What leads us to love and interpersonal relationships

Love, what is it and do we really need it? If so, how do we get it and how can we survive it? For centuries it has provided poets, musicians, writers and artists with their primary source of material. The puzzle for Polly in John Gays eighteenth century farce “The beggars opera” is “can love be controlled by advice? ” She herself goes on to answer her own question. But what exactly is it that does lead us to love another person? How do we get close enough to someone for that emotion to develop, and does love come in different guises?

This essay will discuss different psychological theories around the vexing question of how interpersonal relationships and love develop, how they are sustained and what can ultimately lead to their breakdown. The western society’s notion of love as a prerequisite for long term relationships such as marriage is not one which is shared by all cultures. Many Asian families still arrange marriages for their children, sometimes choosing the lucky partner at birth, and often the first sight a young man or woman has of their intended is at the actual ceremony.

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These cultures are often suspicious of romantic love and rely more on factors such as tradition, loyalty and religious faith to sustain the relationship and lead to a more enduring kind of love. The need for loving and intimate relationships stems from our need for affiliation and the nature of man as a social being. It has been suggested that this requirement for “love and belongingness” is quite distinct from our instinct for sex as a means of procreation and gene survival and is in fact a basic psychological need.

This was recognised by Abraham Maslow who proposed a hierarchy of needs identifying survival and self-actualisation motivation in humans. Affiliation, giving and receiving love, he placed on the survival scale. We share the need for food with all living things, the need for love with (perhaps) the higher apes, [and] the need for Self-Actualisation with [no other species]. (Maslow in Gross,1996, p. 97) The ability to successfully fulfil this need for intimacy has also been cited as an indicator of having become a mature, well-balanced adult.

Our personal identity only becomes fully realised and consolidated through sharing ourselves with another and if a sense of intimacy is not established with friends or a marriage partner, the result, in Erikson’s view (1980), is a sense of isolation, of being alone without anyone to share with or care for. (Gross, 1996, p. 599) Given this need for affection and intimate relationships are there different levels of intimacy and love? One concept recognises love as having different characteristics to liking.

This led to the development of a “love scale” by Rubin in his study “Liking and loving” (1973). This study differentiated between the “positive evaluation of another” (liking) and the “Attachment, caring and intimacy” required for love. According to Rubin love displays the desire to be with the loved one along with a mutual concern for each other’s emotional and physical welfare. There is also the security of trust in intimate and confidential exchanges. The measurement of love, therefore, according to Rubin depends on the intensity of the feelings required for love.

This differs from later suggestions which argue that rather than different kinds of love being merely an increased or decreased form of the same emotion, there are definite differences in the type of love displayed. One of these ideas, put forward by Sternberg (1988), illustrates love as a triangular model with the attributes of different kinds of love at the points. These attributes are listed as Passion, also thought of as infatuation (physical attraction and sexual arousal), Intimacy, akin to liking (deep feelings of closeness and responsibility) and commitment, or empty love (a decision made to be with, and stay with, another).

The number and type of attributes determine the love type, i. e. A love displaying passion and intimacy is a typical romantic love, whereas intimacy and commitment typifies companionate love. Fatuous love is said to include passion and commitment, and a love made up of all three attributes would be truelove or consummate love. This illustration does appear to be recognisable and certainly leads the way to explaining how and why relationships change over time.

From the heady nature of infatuation enjoyed in the early days of a relationship through to the to companionate love of a couple who have been together for many years and have had the security of that commitment to see them through rocky patches. This illustrates a marked difference between passionate, romantic love and the deep affection and intimacy of companionate love. Berscheid and Walster (1978) defined romantic love as “A state of intense absorption in another” (Berscheid and Walster in Gross 1996,p. 382) while denying that true or conjugal love involves the same kind of physiological arousal.

Many psychologists have supported this view including Hogg and Vaughan (1995) who described romantic love as:- … thinking of the lover constantly, wanting to be with him or her… This usually results in the lover becoming the focus of the other persons life, to the exclusion of other friends. It is perceived as a very intense emotion and, moreover, one over which the individual has very little control. This contrasts sharply with the description of companionate love suggested by Hatfield (1987) … a less intense emotion, combining feelings of friendly affection and deep attachment.

It is characterised by friendship, understanding, and a oncern for the welfare of others. These definitions of companionate love correspond to the feelings described by Rubin in his love scale and can be applied to same sex friends as well as romantic partners. This begins to address the different styles of loving between the sexes as Rubin suggested that females reported loving their friends more than males did. Rubin and McNeil (1983) suggest that loving for men may be channelled into single, sexual relationships while women may be better able to experience attachment and intimacy in a wider range and variety of relationships. Gross, 1996, p. 382) This may go some way to explaining the stereotypical male who is commitment shy, i. e. if all the eggs are to be put in one basket then it is very important to make sure it is the right basket without even the slightest suggestion of doubt! The western pattern of romantic love leading to commitment and companionate love would suggest a series of stages. For a relationship to get started there should be an initial attraction, followed by a building of the relationship and a decision to commit to each other.

