The Psychology of Romantic Love

The Psychology of Romantic Love: Romantic Love in an Anti-Romantic Age by Nathaniel Branden

A friend recommended I read The Psychology of Romantic Love to help refine my perspective on relationship dynamics. The beginning section on the history of marriage is interesting, if only to understand that it’s a recent concept in human history that we marry someone with whom we are in love. Additionally, two parts stood out for me.

Branden articulated that what we want in our closest relationships is what he calls “visibility.” In other words, we want to be seen — fully seen — by those closest to us. That is our longing, to have someone know us fully and still love us. This was part of my unhappiness in my marriage — I didn’t feel my ex really knew me. And perhaps I didn’t really know him, either.

The second part that stood out was an exercise I encourage you to do (on page 99 if have the book). Branden asks you to list at least three important relationships, including each of your parents and at least one significant romantic relationship. Put each person’s name at the top of a separate page.

For each person:

  • Describe or characterize the person (six or eight responses)
  • Describe how you perceived his/her ability to give and receive love
  • Describe how you felt frustrated by him/her by (six or eight responses)

I don’t think this is a spoiler, but you will probably quickly see that the responses for your parents have some overlap with your romantic partner(s). Duh! But sometimes it’s a shock to see how much they are/were alike. Branden reported one male participant in a seminar blurted out, “I married my mother!”

The point of the exercise is awareness. If you are conscious that you have in the past chosen romantic partners who had similar negative or dysfunctional characteristics to your parents, you can be more mindful that it’s your tendency to choose someone with parallel issues. When you notice these behaviors in someone you’re dating, you can choose to disengage rather than go down the path to heartbreak you know well. By identifying the similarities in past important relationships, you are more alert to these characteristics being problematic.

Do the exercise and write a comment on what you saw.


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