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Yuichi Shoda and colleague Vivian Zayas explore the complication underlying love in this article in The Conversation.

Think you love your Valentine? What’s beneath the surface may be more complicated

Article by

, Professor of Psychology, University of Washington, and

, Associate Professor of Psychology, Cornell University

Valentine cards are filled with expressions of unequivocal adoration and appreciation. That’s fitting for the holiday set aside to express love and reaffirm commitment to one’s romantic partner.

But what if there’s more going on below the surface of these adoring declarations? How might thoughts and feelings that people are not even aware of shape their romantic relationships?

We are two psychology researchers interested in how the mind works, and how it affects a variety of experiences, including romantic relationships. In our studies, we’ve found that how people feel about their partners at a nonconscious level may be a bit more complicated than the typical message in a Valentine. Even for those who consciously express only love and fondness, thinking about a partner can elicit ambivalence – both positive and negative responses of which they’re not consciously aware.

Reactions you don’t know you have

People need to quickly, effortlessly and continuously make sense of their world: Who is a friend and who is not? What is desirable versus harmful? Human beings are always evaluating people, places and things on basic dimensions of goodness and badness.

Psychology studies show that the mere thought of your partner – or the sight of their photograph or name – spontaneously activates nonconscious feelings you hold toward them. For most people in healthy relationships, thinking of their partner elicits a “good” response.

Research into these kinds of nonconscious evaluations suggests they can be a better barometer of relationship quality than what people explicitly say about their partner. For example, people who have stronger positive nonconscious partner evaluations tend to feel greater emotional commitment, security and satisfaction in their relationship. They are also more likely to have a brighter outlook about the future of their relationship and more constructive behaviors in interactions, and are less likely to break up.

But poets and song writers have long lamented that those you love are also those who can hurt you most. Psychologists too have long recognized that lovers’ thoughts are complex. It seemed to us that when it comes to romantic partners, people may not have positive reactions only.

Read the entire article here .