Psychology Addict # 64 | The Romantic Love Delusion.

in #psychologylast year (edited)

Broken Heart - BS.png

Romance refers to strong emotional feelings featuring courtship behaviour towards another person. Delusion is a term that describes beliefs that are sustained despite the lack of evidence or sound arguments. My discussion today will focus on how certain such beliefs can perturb our thoughts and take from us the possibility of leading a less tribulated life. The belief in question today is that of romantic love and the domain which it greatly affects is long term relationships.

The OECD family database shows that from 1970 to 2008 divorce rates more than doubled across the areas of the world they conduct research in [1, 2]. The purpose of this post is not to develop a critique of divorce statistics. Therefore, the previous data mostly aims at situating us in relation to the figures that have prompted me to write this piece. These figures being the chief reason why couples end up going their separate ways.

For example, Gigy and Kelly’s [3] study on reasons for divorce revealed that growing apart, boredom with the marriage and conflict were the most frequent factors that drove marriages to an end in the mid 80’s. Fast forward to 2017, and the picture is similar, 44% of divorces take place as a result of incompatibility / partners growing apart [4]. With the remainder 56% resulting from a variety of causes ranging from infidelity (18%), physical/mental abuse (6%), drinking/drugs (9%) to various others (23%) [5].

The Role of Expectation.

Individualized Marriage = BS.png

Now the question I have asked myself over the years is: do expectations play a part in such scenarios? If so, what is it that people expect when they get married?

Obviously the socio-cultural and historical context can give a good indication of what such expectations can be. Historians and socio-scientists, for example, posit that before World War II marriages served to resolve economic matters (institutional marriages). Post-World War II the underlying reasons for marriages shifted to a so to speak collaboration between the male provider and the female homemaker/primary caregiver (compassionate marriage) [6]. In that regard I suppose that my grandparents and parents had a clear picture of what to look forward to as well as something concrete against which to measure their aspirations.

But then, what to expect from a romantic relationship in the age of individualised marriage? Which, according to researchers, centres around the fulfilment of individual needs, self-growth and personal satisfaction alongside shared intimacy [7]. It seems quite self-explanatory as to why spouses put an end to their relationships as a consequence of growing-apart, having conflicts and becoming bored with it. If individual satisfaction is the rule of the game, compromising is out of the picture. It’s each to their own. But here’s a research finding not to be dismissed: divorcees who attribute the reason of their relationship dissolution to internal (self) factors (e.g. lack of self-fulfilment) are the ones more likely to experience a troubled post-divorce adjustment [8].

So, is the actual relationship the problem?

The Romantic Love Delusion.

Sadly, there are cases in which compromising is indeed impossible. After 4 years of much negotiation Simon and Mirian broke up. Simon loved Miriam, but didn’t want children. He also didn’t feel it was for him to take Mirian’s dream of becoming a mother away from her. At the same time Miriam wasn’t prepared to give up motherhood for Simon, despite her feelings for him. In a case that shows how love - although indispensable - is not the only tool required for a romantic relationship to last and function well. A lot of people are surprisingly unaware about this.

I guess this is the starting point of most couple’s problems: The difficulty of reconciling such idealization with reality. According to cultivation theory the most influential story teller in Western societies is the entertainment media, which in spite of their unrealistic representations of love stories, for instance, people still embrace them as normative [9]. Something which is reflected on Hefner and Wilson’s [10] research that demonstrates how young people’s beliefs about relationships are based on romantic comedy narratives.

In my opinion, continuous, pervasive narratives like ”all you is need is love” “finding one’s soul mate” or “living happily ever after” give rise to a pre-mature rejection of reality. This is precisely what Linda & Charlie Bloom discovered through their relationship-counselling work. They saw that most divorcees are at a 150% higher risk of ending their next marriage due to being under the illusion of not having met “their soul-mate” yet [11]. “Our soul-mate” that person in whose company life is permanent bliss.

Do such people even exist?

Yes, Soul Mates Do Exist!

Soul Mates = BS.png

Not only do they exist, but chances are you’re already in a relationship with yours. It’s just that they aren’t quite what we’ve been told they are. It was poet V. Tugaleva who pronounced “A soul mate is not found. A soul mate is recognised.” True words. You see, it happens that the depiction of relationships we’re bombarded with since we’re children (e.g. through fairy tales) is far from accurate. Anyone who’s been in a long term relationship will agree with me on this.

