- Using feeling-based love as a guide for close relationships may be painful and unstable.
- Personal values may prove to be a more reliable compass to navigate close relationships.
- It is possible to hold love for a partner regardless of their mood, emotions, or actions.
The excitement, passions, and joy of experiencing a love relationship are both invigorating and compelling. Who would not want to feel deep love and passion for their partner for as long as possible? However, emotional states have serious drawbacks as a guide for initiating, maintaining, and sustaining love relationships.
When love feelings are acted upon without other sources of relationship data, these feelings may lead to future actions that are less flexible and more limiting in close relationships.
This post will examine these limitations and suggest a provocative alternative.
3 limitations to viewing love only as a feeling
1. If we view love as the presence or absence of passion or other love feelings, the relationship ride is likely to be bumpy with the real possibility of crashing. Emotions or feelings are less likely to be under voluntary control. They wax and wane, ebb and flow, and come and go. As a result, using feelings as a compass or signpost for love relationships is at best confusing and at worse unstable.
For example, there will be days when your enthusiasm and passion for your partner are strong, and you may view this partner as a perfect match. However, a short time later your feelings may change if you become angry or disappointed with him or her and seriously consider breaking up and moving on.
Your relationship life is like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes you are riding high and sometimes you are riding low, and your biggest worry is when your feelings of love will disappear or simply die.
There is nothing wrong with having mixed feelings at different times and in different situations. The problem develops when we base the strength and durability of our close relationships on changing feelings as the only source of relationship data, act as if these feelings are unlikely to change, and direct our actions toward our partner accordingly.
2. A second issue develops when our emotional attractions are weighted toward our partner's physical and personality qualities. What happens when these traits inevitably change over time, or our perceptions of them change as we change?
For example, when I first met my partner, 44 years ago, I was attracted to her blond hair, petite body, intelligence, and social agreeableness. However, over time we both grew grayer hair, gained a few pounds, found that our mutual intelligence could be used as a weapon against each other, and, eventually, I saw my partner's agreeableness, at times, as trying to keep the peace at all costs.
These inevitable changes create challenges and adjustments for all close relationships. Fortunately for us, we had developed value-based love so that these new perceptions of each other were only a minor issue.
Imagine if you had based the largest part of your emotional attraction on your partner's traits without developing other forms of love. Then, minor adjustments could become major adjustments.
3. When we allow our love emotions to take an external locus of control, we are more likely to become partner-dependent on them to satisfy our needs. Again, there is nothing wrong with a caring partner satisfying our stated needs. It is the weight we give to looking outside of ourselves that raises potential issues.
In this case, emotional attraction lies only within our partner; it is out of our control. Affection becomes partner-directed and less something that we create toward the partner.
Is there an alternative form of love?
Values are chosen verbal constructions that evolve over time and direct our actions in a particular and purposeful way. Value-based love directs our actions toward what we find most meaningful and purposeful in our close relationships.
For example, if we value independence, honesty, or loyalty in our close relationships, these value constructions direct us toward who to look for as a partner and how to develop an ongoing relationship consistent with our values, on our side of the equation. Of course, we also need to compromise and be flexible with our partner's values as well.
The most important point to remember is that value-based love has an internal locus of control. To a certain extent, we generate or create love for our partner. This self-created form of love is based on our own hierarchy of personal values.
Further, these constructed values have the potential to generate loving actions toward our partner (e.g., spending more time with them). These actions are not based on the traits of our partner or the fragility of our own emotions but instead on what values we have for our partner. Values only have an internal locus of control until they are acted on.
For example, it is possible to hold love as a constructed value for our partner, regardless of his or her mood or feeling state. It is also possible to hold love as a value even when you are angry or hurt by this person.
Values are deep and fundamental constructions that can override transient feelings and provide a stronger bond that is less fragile. Value-based love provides a stable compass reading even in the face of adversity for our self, our partner, or the relationship itself.
The 2 main benefits of value-based love
1. Value-based love is more durable and sustaining than using feelings as your primary guide. Values act as a GPS navigator that directly leads to loving actions that are more stable than feelings in close relationships.
2. Value-based love develops within our self and has an internal locus of control, so it is not contingent on our partner's actions. Because we construct value-based love, we therefore have more control over how to respond to our partner's traits, moods, and emotions. Our personal values dictate our actions and they come from deep inside us.
While there is some degree of empirical evidence (Hayes et.al. 2012; Johansen & Gaffaney, 2020; & Sternberg, 1986) supporting the proposition that value-based love has advantages over feeling-based love, this conclusion is suggestive but not conclusive at present. We still need ongoing clinical trials using random-based designs, within field settings, to make a stronger causal case for the role of values in close relationships.
Johansen, N. R. & Gaffaney, (2021). Need management therapy: A new science of love, intimacy, and relationships. Archway Publishing, Bloomington, Ind.
Hayes, S. C. Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, G. K. (2012). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change. (2nd eds.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119-135.