If you are building a loving relationship that you want to last, it might help you to first learn the different pillars of love, and types of love that exist. Also, you should understand that your relationship is the key to maintaining and growing as a loving couple.
The fascination with love and relationships dates back to the ancient Greeks, who identified several styles of love. It still continues to today where influential psychologists like Robert Sternburg and others have built usable theories or models of love that form our basic understanding of relationships in general.
How Popular Media Portrays Love
Media thrives on the topic of love, particularly romantic love, better described in Sternberg’s theory as Fatuous Love.
Sternberg’s theory of love and relationships is the most compelling. It describes relationships as a complex interplay of different components that can move from one dynamic to another.
The components he details are an interplay of three concepts, including passion, intimacy, and commitment. These components lead to 8 types of love.
Briefly, the three corners of love are:
- Passion – Passion is the sexual attraction type of love, not very sustainable, but rather a whirlwind of feelings with feel-good hormones released over time. People are aware of passion, whether passion is there or not. Passion has a shorter shelf-life and is most common in shorter-term relationships. They can of course form the beginning of longer-term relationships with the other components that come into play.
- Intimacy – Intimacy is that wonderful feeling of warmth in a relationship. It is a stable feeling, as opposed to whirlwinds, and is more lasting than passion, for example. People can move in and out of being aware of the warmth they feel in a relationship. However, it is always there, supportive and caring.
- Commitment – Commitment is the glue that binds us together, the decision and action to remain in a relationship with another person. It can be a feeling culminating in an action, or simply a feeling that lasts forever. Commitment is seen in long-term sustainable relationships. Often people will seal their commitment with marriage, for example.
The Type of Love That Form From These Components
Once a person understands that their relationship is formed from these components, they might become more interested in the type of relationship they have.
The Interplay and the Types
This interplay results in particular kinds of relationships, such as non-love, which is the everyday relationships we have with various people in our lives. They are casual and do not contain any of the characteristics of romantic love, like commitment and passion.
Then there is liking, where the only component of love present is intimacy. Passion and commitment are not present. These are typical friendships that are important to us. A general feeling of warmth and presence is experienced, but there’s no passion.
The dizziest kind of love is infatuation, where passion is present in huge amounts, but commitment and intimacy are not. This is when people might describe their relationship as ‘love at first sight.
This type of love is addicting at times, as physiological changes occur in the body, and the feel-good hormones are released, achieving a state much like that of a powerful opiate. Interestingly, people who believe in love at first sight will experience that a lot. In fact, this is how they understand love to be. This is rather than being different with other people. Instead, they just put more importance on the infatuation stage of meeting someone.
Empty love comprises the commitment phase of love only, there is no passion or intimacy present. This type of relationship is based on a decision, rather than a feeling. Many marriages that have lasted decades can experience empty love, where two people decide to stay together for financial reasons or typically for the children.
Ironically, some relationships start at the empty love stage and develop from there. Society seems to be aware of empty love in popular culture as the ending of a marriage, where there is nothing left. In truth, many relationships move into this phase at one time or another, and then develop and move into other stages. This is why understanding love and relationships become important.
Romantic love is portrayed in the great classics like Romeo and Juliet, where two people feel extreme passion and intimacy with one another. This is almost like a ‘friend with benefits’ kind of love, except there is passion. As much as there is passion, there is no commitment. Some couples go through this phase of love in the early stages of their relationship, and then finally grow into committing to one another.
Companion love is characterized by feelings of intimacy and commitment, but passion is absent. This can happen in many relationships over time. These relationships can also stand the test of time, as passion can be fleeting. Some people will realize the spark has gone.
Fatuous love is the love machine that keeps Hollywood afloat. Lots of passion and commitment, but a marked lack of intimacy is involved. All those feel-good hormones culminate in a glorious wedding, which is great for the ‘happy ending’ industry.
Utopia and Consummate Love
Then finally there is consummate love, where all the components are found. This is the love utopia, where couples enjoy intimacy, passion, and commitment in a relationship. Consummate love is what people seek, but are unaware of. So, it helps understand where you are at any given time in your relationship. Many couples live together until ‘death us do part’, without consummate love, so all is not lost!
These components change over time if you stay in the relationship. For couples that want their marriage to work, it is good to know if one area is lagging, which is more common than unusual.
With this in mind, the following 9 pillars of love and good relationships can help you build upon that which you already have.
The 9 Pillars of Love
Pillar 1: Trust
Perhaps the most important of these pillars of love, trust is a bit of a no-brainer when it comes to relationships. Some called it the keystone or building block upon which everything else rests, and this is true.
Trust strengthens the intimacy side of a relationship. Knowing that your partner will always be there for you no matter what, understand that you can rely on that person and that they have your best interests at heart. This is true intimacy.
Partners who trust their partners are not afraid to ask for what they need, whatever it is. And that is one of the top characteristics of a healthy relationship.
Pillar 2: Communication
Yes, you’ve heard it all before, but what does it mean?
Communication is all about discovering who your partner is and who they are not. They are never extensions of ourselves, but rather separate human beings who love us.
This of course works both ways. Finding out how your partner ticks can be pivotal to having a good or even great relationship. Instead of trying to change your partner into who you want them to be, learn to understand that their differences and nuances are what make them special to you in the first place.
Pillar 3: Respect your Partner
Having respect for a partner is allowing them to make their own decisions, lifestyle changes, and ideas and thoughts.
No two people think alike, each person has their own set of life experiences that they bring to the table, to not respect that is to cut them off from any growth they could experience. Validating their ideas and feelings is also important. People do not flourish or grow in a relationship that does not validate and respect who they are and where they have come from.