For starters, the passion that brings the couple together to begin with does not last forever. It’s rather full of ups and downs [12]. Second, the more the two lives get intertwined the more negotiation is required. Because no two personalities are precisely the same, disagreements are bound to arise to varying degrees. Finally, it is through such disagreements that we learn our other half is not exactly a reflection of our desires, feelings, thoughts and goals. This is a realisation that has the potential to disrupt the couple’s sense of closeness. And it is from this point that many relationships begin to crumble. As the partners believe that when the aforementioned incidents take place ‘the relationship is not meant to be’ [13]. Then, they give up on each other.

Mostly because they fail to recognize that person they fell in love with as their much sought after soul mate.

Why Do We Fall in Love?

Theories explaining why we fall in love are aplenty. The romantics explain the phenomenon as a mysterious flow of powerful feelings, psychoanalysts propose it to be the extension of one’s ego boundaries, biologists argue that romantic love is just a trick of nature to ensure our species is perpetuated. And TV informs us that it’s what results from the meeting of eternally passionate spouse ‘a’ with an always jolly, worry-free spouse ‘b’, whose love was born at first sight in an idyllic setting.

But it is Plato’s theory that I turn to when I’m approached by those going through a rough patch in their relationships and when I, myself, am frustrated with mine. Plato argues that when we fall in love what is truly happening is the identification of qualities in the other individual which are lacking in ourselves [14]. For example, according to Plato I fell in love with my husband because he is spontaneous, while I’m a serial-planner. Because he is hands-on, while I have to consider and reconsider something a thousand times before I put them into action, and so forth.

In this way, through romantic relationships, Plato posits, partners become a little like each other, and therefore acquire increased possibilities of reaching their full potentials. I have a feeling that Plato would’ve been pleased to learn that we’re in an age of individualised marriage. For, his notion of love was that of two people embarking on a path of self-growth. Although, he would’ve been disheartened to see how rather than helping each other to do so together. Some just expect self-fulfilment to come to them (from the relationship) as their responsibility towards achieving it is replaced by sheer entitlement.

Love As a Kind of Education.

Heart Book = BS.png

I guess this is what happens when we understand love as ‘finding the one’. That individual who is perfect just as they are and accept us just as we are. If anything, this is a romantic, deluded assumption that only serves to undermine relationships. Well, that and our inherit egoism and pride. How many times have you thought to yourself, or even pronounced to your spouse: ‘if you loved me just as I am, you would not attempt to change me’.

As you know, Plato was a huge advocate of education. So, it will come as no surprise to you that he also thought of love as a means of learning, of acquiring knowledge. In his work The Symposium he argues that we can only really love someone who is able to help us become a better version of who we are. Here, he discusses that a promising relationship does not have to be a requirement of people loving their other halves precisely for who they are. Instead, a successful marriage should require each partner accepting that sometimes they’ll assume the position of an (kind) educator, and other times they’ll assume that of a (humble) apprentice [15].

Please remember that a kind educator turns to constructive criticism instead of aggressive accusations. In a process that facilitates the apprentice to adopt an open-minded stance rather than a defensive one. Still, this is a dynamic with the inevitable potential of bringing about tempestuous weather. But the way couples enter and come out of such storms largely depend on how antagonistic they are towards each other’s attempt of changing improving one another. An attitude that essentially stems from how informed/accepting each partner is about their own incompleteness and imperfections.

Image Source:1,2, 3, 4

Reference List:
1 Marriage and divorce rates.

2 Divorce rates around the world.

3 Reasons for divorce.

4,5 Global divorce rates.

6,7,11 The epidemic of gray divorces.

8 People's Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class, the Life Course, and Adjustment.

9 Mass media influence on sexuality.

10 From Love at First Sight to Soul Mate: The Influence of Romantic Ideals in Popular Films on Young People's Beliefs about Relationships.

12 The endurance of love passionate and companionate in newlywed and long-term marriages.

13 Regulation of Romantic Love Feelings: Preconceptions, Strategies, and Feasibility.

14, 15 Plato (2003), The Symposium, London-NY, Peguin Classics.


