caring looks and other positive facial expressions, pleasant tones of voice, affectionate touch, demonstrating patience, thoughtfulness and tolerance, along with showing someone how they are highly valued and special to you are all very important in starting, maintaining and growing closeness-filled love.

Sharing experiences together in which feelings show and are freely expressed also is a big help in starting and keeping closeness growing.  Any experience shared together which generates ‘different than usual’ or strong feelings may bring about a sense of closeness growing.  Talking about previous, individual experiences and joint experiences also can be helpful if the emotions and sometimes the physical feelings involved are voiced with emotional expression.

Being earnest and honest in situations where others might be more closed or guarded is sometimes a huge help for people starting to feel real with and close to each other.  Receiving sincere, honest expressions from another needs to be met with acceptance, respect, tolerance, and kindness for closeness to have a chance to grow.  Judgmentalism, personal disapproval, demeaning, discounting and other negating communications are best to be absent.

Closeness and Two Kinds of Love

The type of love behavior known as ‘Self-disclosure love’ [see entry “A Behavioral (Operational) Definition of Love” at this link] and the type of love behavior known as ‘Affirmational love’ [see entry “A Behavioral (Operational) Definition of Love” at this link] are very much involved in growing a close love.  Disclosing one’s real self and going “psychologically naked” with a loved one often is felt as very risky but perhaps essential for growing great closeness.  When a person does this with you, responding with affirmational love words and actions which show care, understanding and respect affirms their most intimate nature.

Generally affirming the person brave enough to reveal their real self to you, makes for powerful closeness.  Of course, then you also best go psychologically naked in return for the cycle to be completed and for both of you to be close to each other.

Some people managed to do all this behaviorally and pretty much without words, but words that indicate self-disclosure love and affirmational love usually speed and greatly aid this two-part process.

Sexual Closeness

Many couples grow their sense of closeness with each other by way of their shared, intimate sexuality.  Sharing their bodies, their sexual desires, their ways of pleasuring, their turn-ons, idiosyncrasies, erotic fantasies, intimate and unique preferences, thoughts, feelings and ways of sexually expressing themselves is involved here.  The self-disclosure of letting themselves be known sexually and letting themselves sexually know another while responding with affirmation type love can make for incredible love-filled closeness.  It takes people responding to each other in these ways to grow that special closeness and it takes not letting fears and anti-sexual programming get in the way.

Trouble, Communication and Closeness

Letting and helping a person tell you whatever is in them to tell you is a great way to enhance closeness.  Lovingly hearing and expressing realness in the ways you and a loved one relate often is vital to the continuation of closeness.  Whenever there is dissonance or disagreement, communicating in loving ways can help the closeness continue in spite of the difficulties being encountered.  To be able to convey that you continue to value a person, though you may not like some of their behaviors, is important for the continuance of closeness when trouble is afflicting a love relationship.  Learning to talk without blame, personal disapproval, putdowns, guilt trips and offense defensiveness (see entry Non-defensiveness – A Love Skill) is also very important to the continuation of closeness.

Other Closeness Helpers

Closeness implies both emotional and physical proximity.  Getting physically and intimately close to someone, when they are receptive, helps closeness grow.  Being intimately close also allows for intimate loving touch which also is a great help to many people’s closeness feelings. Loving touch can begin with simple short tap-touching, then move to brief pause touches, followed by friendship hugs, and later cuddling and caressing.  In this process it’s important to back off if any discomfort is indicated by the response.  Laughing together, acting silly together and being helpful to one another also can enhance the start and growth of closeness feelings between people.
As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
Who would you like to feel closer to, and what will you do about that?

Love Affairs: Bad?, Good? and Otherwise

Will a Love Affair be Good or Bad for You?  The answer may depend on whether you usually make most things go well for you and those you love, or not.

It also may depend on your subconscious ‘self-defeating’ or ‘self winning’ ways of going about life.  Another thing it definitely could depend on concerns what and how you think about love affairs.

Some people’s thinking about love affairs is well informed, intelligent, rational and balanced.  Is yours?  There also are those whose thinking is na├»ve, gullible, poorly informed and vulnerable.  Is that you?  A good many tend to think romantically and sexually about love affairs, but not much past that.  Could that be you?  A large number think judgmentally and with considerable negativity, while others are caught between thinking hopefully and fearfully.  Does any of that apply to you?  There, of course, are those in both committed and uncommitted relationships who secretly think about love affairs with joyful anticipation, delicious desire, clever premeditation and scheming intrigue.  Describing you perhaps? 

