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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Celebration of Love, February 12, 2014
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This review is from: Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (Kindle Edition)
Without being too sappy or too stodgy, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (2013), by Sue Johnson, is a fascinating and heartwarming look at the phenomenon of love from a scientific perspective.

Citing ample research on primate development, neuroscience, and biochemistry, Johnson makes a compelling case that humans evolved to be monogamous rather than philanderous, interdependent rather than isolated, and that emotional connectedness to others is a testament to our strength rather than a sign of weakness.

Although the book does an excellent job extolling the importance of romantic relationships, it seems to marginalize those who are not in a strictly monogamous and long-term relationship and, also, errs on the side of being too permissive of clinginess and “you are my everything” enmeshment. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile read because it breaks down love in terms of cutting-edge science.

Building on the work of John Bowlby, Sue Johnson offers a compelling foundation from which to understand, and even enhance, love relationships: attachment theory. The basic premise of attachment theory is that human beings thrive on emotional connection to caregivers as babies and to romantic partners as adults. Inconsistencies in attachment bonds cause humans distress, particularly infants. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective since human infants are among the most helpless in the animal kingdom and are completely dependent on their parents’ care at birth. Instinctively knowing that abandonment spells death, we humans are wired to connect and we thrive when we have at least one significant other to trust.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book where Johnson examined the nitty gritty of what constitutes love. Humans are among the 3% of mammals that form monogamous pair bonds. The chemicals behind our desire to bond with one significant other include oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) and vasopressin (the mate-guarding hormone). These chemicals regulate stress and protect health. Having someone to trust and hold gives you the confidence to explore the world and to thrive as an individual. So, contrary to popular notions of independence, interdependence makes us strong rather than weak. This is good motivation to cherish a love relationship if you have one or honor your human need to connect with others.

Although I enjoyed the book overall, there were parts of the it that left me irked. The book started off well, in my opinion, as an insightful investigation into the nature of love. I was, however, disappointed that the author didn’t answer some lingering questions I had as I made my way through the book. For example, the author never addressed how singles could benefit from this new understanding of love. It seemed to undermine the dangers of relying on one person to be your anchor to the rest of humanity instead of cultivating a myriad of relationships and general community involvement. I also didn’t really care for her model of couple’s therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy. While it has a relatively high success rate compared to other modes of couple’s therapy, it seems too simplistic, vague, and naive. It would only work if both partners were committed to making their relationship work and sincerely wanted to restore a positive connection. I doubt it would work for people hellbent on “winning” at the other person’s expense. It works so long as both partners recognize each other’s humanity. Some people are simply abusive and see people as objects to manipulate. Others are simply too selfish to make the compromises necessary for an egalitarian, mutually beneficial partnership. Trusting such people would be destructive rather than healthy. So love isn’t the answer to every human problem.

Love Sense is a touching reminder of what really matters in this human life: meaningful connections to other people and the world at large. It inspires readers to cherish and make the most of the significant relationships in their lives, particular the romantic variety. I could also see this as a good reference for raising children, at least for explaining the implications of attachment theory in a child’s development. Johnson’s science is good, but the applications of this science leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, it’s an enlightening read and I would recommend it to people in good long-term relationships (i.e. those that are worth preserving and/or improving).
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