How Evolution Created Love As We Know It (According to Emotion Focused Couples Therapy)

As a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist, it’s an understatement to say that I am fascinated about the science of love. I have devoured most every book on the science of healthy relationships and attachment since graduate school. The theories on love captivate me. Helping couples to sustain a loving bond, or to repair a loving bond once it’s damaged—that’s my passion, and something I’ve built my career on.

Even today, I still hear new research, or ways of thinking about love that open my mind. I get excited all over again about this field and what we have to offer people in relationships. Sue Johnson, PhD, Emotion Focused Couples Therapy’s creator, is one of those researchers who never fails to impress me.

I have seen Sue talk a few times, and I also recently completed her new online certification in EFT recently. I’ve always loved listening to Sue—she has a charismatic way of talking about couples therapy, and love, that feels profound and almost evangelical (in a non-religious way).

For so long, social scientists, including psychologists and similar researchers, have been mocked by their pseudo-scientific theories and attempts to understand human romantic relationships. As far as love, affection, and love relationships are concerned, psychologists have failed. Psychologists knew very little about love, affection ,and what kept relationships together. What they’d said had been better said by poets and novelists. At one point, this kind of statement was true. But now we know better. Science has improved.

Sue describes how she believes love has evolved since the beginning of human kind:

We have a really clear idea of what romantic love is all about. What this drama that plays out in (the therapy office) is all about. Romantic love is not a strange mix of sex and sentiment, that you need to persuade people out of, or just give people some way of being more sexual, or more sentimental with each other. That’s not what it is. Romantic love is an ancient, widened survival code, widened by millions of years of evolution, designed to keep you—a bonding mammal—close to one or two people who you most depend on. and that you can call when you need. That’s what it’s about. And from that point of view, it’s an extremely functional behavioral system.”

Regardless of whether or not you believe in love, this theory of love, and human attachment, and how it has evolved over time, just makes sense. We need each other. There’s a reason most people still want a long-term marriage or monogamous relationship. It’s adaptive and has become wired in us. The happiest people I’ve ever met have been those in satisfying, long-term relationships, with close connections to their partner, and to their family. We need each other. Life is hard enough, and as social creatures, we’ve adapted to survive and thrive together.

The Gottman Method and Emotion Focused Therapy are both founded in the research of love and agree that human relationships that work may all be unique in some ways, but all the healthy ones follow some pretty similar patters, both in terms of attachment, trust, commitment, and building a life together.

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Stephanie Cook

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, is an Atlanta area therapist and owner of a private psychotherapy practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an in-town suburb of Atlanta, GA. She has expertise providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families and primarily specializes in work with young adults and couples