Then we have those who just get a big, happy kick out of thinking, talking and maybe even doing love affairs.  And there are those who think about love affairs with sad regret and those who think about them with happy reminiscence.  So, how do you think when you think of love affairs?  If you’re going to participate in a love affair it’s probably going to make you think a whole lot about it and to consider what your love affair is all about.  To think healthfully and successfully about love affairs let’s look at things that you might need to be aware of and consider carefully.

Singles with high love desires, and singles with breaking hearts, couples who can’t stop cheating on each other, and couples joyously reunited and working at co-recovery, the wear and tear on some relationships from multiple affairs, affairs that bring both agony and ecstasy, secret pride and public shame, terrifying dilemma and soaring freedom, crushing defeat and exhilarating victory, all these and far more are encompassed in the simple term ‘love affair’.

Love affair issues are agonized over and struggled with in my counseling practice almost every week.  That consistently has been true for years and years.  This means I have worked with thousands of people in all sorts of different love, sex and other types of affairs.  As a health professional my primary goal is always to get to a healthful resolution for all concerned.  I take the side of health against pathology, dysfunction and destructiveness.  It’s sometimes pretty tricky but I don’t take the side of ‘him’ or ‘her’, of someone else, or of saving the relationship or ending it.

I am neither for or against any of those positions unless it coincides with what is healthful for all concerned.  Since illicit or secret affairs are the ones usually presenting the most difficulty we will deal mostly here with those.  Later we will deal with the ‘yeas’ and ‘nays’ involved in open affairs, uncommitted single’s affairs and other kinds of affairs.  Those too can involve great dangers and difficulties along with marvelously strengthening joys, and enriching experiences and can have extraordinarily happy outcomes.

I will brag:  In my work with affairs we usually get to the ultimate goal of a healthy resolution for all concerned.  However, getting there is, almost always, quite arduous and quite complicated.  Commonly in an illicit or secret affair there are two people in a couple relationship, one or more lovers, plus sometimes children and family, some close friends and maybe others that may be strongly affected by what happens in the love affair.  Without help seriously un-healthful outcomes unfortunately are quite common in the complicated tangle of illicit affair situations.

In the worst-case scenarios suicide, murder, substance addictions, child, spouse and lover neglect and abuse, severe physical and mental harm, career ruination, economic destitution, family dissolution and a host of other truly traumatic consequences can, and do occur in many affair situations.  More commonly, repeated experiences of severe emotional hurt, serious family, social and occupational dysfunction, along with high stress and relational chaos regularly occur.  Yes, elicit love affairs sometimes can be frighteningly destructive!  If you are contemplating an illicit affair, or already are in one, don’t undervalue or be in denial about how badly it could go for you or for others who are important to you.

Then there’s the other side which doesn’t get talked about as much.  There can be, and sometimes are, very positive experiences and outcomes involved in a large number of love affairs.  Even very problem-filled affairs sometimes produce good results.  There is an extraordinary strengthening that develops and emerges in some affair protagonists.  It is not unusual that coming out of a ‘bad’ affair people take new, and much better life directions (which is a good result).  That’s especially true when they experience the help of a good counselor or therapist.

Destructive affairs sometimes result in people beneficially overhauling their life approach and their life situation which they would not have done otherwise.  Losing a spouse or love mate to an outside lover has been known to help a neglectful mate grow a much greater understanding of how to love and treat their next major love choice.  No small number of couples report that without the affair they coped with they would never have grown as good a love relationship as they have now.  Therefore, even bad affairs can have good results although usually the process, for a time, is quite awful.

Also not talked about much are the people who have excellent, positive affair results, sometimes right from the start.  Some testimonials I have heard: “My affair made me know I was worth something”.  “If it wasn’t for my affair I never would have learned what love is and how to do it well”.  “My super secret affairs led me into all sorts of exciting adventures and the best times I have ever had, so I would not trade for them for anything”. “I had a series of affairs which finally got me to my new and far better marriage and the love I always wanted”.  “Without cheating my life just would have been too damned dull.”  “It was having an affair that saved my life because before that I was on the way to putting a bullet in my head or drinking myself to death”.  “I have to be really thankful for my affair.  I think it was God sent because, crazy as it sounds, it’s what helped my marriage and made it work.  It wasn’t until my husband caught me with my lover that we started to get real with each other, and that has made all the difference in the world.  We were okay before but we’re really good together now”. 

These real-life words give evidence that sometimes having an illicit affair turns out to be positive for some people.

