The psychology of our lasting love

On the 8th of August my partner and I celebrated our fifteen year anniversary. We had planned to drive over to Blackpool for a weekend away once my partner had finished work. Whilst I waited for his shift to end I began to discuss with one of his colleagues ‘how difficult it was not to rush over and give him a big hug and kiss’, I told her that ‘he was my best friend and that I had missed him all day, that I had felt anxious and had a strong desire to be in physical contact with him, despite only seeing him that morning’. She said ‘wow, it is very rare to still have those feelings after so long together’. During the long drive to our weekend retreat I began to ponder her words: What was the secret to our lasting and loving relationship, I wondered why we were so different when research suggests that relationship breakdowns are the most common among people who grew up in a divorced household, are from a low socio-economic group and who are young partners (Duck, 1988) all of which describe my partner and I, and yet we are still happy and very much in love.

Love can be explained by dividing it into two very basic categories; romantic and companionate (Hatfield, 1988). Romantic love has been described as having similar physiological effects as alcohol or marijuana (Baumeister, 1991) causing feelings of anxiety, jealousy, elation, altruism and joy, all overwhelming the senses at once (Bersceid & Walster, 1978). These feelings of intense and often uncontrollable emotions are short lived and in most successful relationships companionate love takes over (Caspi & Herbener, 1990; Hatfeild, 1988; Neimeyer, 1984). It could be suggested that our relationship has reached the pinnacle of Sternberg’s triangle of love model; consummate love (Sternberg & Barns, 1988). My partner could be described as my best friend –who I find extremely sexually attractive, yet at home we are a team; sharing money, childcare and the household chores. Sternberg believes that for a relationship to reach the deepest state of love there must be intimacy, passion and commitment: all of which describe our relationship. Our commitment to each other began when our parents tried to keep us apart as young lovers: The Romeo-and-Juliet effect (Driscoll, Davis & Lipetz, 1972). Until only recently I was unaccepted into my partners’ family, rather than this having a negative effect to the relationship it seems to have brought us closer together.

From our early beginnings we have been close friends who ensured that our lives were entwined as though we are one. This companionate side to our relationship could be defined in evolutionary terms as a bond which would greatly improve the chances of our offspring surviving (Hazan, Campa, & Gur-Yaish, 2006; Fletcher, 2002). Our relationship roles could play an important role in the success of our lasting relationship too, as Murstein’s (1976; 1986; 1987) stimulus-value-role theory suggests: Relationships invariantly pass through three stages; stimulus stage-when initial attraction is based on physical attributes as Green, Buchanan and Heuer (1984) agree, the value stage-when similarity and values become important with supporting research from Kandel (1978), Tesser, Cambell and smith (1984), and finally the role stage emphasises the importance of commitment and the acquiring of supporting roles. The roles which each of us has taken complement the other well and yield great rewards within the relationship, according to social exchange theory our relationship benefits because we are well matched in our abilities to reward the other partner, or at the very least we believe that no one could reward us as well as our current partner (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Homans (1974) goes further to say that we judge our feelings about the relationship in terms id the reward less the cost: The higher the emotional profit, the happier the relationship.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that each theory and model in part can explain elements to our relationship, but there is not one single theory which can explain why we are still together and in love fully, highlighting the very complicated nature of love and modern relationships. However, the best description for the love I feel for my partner comes from Fromm’s (1962) description of true-love: True-love being defined as a giving love. Mike (my very much adored partner) and I are a communal couple who as Clark and Mills (1979) posit give out of love and concern and not to receive, perhaps this is the reason why we remain blissfully happy. 

 References

 Baumeister, R. (1991). Meaning of Life. New York: Guilford Press

Bersceid, E., & Walster, E.M. (1978). Interpersonal attraction (second edition) Reading, MA: Adison-Wesley.

Caspi, A., & Herbener, E. S. (1990). Continuity and change: Assortative marriage and the consistency of personality in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 250.

Clark, M. S., & Mills, J. (1979). Interpersonal attraction in exchange and communal relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 37(1), 12.

Clark, M. S., & Mils, J. (1993). The difference between communal and exchange relationships: What it is and is not. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19(6), 684-691.

Driscoll, R., Davis, K. E., & Lipetz, M. E. (1972). Parental interference and romantic love: The Romeo and Juliet effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(1), 1.

Duck, S. (1988). Relating to others. Dorsey Press.

Fletcher, G. (2008). The new science of intimate relationships. Wiley. com.

Green, S. K., Buchanan, D. R., & Heuer, S. K. (1984). Winners, Losers, and Choosers A Field Investigation of Dating Initiation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10(4), 502-511.

Hatfield, E. (1988). Passionate and compassionate love.

Homans, G. C. (1974). Social behaviour: Its elementary forms. Taylor & Francis.

Kandel, D. B. (1978). Similarity in real-life adolescent friendship pairs. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(3), 306.

Murstein, B. I. (1977). The stimulus-value-role (SVR) theory of dyadic relationships. Theory and practice in interpersonal attraction, 105-127.

Murstein, B. I. (1986). Paths to marriage. Newbury Park, California: Sage publications.

Murstein, B. I. (1987). A clarification and extension of the SVR theory of dyadic pairing. Journal of Marriage and Family, 49(4), 929-933.

Neimeyer, G. J. (1984). Cognitive complexity and marital satisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2(3), 258-263.

Sternberg, R. J., & Barnes, M. L. (Eds.). (1988). The psychology of love. Yale University Press.

Tesser, A., Campbell, J., & Smith, M. (1984). Friendship choice and performance: Self-evaluation maintenance in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(3), 561.

Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups.

 

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About psych2204

Training to be a mental health nurse hoping to specialising in CBT and Psychosexual Therapy. I have a massive personal interest in the evolution and neuroscience of orgasms, sex and romantic love.

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