Billy Joel reminds us in his song “A Matter of Trust”:
Some love is just a lie of the heart
The cold remains of what began with a passionate start.
Cultivating harmonious passion, rather than obsessive passion, can help ensure our relationships avoid that fate. Here are three specific ways for doing so.
#1: Develop greater trust with your partner and become more emotionally attuned to their feelings and needs. Trust is essential to all healthy romantic relationships; it’s the foundation that can sustain you and your partner through inevitable challenges and help you emerge stronger and happier together on the other side. A lack of trust is associated with an all-consuming or obsessive passion. People who are obsessively passionate about their lovers are insecure and preoccupied with protecting their ego rather than being attuned to their partner, according to social psychologist Robert Vallerand. Leading relationship expert John Gottman echoes this point in his book, The Science of Trust, in which he argues that “emotional attunement” to your partner is a fundamental skill for couples to cultivate if they want their relationship to last. Being “emotionally attuned” to your partner is the essence of trust, and Gottman offers the acronym of ATTUNE to demonstrate the key elements of how to achieve this: Attention, Turning toward, Tolerance, Understanding, Non-defensive responding, and Empathy. It serves as a reminder to all of us to turn toward our partner with our full attention, to be tolerant and understanding, and to communicate in a non-defensive, empathic way.
#2: Don’t lose yourself in your relationship. Beware of behaviors such as thinking constantly about your partner and struggling to concentrate on anything else; feeling unable to be apart from them; when you must be apart, checking in with them constantly; cancelling important appointments or plans with friends in order to be at your partner’s beck and call; and sacrificing your own self-care measures to take care of them instead. As the airlines wisely advise, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” If you engage in any or all of these behaviors, restore balance by diversifying your interests and activities, making sure you maintain a sense of your own identity rather than getting swept up and lost in your relationship. You don’t need to take a cold-turkey approach and break off the relationship. Nor do you need to stop including your partner in activities you enjoy doing together. Spreading your attention across several interests (including but not limited to your partner) naturally combats the all-consuming thoughts and behaviors that can arise from focusing on your relationship in a way that is unhealthy for both of you.
#3: Finally, build harmonious passion in your relationship by taking up new and interesting activities together as a couple. Over time, it’s scarily easy to get stuck in narrowing patterns of behavior that suck the excitement and romance out of your relationship. As the pressures and demands of work and home life cut into our time and take up our creative energy, couples can become trapped in the same dull habits and routines and find that they no longer explore new activities together. This may kill your passion (the good kind, that is!) for each other, and if you start looking for that excitement outside of your relationship, it can even threaten your commitment to each other.
You can fight against this unhealthy tendency by intentionally looking for new things to experience. Identify activities both you and your partner enjoy, with the goal being to connect and cooperate, not compete with each other. If you’re a champion swimmer, for example, and your partner can barely tread water, it may not be best to insist on water skiing or a snorkeling expedition. Likewise, if your partner is a chess enthusiast but you couldn’t tell the difference between a pawn and a bishop and have no desire to learn even if your life depended on it, you may want to suggest taking up another game instead. In fact, the most enjoyable results for both of you will likely come from trying things each of you have always been interested in but have not yet done. Sometimes, you will want to engage in these activities together; at other times, you may want to experiment with being in the same room as each of you undertake your own activity. Above all, by enjoying some quality time apart and some together, you can nurture a healthier harmonious passion to help build and sustain a satisfying and long-lasting love.
Adapted from HAPPY TOGETHER: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James O. Pawelski with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright© 2018.