The initial attraction is what would lead to “falling in love” and certain factors, it is claimed, would have to be in evidence. Hatfield and Walster had a three factor-theory of love (1981) stating that in order for the romantic love to develop there should be physiological arousal, the presence of an appropriate love recipient, and a cultural model of love to be followed. However this description may seem far too cut and dried and in reality there are many variables which add to, or detract from, the possibility of love blossoming.

Physical attraction, obviously, plays a key part in the beginning of a relationship and can be influenced by various things. Individuals, as well as different cultures, find different images aesthetically attractive. Evolutionary psychology may suggest that our need to ensure the survival of our genes dictates what we look for in a partner, i. e. males prefer young, attractive females, with the assumption that these represent a healthy vessel for pregnancy. Females, on the other hand, are attracted by indicators of status and success, hopefully ensuring adequate provision for the rearing of children.

While there may be some basis for these claims they do not seem as relevant today as they possibly were in the past and media images of beauty instead, influence our appreciation of what is attractive. Other factors are also claimed to be essential to the beginnings of interpersonal attraction. The first is proximity and familiarity. It seems obvious that for interaction to take place there must be some contact between two people. As a species it seems that we become comfortable with that which is familiar and this exposure to each other encourages the familiarity needed for a relationship to move to the next stage.

The appropriate love recipient in Hatfield and Walsters model illustrates the need for similar culture, background and beliefs. It has also been suggested that other similarities such as attitudes, values and views play a part too. This could be for a variety of reasons as Rubin (1973) recognised. The rewarding nature of similarities lies in the basis for joint activities, affirmation through agreement leading to increased self confidence, ease of communication, vanity and reciprocal liking.

Given that the criteria listed above have been met and that enough interest has been aroused to lead to the beginnings of a relationship, The next important stage is the building and maintenance of the relationship. As this develops, less importance is placed on passion and more on intimacy and commitment. However it is also true that people tend to enter relationships with different expectations and also tend to have their own styles of loving, sometimes related to gender. Hendrick and Hendrick (1986) identified six styles of love.

Having studied both men and women in America in the mid 1980s they recognised game playing, possessive, logical, altruistic, compassionate and erotic as the different styles of love that subjects displayed. Of the types, erotic and altruistic were equally displayed by men and women, companionate, logical and possessive were seen more frequently among women and game playing was used more often by male subjects. So it would seem that in order to sustain a relationship, along with a physical and emotional unity there should also be a compatibility of love styles.

Some psychologists see the longevity of relationships as dependent on rewards enjoyed. And there are two main themes to this argument. The Social Exchange Theory (Homans in Gross,1996) maintains that we assess our relationships with others in terms of profit/ loss. This could be illustrated by the idea of love as a bank account. To maintain solvency (or harmony) each partner must invest as much, if not more than is withdrawn. If one partner takes out more than they put in on a regular basis the other partner may then choose to withdraw his interest, leading to bankruptcy or breakdown.

However some psychologists argue that:- … social exchange theory sees people as fundamentally selfish and human relationships as based primarily on self interest… (it) offers a metaphor for human relationships and should not be taken too literally. (Gross, 1996, p. 91) Even so most psychologists agree that a successful relationship depends on the ability of each partner to fulfil the needs of the other and this would seem to come back to the compatibility of similar values, interests and beliefs.

So on this basis it could be deduced that breakdown in relationships is due to the needs of at least one partner not being met. This is possibly supported by the identification of deception as a primary cause of relationship breakdown. One of the requirements of intimate relationships is the security which comes from trusting the loved one. When this trust is destroyed, in whatever way, then a primary need is not being met and this conflict may prove insurmountable.

Another reason that apparently compatible relationships flounder, when others do not, may be because of the conflict resolution techniques used between couples. It is highly unlikely that two people living in close contact with one another and sharing their lives together will not have periods of conflict and disagreement. What is unique to each couple is how they deal with, and resolve, these conflicts. The methods used can be either positive, relationship enhancing techniques, such as voicing concerns and increasing communication, or negative, relationship destroying methods, such as withdrawal and ultimately desertion.

The way a person deals with conflict may be influenced by factors outside of the relationship and irrespective of adult maturity. Factors such as social class or patterns shown by role models and indeed by experiences in relationships in the past. “Changes in adult thought, behaviour and personality are less a result of chronological age or specific biological changes and are more a result f personal, social and cultural events and forces… ” (Craig in Gross, 1996, p. 05) So “can love be controlled by advice? ” It would seem that in the case of romantic love then no. In theory it may be possible to sustain a commitment type of love by decision rather than desire, but even then a certain number of factors must be present. Given that love is capable of causing both intense pain and incredible joy, do we really want to deny ourselves the roller coaster ride of emotions that differentiates us from other species. Good Luck Polly, you’ll need it!

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