Reflections On . . . Love Songs and Wellbeing

By Jolanta Burke

Updated / Tuesday, 14 February 2023 09:06

Songs are not just songs – they are lines of words that repeat in our heads with a tune to accompany them. They are like thoughts, and it is sometimes hard to differentiate our thoughts from the songs that get stuck in our heads on autopilot.

As we listen to our favourite songs, the lyrics we repeat in our heads impact our thinking and emotions, creating a loop that may lead to changed behaviour. For example, listening to a song about hate after a breakup will make us hate our ex more, and if we act it out, it can lead to more hurt. As such, what we hear about love through music can fundamentally change how we think and feel about our loved ones. This is particularly problematic when the songs create a rift between two people in love.

Passionate love is highly romanticised in popular culture. We all want to experience it at least once in our lifetime. However, we feel we are not truly in love until we lose control over ourselves. In “Too Lost in You,” for instance, Sugababes realise they are in love as they become weaker, incoherent, unable to eat and sleep. They lose control of their bodily feelings, thoughts and emotions, making them realise that they have fallen deeper than ever in love. But have they?

Their state suggests that love brings the worst out of them, not the best, as it is meant to do. It is a state of suffering, not joy. It is a state of such obsessiveness that they lose control of who they are and what is important to them. FINNEAS describes this type of love in “Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa.” He felt independent before they met but calls himself codependent afterwards. He suffers when his lover is gone for a shower and cannot stop thinking about her during the day. While this romantic notion of passionate love seems aspirational, research shows it damages us and makes us less likely to maintain long-term relationships.

Obsessive passion is associated with a compulsion to be with someone. They become so integral to our identity that we feel frustrated and upset when we cannot be with them. Ruth B’s “Dandelions” says that when her lover looks at her, she becomes alive and free, meaning without it, she is trapped and withering. Her lover holds the strings to her happiness, making her feel helpless without him. When experiencing this type of love, we cannot stop thinking about the object of our attention and constantly pursue them. This may lead to out-of-character behaviours. Central Cee in “Obsessed with You” stalks his beloved. He knows it is wrong but cannot stop himself. A feeling of compulsion he cannot control makes him do it. This is not a twenty-first century phenomenon. These tunes have been playing on repeat for decades – see “Run for Your Life,” by The Beatles, Olivia Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” or Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” to name but a few.

Due to the obsessiveness of our passion for someone or something, our daily life activities become distorted. We put our object of passion on a pedestal and make everything else fade away, just like a focus in a camera. This is why all other activities no longer make us feel good. We lose interest in our friends, who no longer give us a boost, and we lose interest in our hobbies, which we no longer enjoy. Instead, we count the minutes until we next see our lover. Slowly, we begin to drift away from the people, and things that make our lives meaningful. This obsessiveness results in feeling more lonely and experiencing more negative emotions than positive ones, leading to a significant reduction in wellbeing. The more this obsessive passion for someone continues, the worse off we are.

The good news is that romantic passion can also be harmonious. When we experience harmonious passion for someone, they add to our life, not take away from it. Rihanna’s “Lift me” is an excellent example of such passion. She describes the feelings of safety and contentment when thinking of her lover. The passion she feels for her beau makes her stronger, not weaker. She is in control, not stripped of it. She is experiencing harmonious passion.

Harmonious passion allows us to become the best versions of ourselves. We bring our lovers into our lives but continue to enjoy the foundations upon which our wellbeing is built. When we are not with them, we can read the books we love; we can do the hobbies that make us happy; we can spend time with other people in our lives, be it our friends and family who support us and can share our happiness of finding someone we love. We have complete control over our lives, and our lover adds to our good life. Like in Ted Baxter’s “Better,” every new day with them improves our lives.

Harmonious passion also predicts our relationship’s longevity. When stuck in love with an obsessively passionate lover, their object of attention starts to drift away. Instead of positive emotions, both experience more negativity in their union and keep pulling away from each other. On the other hand, harmoniously passionate people have a better quality relationship, build intimacy, and have more optimism about their future. So, when bad things happen in their relationship, they pull stronger together trying to resolve them; whilst the obsessively passionate people pull apart, which weakens them and makes their relationship less likely to survive.

So what can you do when passion for someone grabs your heart and makes you feel worse about yourself? You can wait patiently for it to run its course and hope you will come out without too much damage. Or, you can change the tune. Start listening to the songs about harmoniously passionate love and let their lyrics soak into you, changing how you feel, think, and act. After all, songs are not just songs but new thoughts that run through your head on autopilot.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of the Museum of Childhood Ireland.

Dr Jolanta Burke is a Chartered Psychologist, and a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Positive Health Sciences, in RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. She specialises in research relating to wellbeing. Her latest book is Positive Health: 100+ research-based positive psychology and lifestyle medicine tools to enhance your wellbeing, published by Routledge. For more information, please go to

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