Thank you, my dear reader. For once again taking the time to stop by my blog.
Much love & piece of mind to you all <3

Love is simply the name for the desire & pursuit of the whole.
Plato, The Symposium.


Here's what I think after having read this post:
When you said that our soul mate is here but just needs to be recognized, I thought of a friend of mine, a woman, and neither of us is playing on that team. But we just jive, ya know? She can criticize me brutally, and I know she still loves me. By contrast, when my husband of 27 years did so, I felt devalued, demeaned, and disliked. It is never difficult to recover from learning a great truth about myself, and is very productive instead. Being her friend is a tremendous growth opportunity for me. I think she feels the same. A Platonic Relationship, we improve each other by disclosing "secrets" and finding out what the other thinks. It probably helps that she is a psychologist, and that I have had a gazillion years of therapy.

It's interesting to me that Platonic Love has come to mean something very different than what you tell us here. But a "good" marriage, as I understand what you've said, would be much like my relationship with my friend and include breeding activity. That many of us marry in order to breed is only briefly mentioned here biologists argue that romantic love is just a trick of nature to ensure our species is perpetuated.

That our youth think true love feels like a relationship they might see in a romantic comedy disturbs me! My marriage eventually fell apart due to unkindnesses on both of our parts, but it lasted for 27 years. Was it a good marriage? For many years, yes. We grew, we learned, we bred, we earned, we acquired property and money, we had all the trappings of a successful life together. It was a good marriage until it wasn't. I think the notion that a good marriage lasts a lifetime is the error. There was a time when we had little choice but to stay in a marriage, each partner doing his or her traditional duties in it, and thought very little about acheiving a heightened sense of self worth. Perhaps we have come to expect too much from ourselves.

Thanks for the every other Thursday food for thought!

That's intriguing, @owasco! And sad, and inspiring, all at the same time. @abigail-dantes, this sounds right: "Plato argues that when we fall in love what is truly happening is the identification of qualities in the other individual which are lacking in ourselves," so my husband's math brains, musical and artistic talent, and all-around competence would compensate for my own deficits. Kinda, sorta. Yeah. (And I was hoping osmosis would impart to me some of his virtues.) This cute, smart, lovable guy just stole my heart and I knew life was better with him than without him. We lived an hour apart when we first met. A sign of falling in love, for me, was how often you think of the person--not "out of sight, out of mind," but ever on your mind. Something funny or interesting happens and you wish he was here to enjoy it too... you go somewhere and think "He would LOVE this; if only he were here with me now!" - and then you're hooked. And you're very very lucky if this person feels the same way about you. :)

This is a wonderful comment @owasco (as usual!) :)

The way you refer to your marriage is a very mature one. I agree very much with you when you observe that the forever happily married idea is a mistaken one. People get married, conquer things and achieve great goals. Through that journey they transform. Sometimes that transformation means negotiations can still be made and the two lives can still go on together productively, lovingly. Sometimes not. And I suppose the secret is to be able to wisely identify which path to take.

How reassuring it must be to have a friend like your psychologist friend. A soul-mate friend! It's very difficult to obtain that sort of confidence and openness with a romantic partner, I think. There is too much at stake. It seems to me that in romantic relationships it's either about being completely honest or being completely accepted. Not sure. I will think a bit more about that one :)

As for the current meaning of platonic love. Although its original meaning has changed over the centuries, I don't think it's Ref. far from the concept put forward here.

Thank you very much dear @owasco for your support and for always meaningfully engaging with my work here.

All the best to you.

It's always my pleasure. I look forward to Thursdays, er, alternate Thursdays! You always give us something meaty to chew on and toss about.

Where O where is @Abigail-dantes today? I hope all is well.

Hello my dear @owasco, how sweet of you to ask about me :) Everything is fine over here. I’m just struggling to juggle around all the commitments this time of the year brings to my (work) schedule. 😅 Hopefully, I will be able to finish the article I have on the go by next Thursday.

I hope you are fine over there as well. Healthy and with no knee problems <3

Much love from cold Portugal.

Oh good. Glad to hear you are OK. I am as well.

Dear Abigail,
You will receive many comments on this, I am sure. A brilliant analysis of something essential to all our lives.

What is more personal than love? More perplexing?

