HOW TO BE CONSUMMATED BY LOVE
Most of us long for the ideal love: love where we are infatuated with passion, where we desire to be near and connected to each other, and where we feel safe in our mutual commitment to each other. How can we build relationships that have the passion, intimacy, and commitment that we so deeply desire?
The idea that we should stay in love with the person we married is one we commonly accept. We are told marriage and love is hard work and it is. Something we all know about love is that it is an ever-changing thing. People fall in and out of love. Love deepens and love dies. Yet, our longing to love and be loved seems to remain constant. If you desire to have love that is consummate, you need to build and maintain a relationship in which your love includes all three of the following ingredients: passion, intimacy, and commitment.
Passion = infatuated “love”
Infatuated “love” is the feeling we often experience in the first year of a relationship. It is filled with attraction, obsessional thoughts and fantasies about our partner, and a deep desire that our partner reciprocates our feelings. This feeling, which starts off as all-encompassing, intense feeling, always fades with time. When the excitement and newness fades, it can often lead to the end of the relationship as “we fell out of love”. There is something about infatuated “love” that blinds us to seeing our partner and ourselves as we truly are. We get so caught up in the obsession and the fantasy of love dominates. Infatuated love can never last as it is missing two key ingredients of consummate love: intimacy and commitment.
Intimacy = liking
At some point during the first year of a relationship, as the fantasy fades and reality sets in, you realise that this person that has dominated your thoughts, feelings and fantasies is actually a real person. Intimacy develops when you begin to open up parts of yourself to your partner and become emotionally close and connected. The bond you feel in the relationship makes you want to make your partner happy, share your lives together, and share your thoughts and feelings. While this is important for all relationships, it is not enough to ensure long-lasting consummate love relationships. Without intense passion and long-term commitment, this ingredient of love is just liking a person and holding them in high regard.
Intimacy + passion = romantic love
By the second year of a relationship, most couples experience romantic love. You are physical attracted and connected to each other (passion) and are bonded emotionally (liking). Yet, long-term commitment is not guaranteed in the relationship yet. Couples in romantic love begin to question “should we move in together?” or “do we want to get married?” indicating that long-term commitment is being considered.
Passion + intimacy + commitment = consummate love
In few relationships, couples are able to experience the complete form of love: consummate love. This couple continue to have great sex years into their relationship, they enjoy spending time together, and they work through their difficulties together as they cannot imagine a future with anyone else. While, there may have been times in your relationship where you experienced the fulfilment of these three ingredients of love, the real challenge lies in maintaining consummate love through expressing passion, intimacy and commitment in your relationship daily. At any point in your relationship, one of these ingredients is at risk of fading.
Consummate love – passion = companionate love
The first ingredient that seems to exit most relationships is passion. Sexual and physical desire fades with time. Life takes over. Instead of obsessing about our thoughts, feelings and fantasies of our partner, we obsess over paying our bills, getting promoted at work, and making the right decisions for our children. Deep affection and commitment remain as you still like who your partner is and want to build a life together; however, this love is non-passionate. If you do have sex, it is most likely infrequent and may feel like an obligation. Getting the passion back may require energy and attraction that you don’t feel is there anymore.
Consummate love – passion – intimacy = empty love
Physical and emotional bonds are often connected in relationships. When passion exits the relationship, many of us may begin to see their partner for who they really are and we don’t like what we see. The high regard we once held for our partner is replaced by a dislike and resentment. When you are dissatisfied with your partner, you are unlikely to want to make that person happy or share your thoughts and feelings with them. So many people stay in marriages where the only thing keeping the marriage together is the commitment they made in the past. This is empty love as the passion and intimacy are gone.
What should we do if something is missing?
The balance of passion, intimacy and commitment will shift throughout a relationship, especially as you go through life transitions. Relationships can and do survive when passion, intimacy or commitment are missing, but these relationships are at a higher risk for marital dissatisfaction and infidelity. It is important for you as a couple to identify whether passion, intimacy or commitment is missing from your relationship or needs improvement. If an ingredient has never been present in your relationship or has been missing for a long time, I have found that couples counselling may help you achieve consummate love. Over the next few blog posts, I will also be offering couples some creative ideas about how to build and maintain passion, intimacy and commitment in practical ways.