By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD
Marriages have Love Styles. Some lead to fulfilling happy marriages. Some lead to distress and divorce. To understand these Marriage Love Styles, you have to first understand that love is an action word, not an emotion. You and your spouse create patterns of action and inaction that constitute the character of your marriage and define the love you share.
This post is the second in a three-part weekly series focused on applying the concepts of intimacy, commitment and passion to decide whether or not you should initiate actions to rejuvenate your marriage or initiate actions to dissolve it. The first post, Should I Stay or Should I Go? Part 1: Using a Love Triangle to Assess Your Relationship, introduced the concepts of intimacy, commitment, and passion, laying the ground work you need to assess your marriage.
Robert Sternberg used these concepts to articulate his powerfully descriptive Triangle Theory of Love, which illustrates 8 Love Styles. I expand his theory by using the three dimensions of love and the Love Styles as a guide for making decisions about marriage and divorce.
Let’s review the three dimensions of love that form the love triangle.
The Intimacy Dimension of Love represents the depth of the friendship you share with your spouse, how much you know about each other, support each other, and actually like each other.
The Commitment Dimension of Love represents the degree of dedication and/or obligation you feel toward your marriage, keeping in mind that dedication feels more voluntary to you than obligation, but they may look the same to others.
The Passion Dimension of Love represents the romantic affection you share with your spouse. This romantic affection takes different forms, depending on age, physical capabilities, and length of relationship. Nonetheless, physical passion remains an important dimension of marital love at all ages and stages of marriage.
For more detail and the questions that help you assess your own relationship, read the first post in the Should I Stay or Should I Go series.
The degree to which your marriage is characterized by Intimacy, Commitment, and Passion combine to illustrate your relationship’s Love Style. In Western Culture, the ideal new marriage relationship has a Consummate Love style, which contains high levels of Intimacy, Commitment, and Passion. Marriages that begin this way have the potential to be fulfilling, long-lasting relationships.
But, then life happens. The typical things: Kids, work obligations and stress, financial worries, no time or money for a date night, no time for your own interests. Or more serious things: An illness, accident, or affair.
And, then, your ideal Consummate Love relationship changes.
For some, this evolution is a natural artifact of a maturing relationship. Commitment remains. But, intimacy and passion wane a bit while the couple works through the typical struggles associated with parenting, career building, and aging. For others, the evolution results in a more dramatic change in their marriage relationship, represented by a substantial and distressing decrease in one or more of the love dimensions.
Review the Love Styles below, keeping in mind that each of the dimensions run along a continuum from low to high. You can mark your level on a triangle, create your own unique marriage Love Style, and use the diagrams below to determine the Love Style that most closely matches your marriage.
Now, reflect back on your wedding day and the early stage of your marriage. What Love Style best characterized your marriage at that time?
What Love Style best characterizes your marriage now? (If you haven’t already done this, you can find the assessment questions here).
Then ask yourself:
Did your marriage begin as Consummate Love, with high levels of all three dimensions of love in operation? If not, why did you proceed with your marriage? Pregnancy? Parental Pressure? All your friends were doing it? What was your actual love style at the beginning of your marriage?
How has your marriage’s Love Style changed from the early days?
Did you move from Romantic Love to Consummate Love? ….which would likely mean your marriage is happier and more fulfilling than it was at the beginning, as it is for many couples?
Did you move from Consummate Love to Companionate Love?….which happens a lot to busy younger couples and also in mature marriages…..and indicates that you are married to your best friend, have enduring positive regard for one another, and enjoy sharing affection and regular sex, but not the intensely passionate “benefits” of the early days.
As explained in The Most Important F-word in Marriage May Surprise You, what allows married friends to remain happy through the inevitable ups and downs of marriage is that they treat each other as they would their best friend. They respectfully and directly address their solvable issues, seek to understand one another, and are willing to cooperate in having the difficult conversations needed to identify the hidden issues disguised by their conflicts.
Or, have you discovered that the degree to which your marriage includes one or two of these key dimensions is so low, that it actually seems completely missing? For example:
- Romantic Love is missing enduring commitment, but can still feel good in a marriage …for the moment. You are married to your lover, but he doesn’t do his part to uphold the daily commitments and obligations of your married life together. This is how serious dating relationships start…but a successful married life takes two people working together.
- Empty Love includes commitment, but is missing intimacy and passion. This is the most unfulfilling of all types of marital love and represents the difference between commitment and obligation. You and your spouse stay married, because you feel obligated, you see no viable financial alternative, or “for the children”. You’re married but you don’t share your thoughts and feelings and rarely, if ever, have sex. You stay married for all the wrong reasons and have likely been contemplating (or even plotting) divorce for quite some time.
Over the next week, keep thinking about the Intimacy, Commitment, and Passion dimensions of love. Determine your Marriage’s Love Style. How does your Marriage Love Style impact your level of happiness? Level of distress? Check in next week to learn how you can put this assessment to use.
If you are ready, share your Love Style assessment with your spouse. Then, start to Work it Out.
And, let me know if I can help.
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