I went off to read a bit about Plato's view of love after my earlier reading of this essay. (Yes, I went away to think before responding--that is always the way with your posts.) I found this, which parallels your interpretation:

The underlying fantasy of love is that by getting close to this person, you can become a little like they are. They can help you to grow to your full potential.

Relating this to my own life (how else are we to use this essay?) I would say there were two thresholds that had to be passed before an enduring relationship could be established (47 years ago). But then, I am cautious 😇

My husband and I worked for the same organization (though not often together), so I had a chance to see the broad outline of his character before I got close enough to understand his personality. From a distance he stood out--more independent, and strong than many others. Also devoid of hypocrisy, almost to the point of being impolite. Then, when I did get to know him, he was so different in so many ways from me. You and Plato hit that one on the head.

Soul mate? I don't know. But neither one of us can imagine being married to anyone else. And you know I have a pretty good imagination 😄

It was a bumpy road for a long time. I think the key to a successful marriage, for both of us, was to understand ourselves better. And then to be committed to the idea of our marriage.

This post can be so very useful for people contemplating a relationship. Your writing is gentle but thought-provoking. A really well-realized essay.

Congratulations,🌟 once again.

With respect reinforced, and affection,
Your New York friend, facing snow!! tonight,


This makes sense to me, @agmoore: The underlying fantasy of love is that by getting close to this person, you can become a little like they are. They can help you to grow to your full potential.
So many many insights and comments - yours too @owasco - but the dogs want their walk and the clock ticks and I am not quick enough to cover all the great and salient points in the blog and in the beloved comment section (y'all know how I treasure reader feedback!). I love this group!!!

Me too (that is, I love this group)!

Hello my dear friend :)

How wonderful it is to start my day with your comment <3 Love as a means of education is a popular interpretation of The Symposium, which although many see it as a psychoanalytical analyses (including the source you shared here! :D) I see it more as an existential one! Either way, I like this way of approaching romantic relationships because of how to-the-point it is. But above all, I like it because it enables us to face the inevitable conflicts that are inherit to romantic love more wisely. And your words define exactly what I mean by that:

for both of us, was to understand ourselves better. And then to be committed to the idea of our marriage.

So true! :) I remember you told me once how you came to meet your husband in the work environment. 47 years! What a most beautiful accomplishment my friend. Congratulations to you both !! ❤️🍁

Thank you once again for you infinite support & always encouraging words towards my work! Your readership means the world to me, and of course, I thought of you while I wrote this. As your last short-story Larry: A family Album hugely inspired me to write about relationships ;)

With Much love, as always, from cold Portugal!
Snow! Oohhhh I love this time of the year! :*

Dear Abigail,
I'm so happy--and gratified--that one of my stories affected you that way. We influence each other, everyone who writes.
Thank you for your warm words. They help here in chilly New York (though no snow arrived!!).
Have a wonderful weekend...they're reading about you on Twitter and Wordpress today. Your audience grows.
Much love,

Abigail, I am so impressed with what you have created here. You introduce a topic that so many people can relate to and have options about. The comments and your responses are just as interesting. It is so great to see people from all over the world with different thoughts and ideas commenting on your chosen topic. And of course it gives me much to think about! Thanks.

Hello there @sjarvie5,

It's always nice seeing you around. Thank you for stopping by and for the nice words. I feel very grateful for the way people take some of their time to engage with my content and share their thoughts with me about the topic in question! I am glad to hear this post has also provided you with some notions and ideas to digest! Romantic love is a topic that greatly sparks my interest. There is a lot of insightful research out there from which we all can learn a great deal :)

I wish you a lovely weekend ahead.


Yet another good post, but it does go an bit! lolol (joke).

The reason I say that, in all seriousness (serious face going on)..

The cobination of media, combined with material afllunece, has led to people not growing up.
If you're not grown up, you get bored with your toys and want new ones.
When time were tougher, and roles were defined (pre sexual revolution), grown up were just that- and made relationships work.

Decadence breeds weak people children...

Simplistic? Very. But I'm very simple.

(this is not relationship advise, bu if you're having problems with the poor Mr Dantes, just assume that he's always right

All the best to you guys!

Hey @lucylin :D

So, you managed to write in a couple of lines what I tried to convey in 1500 words! :P

Only a couple of weeks ago I had a talk to a colleague about the apparently pervasive 'Peter pan syndrome' Ref. in our society. We were pinpointing the possible underlying social causes for this sort of behaviour and its resulting consequences. Of course, committing to serious relationships was the one that came up over and over again!