Here are some types of love affair results that many people don’t know what to think of:  Marcia related she was very happy about the results of her affair.  “It was my goal to have a child by a very intelligent, highly talented man and my affair got me exactly what I wanted, plus years of ongoing contact with a remarkably interesting man.  Besides that, his wife also has been involved and quite preciously captivating”.  Dennis stated, “It was my affair with an exceptionally wise, older, married woman that gave me the courage to go after the kind of woman I really wanted but was afraid I could never be enough for.  I am profoundly indebted to her”.

Serena remarked, “My several affairs are what sustained me through the long illness of my slowly dying husband.  Those wonderful men enabled me to lovingly care for him and make his life as good as possible right through to the end”.  Here too then is evidence that affairs, commonly disapproved of, can do good in certain circumstances, although there are many who would want to deny and refute that truth.

The group you perhaps hear the least about are the ones who say things like this: “I tried having an affair and it was so so”.  “My affairs were never really very bad or good, they just were.”  “Having an affair was just something to try on for size, which I did, and that’s about all I can say about it”.  “For me affairs and illicit sex were just a hobby.  After I tried that for a while I got a boat”.  It would seem that the truth of affairs is that quite a few people have disastrous results, others have really fine results and still others have mediocre results – much like most everything else in life.

If you are contemplating or feel prone to having a ‘cheating’ type illicit affair contemplate this important truth: To accomplish an illicit love affair you likely will engage in deceit, deception and perhaps a life saturated with falsehood.  All that along with the overt and covert lying that you probably will have to do is likely to be destructive to you no matter what else happens.  If it’s a true love affair perhaps the love you give and receive in the affair will be worth the price you have to pay.  Perhaps there also will be other benefits that at least help to counterbalance the difficulties of an illicit love affair.  Then again, perhaps not.

As you review the possible occurrences and outcomes of an illicit love affair let me suggest you ask yourself a few questions.  First, are you strong enough to survive the possible and probable destructive effects involved in an illicit love affair?  You see, illicit love affairs frequently turn out to be very draining.  Second, do the likely benefits outweigh the likely deficits, difficulties and potential disasters involved?  Third, who may be harmed, and how much might they be harmed?  Fourth, what exactly are the good things you are looking for in an affair and are they really good enough to go after by way of a secretive love affair?  Fifth, is there a way you could go after these things more openly and honestly?  Last, are you willing to seek the help of a nonjudgmental counselor or therapist so that your actions have a better chance of going in a healthful direction?

If you are already engaged in an illicit, secret affair is it one where real love is being given and received?  If you’re not sure about this study the “Definition of Love series” found on this site.  Do you need help in figuring out what to do with this affair?  If so, who will you go to for help?  Be careful here because some possible helpers may have a vested interest in one outcome or another, rather than helping you get to a healthful way of going about things.

If you go about the affair carefully and with healthy, real love for yourself and others things may go well for all concerned.  This is especially true if you and perhaps the others involved get some good coaching/counseling to help you through the hard spots.  Keep watching this site for more information about love, sex and other affair issues soon to appear.

As always, Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love success question
Toward yourself and the others involved how compassionate, understanding and resilient can you be concerning a love affair situation that might come your way?

Previous Comments:
  1. January 4th, 2018 at 23:26 |

    Men are just not so straight species. They think they are having some fun time.and it will be for some time but they forget they are involving themselves with another woman who is not going to let go of that good time very easy….. Although men have a lot of maturity interms of business, money making, policies what not. They lack the discipline to manage their emotions. All I can say is they just start but finishing is not in their control.

How Love Works - 7 Basics

Synopsis: Seven major ways of understanding how love actually works and how to ‘work’ love for producing its wonders and marvels are each briefly described.

People sometimes ask me, “Dr. Cookerly, how does love really work?”.  Here is an answer that comes from recent scientific findings, discussions with learned colleagues and my own work with thousands of couples, families, individuals and lovers in various other lifestyles, plus from the work of some of the many therapists I have trained and supervised.

Those who have succeeded in various forms of love relationships can be said to have revealed at least seven basic ways showing how healthy, real love actually works.  These 7 ways can be described as follows:

1.  Healthy, Real Love Must Be Given Well and Received Well for it to fully work its wonders and marvels!
In counseling I often hear things like, “I guess my parents loved me but they never really showed it.”  (See the entry “Love in the Fridge”) Or sometimes it is said this way, “I suppose he loves me but he sure doesn’t show it very well”, Or “We are supposed to love each other but you’d never know it from the way we treat each other”.  In my practice and the practices of those I have supervised and consulted with research clearly has revealed two major reasons love relationships of all types fail.

