Is This True Love and Will it Last?
by Dennis Azaroff
It seems like it’s so easy to fall in love. However, how can we know if what we are feeling is the type of love that will stand the test of time? Well, no one can foretell the future, but understanding the stages of love and the problems that lead to broken relationships may help us decide if we are on the right track, if we need to work harder on our relationship, or if it’s time to move on.
The Three Stages of Love
According to an article at PsychCentral.com, Robert Sternberg, author of True Love: How Do You Know?, breaks down true love into three parts. He suggests the stages are: passion, intimacy, and commitment.
1. Passion: Intense passion is the beginning stage of a relationship. This is when we’re infatuated, we’re filled with dopamine, we idolize our partner and we feel breathless when we think about them. According to Helen Fisher in The Anatomy of Love, this period can last up to seven years.
2. Intimacy: The next stage of a relationship according to Sternberg is intimacy. This is the stage when we attach to our partner in a deeper way. It’s when we grow to respect them as a person, not just a love object.
We spend more time with them, we may introduce them to our family and friends, we plan things with them and begin to more seriously think of them as a lifelong partner.
This stage is accompanied by increasing feelings of trust and safety. We find we can disclose our deeper fears or failures to them, without being ridiculed or invalidated. Without feeling safe, intimacy cannot continue.
This can be a very difficult stage for some people, and it’s the stage in which many relationships founder. Intimacy is the stage in which people with issues left over from childhood or from previous relationships may begin to feel discomfort or to start acting out.
3. Commitment: The final stage that Sternberg theorizes is commitment. This stage embodies the ability to stay together “for better or for worse.” It is when we emotionally commit ourselves to staying and doing the hard work when things become unpleasant or painful.
It’s when we learn to accept our partner even when there are significant differences, because we love and respect them. Our partner has become our "friend” and lover. We want to spend the rest of our life with them, not just because we enjoy sex with them, or because they make us feel good, but because we like them for who they are, even though we may not like some of their behaviors.
Building a Good Relationship
John Gottman in his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, has suggested that long lasting, stable relationships have three qualities: affection, respect and friendship.
Starting in the passion stage, and continuing through the other two stages, we are
discovering and building affection, trust and friendship. Without these overarching
characteristics, a relationship cannot last.
Qualities That Can Destroy Your Relationship
Gottman goes on to suggest, based on his research, that there are four qualities that presage the eventual demise of a relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. These qualities have been described in the following way at Marlenaandbob.com for a self test to determine if you are riding the Four Horsemen.
Here Are Definitions and Examples of Relationship Problems
1. Criticism: Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong. Generalizations often begin with phrases like:
- “You always…”
- “You never…”
- “You’re the type of person who …”
- “Why are you so…”
2. Contempt: Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her. Insults and name-calling include words like: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…” Other examples of contempt include:
- Hostile humor
- Sarcasm or mockery
- Body language and tone of voice
- Rolling your eyes
- Curling your upper lip
3. Defensiveness: Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack, making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way). Examples:
- “It’s not my fault…” or “I didn’t…”
- Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint or criticism with a complaint of your own, or ignoring what your partner said.
- Disagreeing and then cross-complaining: “That’s not true, you’re the one who …”
- Yes-butting: starting off agreeing but ending up disagreeing.
- Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.
- Whining: “It’s not fair.”
4. Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness. Examples:
- Stony silence
- Monosyllabic mutterings
- Changing the subject
- Removing yourself physically
Ask yourself these two questions:
1. “If I were not married to my partner, would I want to be his/her friend or spend time with him/her?” If the answer is no, then you may need to ask why not.
2. “Does my relationship contain criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling?” If it does, how can I or we change that?
More Information About Dennis Azaroff:
More Articles About Relationships:
- Main Photo: Triumph of Venus painting by Csaba Markus, Wikipedia.
- Will Our Love Last?: Philip Clifford Flickr creative commons.
- Is This True Love? Reklamaren Flickr creative commons.
- How to Tell if Love is Real: Konstantin Sarmov, Wikipedia.
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