Before I even opened the book, I was skeptical. Why should there be a science to love? Does love really need to be explained?
In Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, clinical psychologist and professor Sue Johnson leads readers to the conclusion that when we understand the science behind love, it is easier to understand and repair relationships in our lives. Johnson’s research-backed exploration of one of our most puzzling emotions clears away any doubt that there is more to love that meets the eye — and that it is worth finding out what our bodies and brains do when we fall for someone.
Johnson first discusses what she believes is the key to love: attachment. “A person’s basic attachment style is formed in childhood,” Johnson writes, explaining that although the three types of attachment styles are avoidant, anxious, and secure, each style can easily change with the right kind of partner.
Some readers will already know what these styles mean, but the book is helpful in explaining why some people are distant and don’t trust others, some doubt their own value and whether their partner loves them, and some work well together with their mate. As Johnson explains, the way people attach to others is important in what kind of relationships they develop.
The book also goes over Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a model of treatment Johnson herself created for struggling couples. She explains how the method, which centers on human emotions and not on changing how each partner acts, improves relationships, and she sprinkles anecdotes about it throughout the book. EFT, as plugged in the book, can help pairs communicate better with each other, solve problems, and become closer.
While she conducts EFT with couples, Johnson writes, she tries to get them in tune with each other — to understand how the other feels. She does this through the science of emotion. In our brains, she explains, our mirror neurons help us feel what another person is feeling by “mirroring” their actions and expressions. Research on those mirror neurons, Johnson believes, can be used to help couples relate to one another.
The book also dives into one of the big questions we all tend to ponder: How does sex relate to love? Contrary to popular belief, Johnson writes, sex does not lead to connection, but follows from it.
That and many other topics Johnson covers are thought-provoking, and overall the book is informative. Through a helpful hypothetical couple, for instance, Johnson provides an excellent example of what communication should and should not look like in a relationship. There are also places in the book for personal reflection — exercises that I enjoyed working on.
But, one drawback of the book — depending on the reader — is that it is indeed, as its subtitle suggests, a very scientific text. Johnson uses data from experiments and surveys to back up her statements and to explain our brain and body’s processes when we fall in love. She makes the data as easy to understand as possible, but some explanations were still a bit of a bore for me.
If you like a science-oriented read, however, and have been wondering about your relationship issues — or, like many of us, about love in general — Love Sense might just be perfect for you.
And even for those of us who prefer a less science-heavy book, Johnson does a good job. She breaks down what we think of as the magic of love — and shows that, even after all the experiments and theories and scientific research, it’s still the same, wonderful feeling.
Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships
Little, Brown and Company, December, 2013
Hardcover, 352 pages