These reasons hold especially true for couples who don’t make it.  The number one reason is ‘deficient and insufficient love communication’.  That means the people in the love relationship do not give love to or receive love from each other enough.  Love sent by verbalizations, touch, looks, tones of voice, affirmations and all the other ways love can be shown just doesn’t happen enough (For the eight major groups of behavior by which love can be conveyed see the entry “A Behavioral (Operational) Definition of Love” ).

The number two reason is they send each other far too many anti-love messages like demeaning remarks, putdowns, criticism, hate looks, angrily intoned words, complaints, etc., compared to the number of pro-love messages they send each other such as experience gifts, hugs, praises, compliments, caresses, acts of tolerant acceptance, intimate self-disclosure, etc..  Unless actions demonstrating love and words of love are freely, frequently given and well received a love relationship is likely to weaken.  It then becomes susceptible to the stressors that may kill it, or it may just wither away and die.  Love insufficiently given and received will, at best, produce a love relationship that merely exists and does not reach anything like its full potential.

Note that Love has to not only be given well but also received well for it to best work its many miracles.  I remember Brenda who was great at giving love in all eight of the major ways love can be given directly, but she was lousy at receiving it.  She could lovingly caress her children and lover, give hugs to her friends and family, say words of love to all, give gifts, do actions of affirmation, self-disclosure, tolerance and every other form of demonstrating love.  However, if anyone tried to do those things with her she would cut it short, withdraw, discount, dodge, emotionally distance herself, deflect compliments and praises, and then later, not surprisingly, be depressed and quite love malnourished.

In childhood she had been subject to frequent, severe, phony ‘smother love’, followed by very controlling, painful abuse.  Thus, for her receiving love meant very bad things were about to happen.  It took a fair amount of therapy for her to be able to receive demonstrations of love from the many people who cared about her but she finally managed it.  Brenda exemplified someone suffered from an advanced case of poor receptional love ability.  However, there are many who block or avoid at least some of the love that is readily coming their way.  To be able to receive an expression of love without countering it with self deprecating, or fearful, suspicious or angry thoughts, or without countering it with indifference to what is happening is very hard for quite a few people. That’s almost always because love was coupled with too much pain earlier in their life.

‘Good reception’ means you focus on the love being shown to you, you purposefully appreciate and enjoy it because you’re focused on it and, if necessary, you remind yourself that it is probably real love, it’s not control, manipulation, trickery or some other negative thing that is coming your way.  Then you show that you really got it and enjoyed it so that the giver can hear and see that is really true – you really got it and it did you some good.  By doing that you give the giver the gift of good reception (See the Receptional Love Section in the entry “A Behavioral (Operational) Definition of Love”).
2.  Love Works like an Extraordinarily Marvelous, Nutritious Food
When we do a good job of receiving well-demonstrated, healthy, real love we get energized in a way that is very similar to what happens when we eat healthy, nutritious food.  When we are deprived of well-demonstrated love we show responses quite similar to malnutrition or starvation.  The research suggests this is in fact apparently true for all mammals, birds and some other species so far studied.  Receiving love probably releases energy already stored in us, but it may be an energy that nothing but receiving love will release.

The love nurturing and nutritious factor works because our brain is built for love.  Receiving acts that show us love triggers our brains into making healthful neurochemicals which then flow through our body doing all sorts of biologically beneficial things.  And this causes us to feel really good in a wide variety of ways.  Elation, serenity, a sense of well-being, a sense of safety, giddy, feeling powerful, joy, relief and strong connectedness are all among the many positive emotions that experiencing healthy, real love may bring us.

3.  Healthy, Real Love Well-Demonstrated and Well-Received Can Act like an Amazing, Widely Effective Medicine
Love in mysterious ways, not at all fully understood, facilitates healing biologically, psychologically and relationally.  At least that is what a growing body of medical, recovery and rehabilitation research evidence points to.  Given any two people with the same wound, physical or mental illness, addiction, disability or dysfunction it is the person best-loved who is most likely to survive, repair, recover and generally do well at healing.  The unloved, the lesser loved, and those who are poor at receiving love, along with those who are not good at healthy self-love are the ones who are less likely to heal and recover rapidly, thoroughly or sometimes at all, all else being equal.

Intriguingly there is evidence to suggest the terrific healing effects of love sometimes seem to occur even with people who are comatose.  Some research supports the concept that love is just as healing for sick or injured other mammals as it is for humans.  Conversely there also is evidence that points to a lack of healing or slowed healing which occurs in those people and experimental animals who do not have love showed to them.  Furthermore, the well loved seem to have better abilities for fighting off infections, a slower aging process, a tendency to recover more thoroughly and quicker physically and psychologically than do the lesser loved and the unloved.

