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How Much Does Your Partner Turn You On?

Research into how much chemistry couples really feel for each other.

Stock-Asso/Shutterstock
Source: Stock-Asso/Shutterstock

Feeling close to your partner and being satisfied with your relationship are components of intimacy everyone can agree are important. However, are these qualities enough to capture the kind of sexual intensity that we also know characterizes satisfying relationships? Think about how you feel when you and your partner are about to share an intimate moment. How turned on are you by your partner? How turned on does your partner seem about you?

Researchers, understandingly, find it difficult to quantify this “turned on” aspect of a relationship. Just think about how hard it is to define “love,” much less sexual intensity. Yet, it’s clear that being dissatisfied with your partner is a key reason your sexual relationship can get in trouble. The opposite is true as well: Having a problematic sexual relationship can also spell out trouble for your overall satisfaction.

According to Swiss psychologist Andrea Burri and her colleagues, previous research reveals 6 components to overall relationship quality:

  • Satisfaction
  • Commitment
  • Intimacy
  • Trust
  • Passion
  • Love

Relationship commitment, in turn, has three facets—personal, moral, and structural commitment (Burri et al., 2015).

Breaking it down further, personal commitment is strongly influenced by “fascination,” or attraction to your partner. People who feel attracted to their partner are more likely to want to stay in a relationship with that partner. The “chemistry” or “vibes” you feel when with your partner, then, will influence how much you feel it’s worth staying together.

Now that we’ve labeled physical attraction as fascination, how might this quality influence relationship satisfaction? As Burri and team note, fascination is more than attraction; it’s more accurately thought of as “global partner adoration.” Now we’re getting closer to defining this ineffable feeling that draws you to your partner. Your adoration of your partner can’t be broken down into parts. With fewer objective criteria to use in evaluating your partner, then, you start to view your partner in a more positive light.

The 11-item Fascination Scale that the Swiss team used is translated here. Answer each question on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 4 (very much);

  1. I'm trying to see, above all, the good side of my partner.
  2. I turn a blind eye to my partner's errors, faults, and habits.
  3. Although I see the quirks of my partner, I can accept them.
  4. I see less today of what I found fascinating about my partner than in the past.
  5. The nature and the behavior of my partner bug me now more than ever.
  6. Although some things bother me a bit, I still see plenty of beautiful and positive sides to my partner.
  7. It's amazing how much I could be blinded by my love for my partner.
  8. I still love my partner, even though I now know better about my partner’s weaknesses.
  9. I keep discovering fascinating new sides to my partner.
  10. What's really important to me, I find in my partner.
  11. I am still inspired by my partner.

To calculate your score, exclude numbers 4 and 5 and add up your scores for the other items. For numbers 4 and 5, you’ll need to reverse the scale: If you answered “very much” you count it as 0, not 4, etc.

Now you can compare yourself to the Swiss sample on whom the scale was developed. They averaged about 28 years old (ranging from 18 to 63), and of the 255 (211 women, 44 men) in the original sample, 240 were in heterosexual relationships; more than half were unmarried but in a stable relationship.

Out of a maximum score of 44, the average for the sample testing this scale was 33. If your score was 22 or less, you would be considered at the low end of the scale; anything above a 40 shows extremely high fascination. Landing around a “3” for each item means that you’re in pretty good shape.

Now let’s address the question of what difference fascination makes to your relationship quality: It turns out that it all depends on your gender. Using a different sample of 27 men and 43 women, all in heterosexual relationships and averaging 32 years old, Burri and her collaborators administered the fascination scale along with other measures of sexual functioning and relationship satisfaction. As they predicted, fascination scores predicted relationship satisfaction—and somewhat more strongly for women than for men. Women who stated that they were more fascinated with their partners also reported higher levels of sexual desire and lower levels of sexual pain. There was no such effect of partner fascination for men.

From these gender differences, Barri and her team concluded, “Overall, it can be argued that women need a certain level of fascination, closeness, and intimacy for their partner to fully engage and enjoy sexuality” (p. 678). Men are more likely to experience their sexual satisfaction independently of “context” (i.e. their fascination with their partner).

It’s somewhat of an old story, but with a new twist, as not even the intriguing quality of fascination seems to matter for men.

The moral of the story: if you’re a man, your own satisfaction may not rest on the dynamic qualities of your feelings about your partner. If you're in a relationship with a woman, you can be pretty sure that your partner's fascination with you will influence her satisfaction. You may, then, want to think about how to make yourself more emotionally appealing—at least, perhaps, open up a conversation with your partner about how you could up your fascination factor. Unfortunately, we don’t have data from same-sex relationships, but it would be intriguing to learn how the present findings would apply. Whatever your gender or orientation, looking at this new addition to the relationship vocabulary may benefit your ability to enhance the fulfillment you feel in your long-term relationships.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Reference

Burri A, Radwan S, Bodenmann G. (2015). The role of partner-related fascination in the association between sexual functioning and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy [serial online]. 41(6):672-679.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2015

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