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Love Relationships: A Closer Approach

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Love is one of those things that everybody can feel but nobody can define adequately or completely.(Test yourself:How would you explain what you mean when you look at someone and say, "I love you"?) Despite the difficulty in defining it, love underlies our most important relationships in life.


The components of love


There is a little consensus about the nature of love. What most researchers do is identify important concepts of love and then use them to create different categories of love. Sternberg(1986) conduced a series of detailed studies on people's conceptions of love and how love is manifested in different ways. Based on this research, Sternberg developed a theory of love based on three components (1) passion, an intense physiological desire for someone (2) intimacy, the feeling that one can share all one's thoughts and actions with another; and (3) commitment, the willingness to stay with a person through good and bad times. Based on different combinations of these three components, Sternberg identifies seven forms of love:


1.liking: intimacy but no commitment or passion

2.infatuation: passion but no commitment or intimacy

3.empty love: commitment but no passion or intimacy

4.romantic love: intimacy and passion but no commitment

5. fatuous love: commitment and passion but no intimacy

6.companionate love : commitment and intimacy but no passion

7. consummate love : commitment, intimacy and passion


Ideally, a tru love realtionship such as marriage has all three components although the balance shifts as time passes.


Love across Adulthood


The different combinations of love that Sternberg identifies can be used to understand how relationships develop. Early in a relationship passion is usually high, but intimacy and commitment tent to be low. This results in infatuation, an intense physically based realtionship in which the two persons have little understanding of each other and a high risk of misunderstanding and jealousy. Interestingly this patterns seems to characterize all kinds of couples, married, unmarried , heterosexual, and homosexual.


As the relationship continues, companionate love develops, a style characterized by greater intimacy and commitment but no passion. As Hatfield and Walster put it, "Passinate love is a fragile flower"-it wilts in time. Companionate is a sturdy evergreen; it thrives with contact." Strenberg compares infatuation to a drug addiction; in the beggining even a small touch is enough to drive each partner into ectasy. Gradually, though one needs more and more stimulation to get the same feeling. Lovers eventually get used to the pleasure of passion with the same person, and passion fades. The wild passion of youth gives way to the deeper, commited love of adulthood.


Although the styles fo love appear to differ with age, some important aspects of love relationships appear to maintain their same relative importance over time. Reedy, Birren and Schaie examined six aspects of love relationships in 102 happily married couples: communication, sexual intimacy, respect, help and play behaviours, emotional security, and loyalty. The importance of some love's aspects in satysfying relationships differs somewhat as a function of age. Overall, the findings support the idea that passion is relatelively more important to younger couples, while tenderness and loyalty are relatively more important to older couples. Interestingly, sexual intimacy is equally important for young and middle-aged couples, and communictaion si more important to young couples than to any group. Notice however that the relative rankings of the different components are the same for all age groups. Thus although the particular weightings may vary, there are remarkable similarities across age in the nature of relationships. These result make intuitive sense. It is reasonable that young couples should focus more on comunication since they aee still in the process of getting to know each other. Once this has occurred and people begin to anticipate their partner's reactions, they move to a love based more on security, commitment and loyalty. of course all of this assumes that one has a partner to love in the first place.


Selecting a Partner

How do we find someone to love? The process of mate selection has been researched a great deal over the years.Murstein synthesized this large literature and concluded that match selection occurred in three stages: the stimulus age, the value stage, and the roles stage. In the first stage one or more interesting stimuli, such as physical attractiveness, intellect, or social status, make the two individuals notice each other. Physical attractiveness is an especially strong stimulus for men. Women look for attractive men but are also drawn by status, preferring a leader than a follower and a person with good education or a good job. But preferences do not necesserily become choices. Both men and women compare their perceptions of someone they prefer and are likely to approach others only when these two perceptions are about equal.


The hallmark of teh second stage is a comparison of values. Couples discuss their attitude toward work, marriage , religion, society, culture and a host of other topics. The more similar their values, the nore likely it is that their attraction to each other will deepen; it is true that birds of a feather flock together, at least in terms of stable relationships, not that opposite attract.


Finally, as interactions become more frequent and intimate, each persons develops roles within the relationship. Developing roles goes beyond the comparisons of values in the previous stage. It is a way to see how each partner copes with the day to day aspects of the relationship, and it porvides a forum to see whether the person accepts or shirks responsability, is honest or deceitful, is moody or even keeled, and so forth. In short the roles stage provides a way to understand what makes the other person tick.


Overall, men are quicker to think that they are compatible with their partner than woman are. Perhaps this is because men and women have different ideas about love. Men tend to be more romantic, believing in love with the first sight, feeling that there is only one true love destined for them, and regarding love as magical and impossible to understand. Women, on the other hand tend to be cautious pragmatists who believe that financial security is as important as passion in a relationship, that there are many people whom a person could learn to love, and that love does not conquer all differences.

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