You might have heard of the term, we agree to disagree? This pays dividends when respecting a partner. Their ideas are just as important as yours. When people feel respected, they feel a sense of well-being in a relationship, intimacy increases, and bonds are formed.
Pillar 4: Make Friendship Important
For this, we mean not only outside friends but also the friendship between each other. Becoming each other’s best friends helps increase the bonding in a relationship. Those in the infatuation stage of love have not yet focused on this area, but those in the consummate love stage understand that being your partner’s friend is important.
Partners who love one another and share uproarious laughter and fun, as well as experience a lack of self-consciousness together, make for a longer-term relationship.
When passion slows down a little or a lot, friendship will take over. Do you feel comfortable around each other? Do you love spending time with this person? These are the types of questions partners should ask one another.
Pillar 5: Sharing Responsibilities
While finding a home, earning a good salary, and understanding each other’s spiritual life rank highly among couples being happy, the most determining factor was the sharing of household chores. This was found in a study carried out by The Pew Research Center.
Couples that experienced an equal distribution of chores around the home had a happier and better relationship. There is more than the sharing of chores that contributes to that. It respects one another’s boundaries. If a person feels disrespected, their feelings of commitment and intimacy in the relationship will start to decrease.
Pillar 6: Learn the Art of Forgiveness
Understanding that everyone makes mistakes, everyone messes up, and all people are human can help us to forgive. Knowing that forgiveness is important to us can help us develop empathy in a relationship that will then help the relationship in the long run.
Sometimes this can take a lot of communication and understanding between two people. Some people feel that if they forgive, it will happen again, or that they are being disrespected.
This depends on what is going on, of course, abuse and continual disrespect call for outside intervention at the very least.
If your partner continually disrespects you, it has little to do with you, and more to do with them and their issues. Are they going to work on them? Do you both see a solution to this type of behavior? If so, perhaps the relationship is salvageable. Aside from that, regular mistakes in a marriage are commonplace. Forgiveness encourages two people to try and do better, and it also increases intimacy in the relationship.
Pillar 7: Allow for Individualization
When you first met your partner, you understood they were a different type of individual to what you were. This should be encouraged throughout the relationship.
If your partner loves sport, try and take an interest in that sport. If they love making model planes, ask them to teach you about the planes they make, or how to make them. Sharing each other’s passions will draw you both closer together. Encouraging your partner to find new ways to express themselves is a conduit to a better relationship.
Always encourage personal growth, never try to stifle it. If one partner is a traveler and the other is not, you can compromise and work on weekends or nights away.
Or, encourage them to join groups that allow them to grow their lives the way they want.
Pillar 8: Acceptance
This is one of the most significant pillars of love, because accepting who your partner is runs into other areas as well. Partners can change, ill health can change them, or a change in career, as well as other life factors. Change is something we need to accept. Nothing is static, everything is dynamic and moving.
This includes the experiences we have with our partners and their experiences with life.
If your partner suffers the consequences of ill health, for example, acceptance is key. Together, you can redesign your life. This is a bonding exercise. Don’t wish for your partner as they were, instead focus on the greatness that is there now. This can be acknowledged for yourself and your partner.
Understanding that our partners will likely stay very close to their original personality when we met them is key to understanding that we cannot change anyone. Noticing how difficult it is to change small things about ourselves.
Pillar 9: Passion?
Notice this was left for last on this Top 9 pillars of love list, and for good reason. Passion by itself is fleeting. Most of the key concepts above are based on ideas that promise a long-lasting loving relationship, and most people want and crave that.
However, passion is included in the holy grail of all relationships, and that is the consummate love. Here, all three components interact and form an unbreakable bond. This does not say other relationships are doomed, nor does it say they are less-than, but everyone seems to want utopia today!
Passion Does Matter
So, how does one bring passion back? Or perhaps the relationship you are in didn’t have the passion to start with but has other deep connections and bonds.
If a couple communicates, if they allow one another to grow, accept their partner, exercise forgiveness and care and respect them, then passion will flow.
Passion takes many forms, it can be a passion you share, it is a passion for each other. A passion could be wanting to be the best partner to your spouse. Passion does not only pertain to sex. Passion encompasses all that we already are as people co-joined with that person we love.
There are always the surface things that can add to a satisfying sex life. Lingerie can thrill and appeal to some, and yet to others it does nothing, but the deeper thing that makes passion very real is the ability to share what is a turn-on for you. This can only be accomplished within a deep and trusting relationship. One where couples can communicate the things that make them feel complete, sexually. Without feeling judged or not accepted.
Remember, some people suffer from ill health, and yet they still stay in deep loving relationships, without sex.
Sex is defined by the couple themselves, and needs are met by overcoming sexual challenges. This is not a make-or-break situation in many relationships, because they have developed beyond the infatuation stage.
Many could be stuck at the infatuation stage, which sounds fun, but they are no longer infatuated. As time goes on, infatuation cannot last. So, they are experiencing passion in an empty way. Passion is so much deeper than that, and so is sex. Many couples that reach mid-life divorce or become fearful that the passion has gone. Many do not fear this, simply because it did not form the cornerstone of their marriage and was not important.
If you base your relationship on physical appearance and pheromones, it might be a long and hard journey ahead. As neither of these things is sustainable in their present state.
There are all kinds of relationships, some last and some don’t, but understanding the types of relationships helps couples stay on track if they want their relationship to stand the test of time.
Many people might say they are ‘just not relationship material’ because they prefer either the decisive type of relationship of mutual compatibility without the challenges, or they are what sound would coin ‘relationship addicts’, stuck on the awe-inspiring dopamine-producing infatuation love.
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