Love & Commitment – Adult Stage of Life

Abstract

Psychology tells us that love is a combination of various emotions, how people behave and ways in which they are motivated to do certain things. Any person in our life can be loved by us, for instance, we love our parents, our friends and our siblings. However, there is always one special person in the lives of every person with whom we form a romantic relationship and the one who is needed by us both emotionally and physically. Initially, we tend to ignore the mistakes of our loved ones but in the later stages, we do not tolerate even one minor mistake done by our loved one and this leads to fights. However, the intensity of loving our partner depends from person to person and this determines how long our love lasts. For a relationship to last forever, the couple needs to have certain elements in their relationship. Both should trust each other, care for each other and should also respect one another as all these elements make a commitment strong.

How people are prone to love and to make commitments also depends on their past experiences and the way in which they are brought up. There are also many barriers such as social, religious and legal restrictions that might prevent one from keeping a long-lasting relationship with their loved one. This paper talks about the various theories of love and relationships as well as their results. The triangular theory of love and the attachment theory are two theories that have been discussed in the paper besides which I have also talked about the romantic relationships between adolescent males and females and in the end; I have discussed the Love styles model formulated by John Lee.

Introduction

Love is a social and cognitive phenomenon. Through many psychological studies, it has been found that love is a combination of emotions, motivations, and behaviors. A romantic relationship begins when one person regards the other person as special, unique, and highly desirable (both physically and emotionally). Often during the initial stages of love, a person tends to ignore the minor flaws and shortcomings of the loved one. At the same time, the loved one’s good qualities are highlighted and focused upon.

The earlier part of a relationship is characterized by ‘intrusive thinking’ (Sternberg, 2006). Likewise, Harold Bessel, in his book called ‘The Love Test’ proposes that two people from the opposite sex are drawn together into a relationship due to ‘romantic love.’ Romantic love is dependent on cultural value- system under which the partners have grown up and is present in them from birth (genetic). This is why the degree and intensity of romantic love may differ from person to person and two partners in a relationship may feel varying degrees of romantic love at the stage of initial attraction. ‘Emotional maturity is the second factor that determines the quality of an adult relationship. Emotional maturity refers to a partner’s ability to focus on the partner’s satisfaction and fulfillment of needs. Maturity is thus an important requirement of a healthy and sustainable relationship.

Love has been defined by the famous psychoanalyst, Eric Fromm as an ‘Interpersonal union in which individuality and personal integrity are preserved.’ Fromm states that love has five elements: life, care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. A person in love cares and feels responsible for the physical, emotional and cognitive well-being of his/her loved one. Two people in love can respect each other if they know each other and are aware of each other’s unique qualities.

Psychologists have been able to distinguish between two kinds of love: Passionate love and Compassionate love. Passionate love involves strong physical/sexual attraction, sentimentality, anxiety, and jealousy while compassionate love is a less intense, more affectionate, reasonable, and understanding form of love. Compassionate love is regarded as true love or conjugal love. Usually it is believed that people start out with passionate love (lasts around 6 months to 30 months) which gradually converts into compassionate love (Hatfield & Rapson, 1994).

Commitment is the second link of a romantic relationship. Long-lasting relationships are highly desired. However, most relationships fail to reach this last and enduring stage of stability in a relationship. There are three basic kinds of forces that determine the level and strength of commitment that partners have in a relationship. Firstly, commitment depends on the quality and attraction of the relationship. For a partner, if a relationship is more beneficial and less draining, then he would remain committed. If mutual benefits decrease then two partners are likely to opt-out of a relationship. Commitment is also affected by the attractiveness of alternative relationships. If a partner finds a better deal elsewhere, he may think twice about staying in the present relationship. High barriers to exit the relationships also affect the commitment. Barriers to exit could be psychological, social, legal, or religious.

Love and Commitment are indeed part of adult life, but they are influenced by the earlier life (childhood and adolescence years) of a person. In this research report we will discuss various theories of love and relationships and gather insights and results from other published research articles. Through them we will discuss that adult romantic relationships rely heavily on the self-esteem and self-worth people feel for themselves. Self-belief is developed during the early years of a person’s life and depends on how he/she was treated as a child. If as children, they were loved and supported, as adults they feel that they deserved it and so develop self-confidence that later influences the way they perceive their partners. It also affects the amount of attention and love they demand from their partners.

The Triangular Theory of Love

Psychologist Robert Sternberg attempted to explain the nature of love through his ‘Triangular Theory of Love.’ According to this theory, there are three components of love: Intimacy, Passion and Commitment. Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness and connectedness felt in a relationship. Lovers who are intimate are close enough to know about each other strengths, weaknesses, hopes, aspirations and fears. Passion in a relationship refers to the drives that lead a man and woman to physical attraction and sex. Commitment occurs when a person becomes aware of his (her) feelings and love for her (him) and then intends to nurture and flourish this love in the long term. Lovers who are committed to each other are willing to stay together through thick and thin.

The intensity of love that a person has for another depends on the strength of these three components.

