Romantic love occurring during adolescence and young adulthood can be confusing. For example, you may be experiencing love that in unreciprocated, or you might be unsure whether you are feeling love or obsession. Exploring why your love is confusing can enable you to take steps towards healthier relationships with yourself and future partners. If you are concerned that your relationship is harming your mental health, or you are having trouble managing your feelings on your own, a licensed therapist can help.
By the age of 15, more than half of young people have dated. Though many young people find healthy, supportive partners, relationship concerns remain one of the major reasons that adolescents seek help from therapy.
Why Is Love Confusing?
Aside from the unfinished development of the pre-frontal cortex, there are many reasons why young love can be confusing and surprising. These include the following:
Misunderstand The Types Of Love
There is not only one type of love. For example, you can experience compassionate love, parental love, infatuation, attachment, or sexual desire. Many people associate young relationship love with infatuation, a type of intense, passionate love that is a hallmark of love early on in relationships. As relationships mature, many people in love begin to experience compassionate love, which is characterized by emotional bonding.
While short-term infatuation may not require sustained effort, long-term relationships generally require respect, focus, compassion, and generosity to develop maturely into compassionate love. When infatuation ends or becomes less intense, differences in personality or desire to work on committed love may become evident, leading to confusing and abrupt changes in feelings.
Sometimes, young people may confuse other emotions, such as obsession, idolization, and boosted self-esteem with love. To help you determine whether this is the case, you can ask yourself whether you feel love because you find someone to be a kind and generous person, or if you feel love because you find this person mysterious, complicated, unattainable, or challenging. Having a discussion with an older person or therapist can help you consider whether your attraction to someone is indeed love.
Lack Of Information-Communication From Older Adults
Young relationships are often portrayed inaccurately in movies and media. For example, young people are frequently shown falling into dramatic love that is unmistakable, perfect, and long-lasting. This is unrepresentative of real love, and more than 70% of young people responding to a national survey want their parents to teach them more about how to have mature relationships, how to handle relationship breakups, and how to avoid getting hurt by relationships.
Emotions Of Unhealthy Relationships
Many young people find navigating their first romantic relationships and experiences of love both confusing and challenging. No relationship is perfect, but some signs, such as physical violence, possessiveness, jealousy, gaslighting, and anger are signs that a relationship is not okay. If you are in a relationship that shows these signs, you should prioritize your safety and seek professional help.
It can be difficult to leave an unhealthy relationship if you love your partner, but you can remind yourself that “if there’s no respect it isn’t love”.
Discovering Who You Are
During the early stages of love and infatuation, some people may be willing to overlook or comprise on the things that they do not have in common with their love interest. However, incompatibility can make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships in the long-term. The confusion of learning about who your partner is can be compounded by the confusion of self-discovery that happens during teenage and young adult years.
Though it can be easy to immerse yourself in an exciting relationship, your youth is also a valuable time to learn about yourself and practice self-love. Recognizing your value as a human, the importance of experiencing and using your emotions for good, and connecting with people outside of yourself and your relationship are all ways to practice self-love. Romantic relationships in young people can negatively impact academic performance and other the growth of interpersonal skills, making the development of self outside of romantic relationships particularly important.
A Lot Is Going On In Life
As of 2016, 62% of young people report experiencing overwhelming anxiety due to excessive commitments, such as schoolwork, work, sports, and social engagements. Romantic relationships during periods of stress can contribute to worsening academic and athletic performance. While young people may be worried about their ability to balance busy schedules, they may also feel pressured to enter romantic relationships because they are socially normative.
Unrequited love (UL), also called one-sided or unreciprocated love, is a more frequent occurrence than equal emotional love. UL may result from love that grows out of friendship, from afar, or in secret. If you’ve ever experienced romantic love for someone who is unavailable, someone who does not have feelings for you, or a sustained romantic interest after the end of your relationship, you may have experienced one-sided love.
Experiences of unrequited love can lead to rejection, anxiety, jealousy, embarrassment or shame, and other intense emotions that can be difficult to navigate. If you find that you are unable to move on from someone who is not interested in pursuing a relationship, or your thoughts about this person disrupt your daily life, you should consider reaching out to a licensed therapist.
Peer Pressure And Stereotypes
According to the American Psychological Association, stereotypes can be particularly harmful and confusing for young love. For example, some young men may believe that they should be tough and unapproachable or treat women poorly to appeal to peer pressure from male friends. There can also be pressure and external expectations for relationships to move at a certain pace or become physically intimate quickly.
Finding Healthy Love
Relationship anxiety and mental health concerns can be common during experiences of young love. A particular type of therapy, called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help many people reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders. CBT typically involves group or one-on-one psychotherapy sessions where therapists help you to identify unhealthy thought patterns, develop awareness of these patterns, identify unhealthy thoughts in action, and then reframe your thinking. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is commonly referred to as the “gold-standard” of psychological treatment, and is frequently used to address anxiety and depression.
Online CBT can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and help with reframing negative thoughts. In a 2019 study published in World Psychiatry, researchers evaluated the potential effectiveness of online therapy, and found that online therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy. Online therapy platforms, like BetterHelp, can make getting help more convenient because you don’t have to commute to sessions, and many people find that it’s easier to open up in online therapy because of the physical distance they have from their therapist.
You can reduce some of the confusion that comes with young love by working to understand the type of love (and other emotions) you are feeling, soliciting input on forming healthy relationships from older adults, engaging in self-love and self-discovery, learning to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships, and managing un-reciprocated feelings of love.
Therapy is a good resource to utilize when you’re feeling like your love is harming your mental health, if you’re having difficulty deciding how you feel about your relationship, and in the case of unrequited love, a therapist can help you develop strategies to move on. Online therapy is shown to be just as effective as in-person therapy at addressing these confusing feelings.
“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything. He’s not only supported me but insight and encouragement to let me know I’m on a good path to self-improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight into my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship.”
“Jackie is amazing! She’s very quick at reading people, and she takes me seriously and trusts my self-assessments. She hits the perfect balance of not judging or telling me what to do but also telling me hard truths when I need to hear them. It’s clear that she has a diversity of experience, and she has helped me understand other people in my life who also struggle with mental illnesses that are different than mine. I feel like I have grown individually and in my relationship while working with Jackie, and I’m so grateful! She’s also fun and relatable and someone I would want to hang out with outside therapy.”
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