We were half-jokingly trying to imagine people in the Victorian times sporting this sort of notion about life: Refusing to deal with the responsibilities of the adult world. Anyhow, this is how the world works, I suppose. While we advance in so many domains, we go back or remain stuck in others :)

What? Mr. Dantes always right?! Please ... :P

We're both fine over here <3 you guys take care over there and keep on enjoying the peachy life!! <3 :)

What do you call someone with peter pan syndrome for 4-6 hours a day, to replaced with Adult for the rest of it.....?

A/ Lucylin!

Oh no, I'm too late to resteem this keeper of a post - so many many good things here that I wish my daughter would internalize, but I'd be lucky to get her to read it at all. She hates reading. :( She should read this: the starting point of most couple’s problems: The difficulty of reconciling such idealization with reality. This: A soul mate is not found. A soul mate is recognised. And "the depiction of relationships we’re bombarded with since we’re children (e.g. through fairy tales) is far from accurate."
Thank you for this!

It pleases me very, very much you found usefulness in the message this post attempted to covey @carolkean. Thank you for taking the time to read and for always being so encouraging <3.

If people are basing their expectations of what a good relationship looks like, on romantic comedies, then they are definitely in trouble lol. That is a good point though, how media (and stories) throughout our lives shape our expectations of reality - often to a detriment.

That part about Platos theory of love was really interesting. I had never heard that before but it definitely makes a lot of sense to me. That also goes for the part about a relationship being about learning and gaining knowledge. Very interesting.

The part about soul mates was also interesting. I have a hard time believing in the idea of a soul mate as being a perfectly matched individual for a specific person that you seek out in life and you're lucky if you ever happen to find that person. The way you describe soul mates in your article though makes a lot more sense to me.

Great article. Nice work, as usual.

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Hey @leaky20 :)

It's nice to hear you found Plato's teachings on love and Tugaleva's concept of soul mate interesting. I like these notions very much too. They're realistic! Talking about realism ... I think that society misconceptions go way beyond the subject of romantic love. I believe this same sort of discussion can be developed about wealth, happiness, friendship and so on :) Maybe something worth writing about?

Thank you for taking the time to read my work once again, but above all thank you for your constant support and encouragement.

All the best to you two!

I definitely agree with all of that. I remember my first realization of the discrepancy between expectations based on, in this case movies, and reality. In high school I thought prom was going to be much bigger (i.e. feel more important and significant) then what it actually was. Maybe our imaginations are just too big? lol
Surprisingly, a movie that really got the idea about expectations in life right was the Adam Sandler movie "click." I love the analogy in that movie that goes "we are all chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but when we finally get there we realize that it's just corn flakes." I love that.

Best to you and your husband as well.

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Ha! LOVE that (quote from Click ):D

I love the issue you raised here Abbey. Actually, I grew up in the part of the world were Romance, love, and even marriage have been grossly misrepresented.
Imagine a single guy playing the role of a husband before being married and the married people playing the role of singles. It looks like the love professed before marriage is quite different from the one professed after marriage. One may even ask if true and unconditional love exists? Well, I know it exists, but looking at some marriages, you won't know if the marriage is built on love or on fear.

A few days ago, I was discussing about love with a friend of mine and she made a comment that got me thinking. She said "falling in love is good, but growing in love is better". Some people may fall in love for a bleak reason and when that thing is gone, the love will automatically vanish. This may be why my friend made that statement that it is better to grow in love.

Nice piece as usual Abbey. Much love from Nigeria

Some people may fall in love for a bleak reason and when that thing is gone, the love will automatically vanish.

This is a painful, but truthful observation Sammi. But then again. Is that really love? This is such a rich topic that can be explored from various different angles.

I am very happy to hear that you liked the argument I put forward here my dear. Your friend's words are very wise. If only people had more clarity of thought not only about romantic love, but also about happiness, wealth and life in general. Their minds would be much, much less visited by angst! :)

Thank you for always stopping by my dearest friend.
You are amazing! <3

Much love to you from Portugal! :*

Oh yes, relationships are so much more than mere romantic tickle or transfiguration. Romanticism for me is the summer meadow and spring, when fresh lovers kiss and the world is pink.