Various combinations of these components result in different kinds of adult love. For example, in the case of infatuated love, the lovers feel only passion for each other. In case of romantic love, there is intimacy and passion but commitment is missing. Consummate love on the other hand is complete and true love whereby the couple feels intimacy, passion and maintains commitment. Refer to the diagram below:

Consummate love

Adult love is thought to move around this triangle. A relationship between a man and a woman begins with passion (infatuation) and then intimacy (liking), converting into romantic love. In some cultures where arranged marriages are prevalent, a relationship begins with empty love, which just contains a lifelong bond devoid of any intimacy or passion.

From here the relationship may go either way: to fatuous love in which commitment springs from passion rather than intimacy or companionate love in which intimacy leads to commitment but passion is missing. Fatuous love is depicted in relationships that result from sudden physical attraction and soon turn into something serious like marriage. However, the couple is not aware of and has not accepted each other’s personalities, goals and direction in life. Companionate love stands on friendship and affection with sexual passion missing. Only in rare successful cases, a relationship moves into the inner circle where intimacy, passion and commitment combine to form consummate love.

Components of intimacy include affection, trust, and self-disclosure (emotional expressiveness, communication and sex. People seek intimacy because it has intrinsic appeal, is linked to psychological satisfaction, and is a mental and physical requirement.

Love is not blind and is not developed on mere whims and fancies. Love, Trust, commitment, intimacy and attachment are the building blocks of a healthy relationship. A relationship is bound together by five forces such as: know, trust, rely on, commit, and touch.

Balanced growth of these five forces is essential and a couple must stay within a safe zone by not letting one bonding force outgrow the preceding force. This means that a person should never trust and believe in more than is known about his/her lover. Likewise, it is unwise to rely on a partner and expect him/her to meet all your needs when the partner has not proven to be fully trustworthy.

People who step out of the safe zone by letting one bonding force grow more in proportion to the preceding force usually end up in broken relationships. Knowing one’s partner is the fundamental step in any relationship. Lovers get to know each other when they open up their hearts and feelings to each other narrate their life histories and stories and experience each other’s company. Based on this knowledge, the other forces such as trust, reliance, and commitment emerge.

Romantic Relationships between Adolescent Male and Female

Love, commitment and romantic relationships are crucial aspects of adult life. 65% of adults form a relationship during their adolescent years. These teenage relationships shape and affect another aspect of an individual’s life such as identity development, peer relationships, sexual development and depression.

Relational schemas are linked to the way teenagers interpret the interactions they have with their opposite-sex partners i.e. relational schemas are correlated with the manner in which teenagers rationalize their interactions with their partners. Adolescents with weak and vulnerable relational schemas are expected to interpret their interactions more negatively and hence have difficulty in understanding and accepting the differences and individuality of their partners. Relational schemas have three interrelated elements: perceived quality of peer attachment, rejection sensitivity, and self-silencing. According to the discomfort model, based on a person’s relational schema, he or she interprets and perceives the level of discomfort in a relationship. In short, the study on the correlation of relational schemas and teenagers’ interpretation of their relationships reinforces the attachment theory(Sandra, Holmes, Griffin, Bellavia & Rose, 2001).

The Attachment Theory

The attachment theory, with regard to adult love and commitment, presents four types of attachments such as secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant.

Adults who feel secure can develop positive notions about themselves, their partners and their relationship. People with secure attachments have the ability to balance intimacy and independence because they possess a sense of security and self-worth. They are confident about the relationships they form and are not apprehensive about opening up emotionally to their partners.

Anxious-preoccupied adults demand intimacy and immediate response from their partners. They cannot function in a relationship that lacks closeness and intimacy. They cling to their partner and become over-reliant on them. This often results in a suffocating relationship for the other partner. These people lack self-confidence and a sense of self-worth so much so, that if their partner does not respond to their intense need for intimacy, they blame it on themselves. These attachments are marked with apprehension and instability. A partner may get disillusioned from a relationship if his/her love is overestimated and he/she is expected to be a perfect partner. One partner’s demands on the other partner may induce a sense of being trapped and drive him to seek emancipation (Horney, 1928).

Dismissive-avoidant adults have a strong need for independence and thus they try to avoid intimacy as they feel they can easily survive without any form of emotional intimacy. They try to avoid becoming reliant on their partners and suppress their emotions. Dismissive-avoidant adults have higher perception of self-worth and view their partners less positively as compared to themselves. This kind of attachment is of a defensive nature, whereby, a partner defends or protects him/herself from being rejected or getting hurt by detaching from their partner (the one who is likely to reject).

In the fourth type of fearful-avoidant attachment, adults are confused between wanting intimacy and feeling discomfort due to this closeness. This type of attachment lacks trust and openness. Fearful-avoidant adults want to be in an intimate relationship but have been wary and fearful of trusting their partner. Thus, they suppress their emotions and avoid intimacy. They perceive themselves and their partners in a negative light.

