Think Your Marriage Can Be Saved Without Passion? Science Has Proven You Wrong
Why does passion boost romance? Psychology has an answer.
Think back to the early days of a passionate relationship you’ve had – and yes, it’s just fine (and in fact is absolutely great) if the relationship that comes to mind is the long-term one you remain in with your current significant other.
What are some of the things you noticed about him or her in those early days when you were in the so-called “fireworks” stage of the romance? Did you notice how charmingly he stuck out the tip of his tongue when thinking or how she always curled a few strands of her hair around a finger when she was nervous? Did you notice how he always laughed before he could finish a joke or funny story or how she would always lose her train of thought when a cute dog passed nearby?
Chances are good that, in those early days, you tended to notice the positive characteristics of your partner and to perceive their quirks as charming. Now reflect, honestly, on how you felt (or feel) about that person a bit longer into the relationship – chances are good that you, at some point, started to notice their not-so-positive traits, and that some of their quirks began to be sources of annoyance; maybe even some of those things by which you were once charmed came to be grating?
Why does this happen as we travel farther into a relationship – why do we at some point begin to see less positives in our partner and begin to see their shortcomings more and more? In most cases, it’s because the passion dies down. And that’s not just anecdotal, that’s true according to science.
Passionate Love, Briefly Defined
When you hear the word “passionate love” your first thoughts may be of a cheesy romance novel, of a “not safe for work” movie scene, or of the lyrics to a saccharine sweet love song from the 1960s. As it happens, passionate love is not a salacious or silly term at all, but one that’s as meaningful from a relationship standpoint as it is from an analytical standpoint.
To break the term down, first look at one of the definitions of the word “passion” taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.”
Next, just for kicks, as love is both universally understood yet almost impossible to define, let’s look at a dictionary take on the word love: “the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration.”
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Put the two together, and you have not a trite or sexualized concept (though of course a passionate, loving couple should have sex as a large part of the equation) but a term describing people who profoundly care for each other and desire the affection and attention of the other.
Simply put, passionate love is the prevailing emotion we should feel for our romantic partner; it is a type of love quite unlike that which we feel for a parent, friend, or pet. And, unlike these other types of love, it is one that will only remain strong if both we and our romantic partner remain actively engaged and invested in the relationship.
Passionate Love and the “Positivity Bias”
Why is passionate love – this devotion and caring – so important for a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship between romantic partners? Because it is passionate love that helps us keep on seeing the best in our partner – our so-called “better half” can only be that better person if we allow ourselves to see them as such.
A recent study found that passionate love (which was therein briefly described as “an intense longing for union with another,” which can be the case when the couple is physically separated for a time or not, to be clear – union does not imply reunion nor, again, does it necessarily imply or eschew sex) is critical for creation of and maintenance of that “positivity bias” that lets us keep on seeing the good in our partner even when there are negative traits as well.
And in fact, the stronger the sense of shared passionate love is between a couple, the more both partners are also able to overlook the negative traits of the other person. True, deep, and actualized love seems to let people focus on the good things in their significant other while allowing them to also willfully put on blinders and ignore much of the bad stuff – or at least the less positive traits, shall we say.
Maintaining a Sense of Passionate Love Over the Course of a Long Relationship
You cannot choose to love someone – not the passionate love that you feel for a romantic partner, at any rate. But you can fail to preserve and maintain that love, or you can very much choose to tend and preserve and even increase that love.
It may seem trite, but the best way to keep up the love is to keep on making the time and putting in the effort. You should take the time to “date” your partner even long into the partnership, even if that just means a special meal at home. You should say thanks when thanks are do and do little things (and big things) that merit a “thank you.” And you should of course keep up the passion in the more carnal sense, as well.
When passionate love exists, both members of the union tend to contribute what experts call “prorelationship” behaviors. These included everything from little acts of thoughtfulness, like preparing a meal or cleaning up after one without your partner’s help so he or she is spared a bit of burden. This also extends to much larger acts of devotion or sacrifice, such as a willingness to relocate homes or change careers to support the other half.
On the flip side, of course, when passionate love fades, so too will those prorelationship behaviors often dry up. The result can be a partnership where there is not much love left, nor is there very much effort or consideration being put into the partnership, and that can lead to a spiral toward a dissolution of the partnership.