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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beyond Romantic Love

"One never steps in the same river twice."

Relationships are temporal in nature. Like rivers, they flow through time and space and change as the properties of their environment, in which they are embedded, change. Therefore one of the truths we have to accept about romantic love is that it does not last. And it should not, because it is impossible to perpetuate the elation, excitement, obsession, and mood swings associated with it. 

People who pledge that their love be "forever" is also vowing that the kind of love they feel today will stay the same. But relationships are affected by social and physical environments, economic components, and the biological changes associated with age, to name a few but important variables. Hence, you change, your partner changes, your interaction changes, and your love for each other changes.

Is love then doomed because of all these changes? 

Numerous research in developmental psychology show that romantic love can progress and deepen into something like a semblance of "forever". When the sexual fervor gradually wanes, a comfortable, affectionate, and trusting love can begin to develop. Some psychologists call this "companionate love." It is also called "strong liking," "friendship love," "philias," and "conjugal love." It is called the "stuff of life" for many relationships and is considered as a better basis for a fulfilling marriage than romantic love (see Bercheid, 2010).

John Gottman's extensive research on marital relationships (read Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last) led him to conclude that the foundation of what he calls "a sound marital house" is friendship laced with fondness and admiration.

We therefore need to reconstruct our relationships from time to time in order to cope with the ongoing changes around us and within us. We need to be flexible in our love because this is a source of strength amidst the flow of life. Remember Aesop's fable of the mango tree and the bamboo tree? We should strive to be the bamboo tree when we love--pliant yet strong. The bamboo can bend close to the ground but can survive a storm. This is the nature of companionate love borne out of romance.

If you observe older couples whose love has survived, you wonder if your relationship will also survive 10 years or more from now. Ask people who have been married 20 years or more the secrets of their successful relationship. Chances are they could be any of the following: respect, mutual admiration, good communication, honesty, faithfulness, balance of similarities and differences, ability to resolve conflict, emotional intelligence, and commitment, to name some.

There is still so much to learn about love. In his book, If Love Could Think: Using Your Mind to Guide Your Heart, Alon Gratch quoted Rainer Maria Rilke that young people "must not forget, when they love, that they are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love,--must learn love." When it comes to love, we are all young and we are all beginners.

I am inviting my readers to write their comments or questions below. Better still, I would be delighted to receive short stories of love from you. 

Watch for my next article about why love fails. Until then, I wish you the best!


Bercheid, E. (2010). Love in the fourth dimension. Annual Reviews of Psychology, 61, 1-25.