In my education I heard for the first time that there are several phases in the life of a couple, there is the phase of falling in love, which lasts quite short, then comes the phase of negotiation, where the couple realizes that they don't see everything the same - this can be a very difficult and hard time. If it was overcome together, there follows a time of co-creation and then later co-evolution, the former including family planning, for example, the latter including a time of maturing together, which is very similar to your Plato description of love. Plato is becoming more and more congenial to me! :) Thanks for the example.
It's not always the case that these phases happen directly in order, it can be quite another, life is never so linearly permeated.

I can confirm that the other's qualities make my relationship rich precisely because of the difference of my qualities. If we were not so different, we would be missing something, we would have less friction and opportunities to be educators and apprentices to each other.

I consider myself lucky to have recognized my soulmate in my man.

To have the willingness to accept the other as leading in the relationship, while the other accepts exactly that, because the roles always alternate situatively, is one of the best experiences I have in a couple relationship. Criticizing each other without behaving aggressively is an art and thus fulfils all the criteria that art is said to meet. Not everything can be fully explained, the inexplicable is often the unthought trust.

After almost eight years, my man and I have left the negotiation phase behind us for about one and a half years now (which doesn't mean that it's finally over, because who knows). We really negotiated a lot with each other and it was incredibly exhausting! :D
It is now very pleasant that we treat each other respectfully and say things about ourselves in a quite humorous way that only the maturity of the relationship seems to make possible.

You recognized your soulmate in your man? I guess so.

Hey Erika :) <3

Well, I agree 100% with what you said here and find the observation about the phases couples go through very important. In particular the part you highlighted they don't happen linearly. Well, it most certainly it hasn't happen that way with me & my husband :) who, as you guessed right, I've recognized as my soul-mate from the very beginning. It's hard to imagine life without him.

But, unlike in your relationship, our negotiation phase is still going strong. Sometimes we can be artful at it, sometimes not :) Despite this, we remain highly committed to each other and to our relationship, and feel loved and respected by one another <3

Thank you for another wonderful, insightful comment dear Erika.
I wish you, your man and your son all the best in life!

It's bed time over here :) and yours are the last words I will have read today :*
Much love.

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Thank you @steemstem :) <3

just wanted to ask if you are aware that you vote on the steemsports-es posts. There has been a lot of vote farming with old accounts, that is why I am asking.

No @captainklaus. I am not aware of that, but I've just seen this is indeed the case in my steemworld. I am going to check that account and take the necessary steps. Thank you for your message!

you are welcome. I am sure those accounts are using your posting authority.
Here is a nice post by @luegenbaron on how to take the necessary steps:

Oh! I truly appreciate it. Thank you so much. I was a bit lost as to where to start. I just downvoted their last two posts so ... it's a start! :)

a good start it is!

@mack-bot, I am explaining here exactly what you told people in your last two posts. I appreciate your effort in fighting spam, but your approach seems to be a bit too general.

I'm not sure your post works. You're trying to apply a mechanistic approach to love - but love is, by nature, random, inexplicable...if you want really know about love you need know no more than Sir Walter Raleigh's words on the subject: 'Love is a durable fire, in the mind forever burning, never sick, never old, never dead and from itself never turning'.

Hey there @rix2409,

Thank you for stopping by :)

What a beautiful quote! Thank you for sharing it with me here. That's is precisely the sort of notion I attempted to challenge with the evidence (e.g. divorce rates and causes) and theory (e.g. cultivation theory) I presented here. It would be wonderful if romantic love was how Sir. Raleigh's words describe.

Unfortunately, there are plenty social/psychological studies demonstrating that passionate love does not last forever. In other words, the level of passion individuals feel for each other in the beginning of a romantic relationship does not remain the same throughout life Ref. But, it's not all doom and gloom. For, studies also show that passionate love can both be regulated Ref. (it doesn't have to go from 10 to 0) but rather, it has ups and downs :) & be supported by companionate Ref. love from time to time. For example in times of intimacy difficulties <3

Of course, this all depends on how committed each partner is to one another and the relationship itself. A commitment that , from what rates of divorce reasons show, is often left aside due to the very notions people hold about what romantic love is/entails. As they often feel let down.

Anyways, thank you once again for your feedback! :D


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