Becca Hirsch, M.A, AMFT
In the beginning of a relationship, or what therapists refer to as the “infatuation stage”, it can be difficult to differentiate between love and infatuation or lust. The infatuation stage can last anywhere between 6 months and 2 years, which is quite a long time. The relationship may seem “perfect.” You may be spending all of your time together, having great sex, and see this person and relationship as the most important thing in your life. While the infatuation stage is essential for building a longer lasting and more meaningful relationship and bond, it can be confusing, especially in short-term relationships or flings.
Clients attending therapy are often concerned about the difference between infatuation and love, and whether they are infatuated or it is something more meaningful based on trust. The two can look the same in the beginning, which is why it is important to understand the difference and how to look for signs that may indicate that it is one or the other. Lust, or when it is simply an infatuation, can feel a lot like falling in love. Questions to be asking yourself during this phase are, “Am I comfortable with this person?”, “Do we have things in common?”, “Do I feel good about myself when I am with this person?” During this phase, it is important to be constantly checking in with yourself, or what I like to call a “gut check”, and see how you are feeling about this relationship, this person, and yourself.
If you are noticing that you are spending most of your time with this person late at night or most of your time is spent between the sheets, this may be a sign that this is more of a lust or infatuation relationship. While it is perfectly healthy to enjoy physical intimacy, even in a casual way, it is vital that you are checking in with yourself to make sure you are comfortable with it. If you and your partner decide that you’d prefer a more casual relationship that is based on sexual attraction, it will be important to have a discussion about that and establish boundaries and expectations.
On the other hand, if you notice you are spending a lot of time together going on dates or doing various activities or outings, this may be a sign that things are developing into more of a relationship than a fling. Two major components in developing a deeper relationship with a new partner are shared values and building trust. As you are getting to know someone, ask about their values and interests. Discussing values and interests are important in building the foundation of a new relationship; however, the most important component is trust and emotional connection.
As your relationship develops and you are learning more about each other, it is important to start developing trust and an emotional connection. Trust is gained over time by being reliable, honest, and sharing difficult aspects of your life (not just the fun stuff). When we go to a new partner in an emergency or we rely on them in a way we haven’t before, we are implicitly asking ourselves and our partner, “Can I rely on you?” “Can I trust you to be there for me when I need you?” This can make or break a new relationship. If a new partner shows that he or she is reliable and can emotionally attend your needs, that should be taken as a good sign because stress and hardship will inevitably come up throughout the relationship. If he or she is unavailable to you or is inconsistent in proving that he or she is trustworthy, then it is important to discuss your disappointment and decide if this person is a good fit.
If you are having trouble deciphering between love and lust, it may be valuable to consult an individual or couples therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling to be set up with one of our talented therapists.