One simple ingredient changes the whole dynamic of your relationship.
For many of us, love is a roller coaster of emotion. It doesn’t have to be though.
Researchers have looked into the differences between stable and dramatic relationships. What did they find?
Passion is the difference.
What is passion? It’s there in both steady and drama relationships, but it’s not the same type of passion.
At the start of a relationship, it’s very hard to distinguish between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy relationship when it comes to passion: both are madly in love, they yearn for each other and think about their crush 24/7.
But there is a difference in the type of passion they feel — and the types of love they sustain.
Robert Vallerand, professor of social psychology at the University of Quebec at Montreal, has found that there are two types of passion people feel in a relationship: obsessive passion and harmonious passion. Only one of them helps us sustain a relationship long-term.
Love vs. Love sickness
Obsessive passion takes control over you and you feel swept away. You fall for someone. There’s almost no choice.
Do you have a friend who disappears as soon as she starts a new relationship? That might be obsessive passion.
Now, it is normal to be very consumed with your new partner. That’s why both types of passion look so similar in the beginning.
The difference is this: When we’re obsessively passionate about someone we lose ourselves. Instead of expanding our identity to include this new person, we push our own interests, friends, and needs aside. We lose our identity, our sense of self.
Obsessive passion clouds your judgment. It shuts up any rational doubts you might have about how he treats your cat or her lack of interest in your hobbies. Who cares? They’re perfect, and after all, you love them.
You can’t see how you and your partner could ever have bad sex or argue about the state of the bathroom. With them, it’ll be different.
Vallerand argues that obsessive passion can be as destructive for a relationship as having no passion at all. Let that sink in for a moment.
Where does obsessive passion come from?
Vallerand has found two things that correlate with obsessive passion. One has to do with you and one with your relationship to your partner.
Insecurity & trust issues
Vallerand’s research indicates that obsessive passion stems from an insecure sense of self. Ouch. It often stems from a lack of trust, too. It’s what makes us check their phones and worry about every acquaintance they mention.
If you’re insecure you’re more likely to obsess over a lover.
In mature relationships, trust isn’t even an issue and there’s no need to obsess over your partner’s actions.
In the book Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love that Lasts, researchers James and Suzann Pawelski explain it like this:
“…People who are obsessively passionate about their lovers, as we have already noted, tend to have an insecure sense of self and are thus preoccupied with protecting their ego rather than being attuned to their partner. […] Vallerand’s research indicates that obsessively passionate people tend to be defensive, argumentative, controlling and competitive in their relationships.”
These patterns aren’t a good foundation for a stable relationship, right? As if that wasn’t enough Vallerand also notes that there’s a selfishness to obsessive passion.
Obsessive passion is selfish
It’s always about the partner’s needs and not your own. In “Happy Together”, one lover describes obsessive passion in this way:
“It’s like a drug. Fast, fun, addictive, and lots of drama. However, it’s not long-term and doesn’t make for a lifelong partner. I may love this person, but it’s never going to be about me. I’m never going to have someone to help me. It’s going to be just me dealing with the bills, the kids. You are there to support them, to help them shine. Everything will help their goals. There are better packages. You need a better package deal. You can’t just go for the impulsive.”
That doesn’t sound like a good foundation for a relationship, does it? So what’s the alternative?
What’s different in steady relationships?
There is passion in stable relationships. It’s just a different kind of passion, where their sense of self doesn’t dissolve when they meet a partner. Instead, they make room for their partner among side all the things they loved to do when they were single.
They’ll still play tennis and meet with friends. They’ll have hobbies that don’t include their partner at all. A big part of their life is shared. But there’s room for each of them to protect their sense of self outside. They have a life outside of the relationship.
The type of passion these couples share is called “harmonious passion.” It can help increase intimacy between partners as well as buffer them in times of conflict. It makes for a stronger foundation than obsessive passion and it makes for more mature relationships.
How to cultivate harmonious passion
There are three things you can do: Build trust with each other, protect your sense of self, and try new activities as a couple to foster that spark. When you work on those things, harmonious passion has a chance to blossom.
Now, building trust is somewhat of a complex matter, but if you err on the side of being empathetic with your partner, listening to them and caring for your needs, you’re off to a good start.
To protect your sense of self:
- Maintain close friendships
- Have hobbies and interests outside of your relationship
- Spend time apart
This will help you not become too dependent on your partner.
As for the third part, trying new activities together is as straight-forward as it sounds. Is there something you’ve both been curious about but haven’t gotten around to? What places would you like to explore in your city?
The tricky part here might be to remember to do these things because it’s so easy to get swept up in everyday life. Something as simple as a bi-weekly calendar reminder might do wonders here.
Obsessive passion is what makes dramatic relationships fail. It stems from an insecure sense of identity and a lack of trust.
To have a stable relationship, focus on cultivating harmonious passion. Build trust, have a life outside of your relationship and do fun things with your partner. Do this and you will have one of the foundational pieces of a good relationship in place.