4.  Amazingly Giving Love Also Makes You Healthier
Imagine the surprise of the researchers when they discovered that giving love to others lowered bad cholesterol, improved blood pressure and increased the anti-infection functions of the ‘givers’ of love.  It originally was thought that the ‘giver’ might be drained, which in extreme cases did occur, but mostly giving love made the giver healthier as well as the receiver.  Sometimes the giver of love is even more helped than the receiver.  Because giving love works to enhance the factors that promote a healthier, longer life for both the giver and the receiver I suggest you give lots of love to lots of people.

5.  Healthy, Real Love Works to Motivate the Most Important of All Thriving and Surviving Actions
Because of love we protect our loved ones.  Because of love we strive long and hard for the well-being of the loved.  Because of love we work to create, improve and continue relational connections.  Because of love we endeavor to live in harmony, cooperation, and in collaboration in order to constructively live life with our loved ones.  Love even may cause us to lay down our own life for those we love.  (See the entry “Is Love the Most Important Thing in the Universe?”)  Love inspires creative efforts like nothing else, makes for perseverance against all forms of difficulty, causes people to work long and hard for social improvement, and fuels our most courageous actions along with inspiring our most awesome achievements.

6.  For Love to Work Well It Must Be Worked
While love is natural the sending and receiving, the growing, the maintaining and the advancing of love requires work.  Healthy, real, well done love takes the work of learning how to do love ever better.  It also requires purposeful application of that love learning.  Much like a farm growing natural food to get a good harvest, a lot of labor is required.  To achieve the full success potential of well done love we have to ‘work’ the major ways to show and receive love, ‘work’ the how to’s of healthy self-love, ‘work’ the ways of constructively and creatively thinking about love, ‘work’ the uses of love’s many emotions and everything else having to do with love.  Sometimes love just spontaneously and naturally flows.

However, for there to be consistency of love, being able to work at it is required.  Being able to work love also is terrifically important in times of stress and difficulty when love is most needed but least likely to flow easily.  When you know how to work at love you can do it purposefully and that does not detract from doing it spontaneously.  Do know, this kind of ‘work’ has tremendous benefits and the more you work it the more it becomes an integrated part of your life.

7.  For Love Relationships to Thrive and Make Life Fulfilled Love Must Be Cycled
To make a love relationship continue, grow and be fully actualized the people in the love relationship must cycle the love.  This is true for couples, families, comrades, or any other type of love relationship.  Cycling love means that two or more people in the relationship are mutually giving and receiving actions demonstrating love in ongoing teamwork with each other.  They receive love and digest and benefit from it, and then freely send back love to those who are sending it to them.  They keep doing this cycling of love together usually in ever improving teamwork.  They give the gift of showing good receivership of love and they jointly dance the dance of love pretty much continuously.  Love can be freely given to others who do not reciprocate with love actions.

Love given this way is a form of charity, but that does not create an ongoing, love teamwork relationship.  Likewise, a person may receive love and not give love back to the sender.  The recipient is enriched but that does not make for a healthy teamwork of equals, nor does it create a lasting, fulfilling love mutuality.  Love sometimes can be put on hold for surprisingly long periods of time and then picked up and restarted later, but during the ‘on hold’ time the love relationship is not growing because it is not being actively cycled.

Love can be stored up and drawn upon later but it is best when love is constantly cycled and, therefore, freshly generated and restored.  One of the beauties of love is the more you cycle it the more you create it and have it to give it away.  The better people learn and practice love cycling teamwork the more fulfilling their love relationship becomes.  This also tends to promote and nurture healthy self-love which also produces people who have more love to freely give to others.

Hopefully these seven points will help you better consider how love works and how you may work to create more healthy, real love in your life and in the lives of those you care about.

As always – Go and Grow in Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
Will you perhaps be talking over these ideas about how love works with a significant other, perhaps a mate, or lover, friend, or child you want to teach to think about love, and in so doing advance your own love thinking and, thereby, better your own love actions.

Previous Comments:
  1. Debora
    November 18th, 2014 at 21:08 |

    I read your website with Don and loVed it. We have come to an amazing congruence.
    – define and use the word tolerate as a stepping stone to to the word and meaning of acceptance.
    – have your webmaster put on each of your articles the option to email or Facebook.
    Grow in love is a wonderful phrase. Debora