The type of attachment a relationship is built on will determine its level of success, endurance and strength. Briefly, people who have negative perceptions of themselves or their partners experience problems in maintaining their commitment and flourishing their relationship(Hazan & Shaver, 1990).

People with negative models of self have less satisfying and fulfilling relationships. Such people have such low levels of self-worth and self-belief, that it is hard for them to believe that their partner could love them. They doubt the intensity and purity of their partners and regard them in a less positive light. At the same time, being unsatisfied by the intensity and amount of love they receive from a less-favorable partner induces people to become less optimistic and less satisfied.

Love Styles

John Lee attempted to explain love through his Love Styles Model. Lee outlined six different styles of love: Eros, Ludus, Storge, Pragma, Mania, Agape.

Eros is love that is based on a person’s intuition and the physical attraction he/she feels for the other person. It is love style that exudes comfort and playfulness. However, since it is based on beauty and physical attraction rather than judgment, it is best regarded as fleeting. This style of love is no longer lasting.

Ludus’s style of love attaches more attention to quantity of love affairs rather than the quality of love. Simply put, Ludus lovers are in it to play a game. They regard love as a game and have the lowest commitment levels. These lovers do not make rational decisions when deciding on proposing or starting a relationship with someone because they are usually in it to have fun. They are also fearless when it comes to rejection. They are able to move on if their partner dumps them. These lovers are more likely to cheat on their partner and this style of love is more disadvantageous. The benefits are short-term and completely meaningless.

Storge is a love style that is based on friendship. In fact it develops and springs from friendship and then slowly and gradually converts into love and commitment. This style of love entails a lot of trust and usually the partners are well suited for each other because they have similar likes, dislikes, interests, dreams, goals and aspirations. Sexual passion is of lesser significance in this case, while respect and trust are the pivots on which the whole relationship is built.

Pragma comes from the word ‘pragmatic’, which means to be practical and rational. As the name suggests, this love style is based on fine judgment of both partners. Pragmatic lovers want to be involved in highly efficient and beneficial relationships and thus, work towards finding a suitable and favorable partner who will add value to them as individuals. Pragmatic lovers consider sex to be the ‘entertainment’ part of the relationship while marriage and children are considered to be long-term investments. However, this style of love is based so much on logic and practicality that emotion and intimacy are missing from the relationship.

Mania is another form of love in which are person has extremely low self-esteem and due to this they try to latch themselves onto a partner who would make up for his/her shortcomings. These people have such a low sense of self-worth and belief that they base their existence on this relationship and are characterized by extreme possessiveness and constant insecurity. The thought of losing their partner scares them and thus love turns into madness. They view marriage as the most secure institution while children or any other family member or friend who divides the attention of the partner is regarded with jealousy and often contempt. In other words, manic lovers are obsessive and this is not a positive part of the relationship and should not be misinterpreted as intimacy or passion. Manic lovers are less likely to cheat on their partners, but this is not out of strong commitment but due to their fear of damaging the existing relationship.

The last style of love identified by Lee is called Agape. It is selfless love for the partner. The lover places his partner above everything else, even his own happiness and comfort. This kind of love is found among couples who are highly spiritual or religious. These people are not shallow as the ludus lovers and have reached a point of such self-assurance and peace in life that they do not demand much in return from their partner.

The diagram below links the Attachment Theory with the Love Styles

Relationships between the Attachment Styles and the Love Styles

Relationships between the Attachment Styles and the Love Styles

Interdependence Theory

Interdependence theory is an extension of social exchange theory. It explains that two people form a relationship to get advantages and satisfaction from interactions. As partners become interdependent, they start having concern for their partner’s life and deliberate on the consequences of their actions on their partner’s happiness. They form strong goals for the future of their relationship. These goals for the relationship and social norms together contribute towards growing commitment while the concern for consequences in partner’s life indicates the presence of love in a relationship. The most significant aspect of this theory is the care and consideration for not only your own life but also that of your partner. In a relationship, it is also possible a person may try to benefit his/her partner and suffer emotional losses him/herself in the short term. This is because people who are committed to a relationship show patience and can wait longer to get their share of positive outcomes. Also, in a relationship, the happiness and consequences of both partners are interlinked and so the satisfaction of one partner is rewarding for the other. This corresponds with the Agapic style of love discussed above and the compassionate love of the triangular theory of love (Sternberg, 1986).

References

iHatfield, E.& Rapson, R. L. (1994). Love and intimacy. Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 2, 583-592

Hazan, C. & Shaver, PR. (1990). Love and work: An attachment theoretical perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59: 270–80.

Horney, K. (1928). The Problem of Monogamous Ideal. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. (9) 318-331

Sandra, L. M., Holmes, J.G., Griffin, D.W., Bellavia, G. & Rose, P. (2001). The Mismeasure of Love: How Self-Doubt Contaminates Relationship Beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.27 (4), 423-426.

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A Triangular Theory of Love. Psychological Review 93 (2): 119–135.

Sternberg, R. J. (2006). The New Psychology of Love, New York: Yale University Press.