Early in a relationship, the mere thought of your partner brings a smile to your face and a flutter to your stomach. You feel downright giddy.
That’s passionate love.
It feels AMAZING. But it’s more than that. Passionate love motivates us to spend every possible moment together and move the relationship forward. It’s all so great that we hope it never ends.
But, as we discuss in Relationship Synergy, following that initial honeymoon period passionate love naturally fizzles over time. Those excited feelings simply get less exciting. That can leave your relationship vulnerable.
Feelings may dissipate, but behaviors endure.
Read that again, because there’s an important lesson there.
While we can’t control how powerful our feelings are or how quickly they may dissipate, we can control our behaviors.
What are some of the things we do when we’re experiencing passionate love that can help our relationship?
A Little Relationship Science…
To see what behaviors make passionate love so beneficial, researchers checked in daily with nearly 400 dating and newlywed couples over a two-week period (Mizrahi et al., 2022).
First, the easy part. As expected, study participants who endorsed statements like “I want this person physically, emotionally, mentally” and “I would rather be with this person than anyone else” experienced more passionate love. Those feelings were associated with feeling more committed, attached, and linked to their partner. Passionate love makes relationships better.
Passionate Love Benefit #1: The researchers found that individuals who felt more passionate love also viewed their partners more favorably (i.e., thought they were better people). In other words, passionate love helps us see more of our partner’s good traits. That’s super helpful because as couples spend more time together it becomes increasingly easy to focus on the negatives. You know, the stuff your partner does to annoy you, their bad habits, personality quirks, etc. Purposefully focusing on the positives (i.e., having a positivity bias) short-circuits the negativity. The positives are there; we just have to take the time to notice them.
Passionate Love Benefit #2: When you like someone, it’s easier to want to do nice things for them. That was true in the study as well. Those who had more positive views of their partner were more willing to do stuff that helped the relationship. Pro-relationship behaviors are the little things partners do to help their relationship run smoothly, avoid problems, and counteract conflict.
The funny thing about passionate love providing these key benefits is that early in a relationship (when passion is naturally high), all of this is less necessary. Early on, everything seems perfect anyway, so being positive and helpful is easy to do. The tricky part happens later on. As the relationship matures and those strong feelings fade, passionate love’s two benefits become increasingly important.
Make This Work For You
Here’s how to use those behavioral benefits to give your relationship a boost when it needs it most:
- See Your Partner More Positively. Look for your partner’s good behavior (it’s there, promise!):
- “Today, my partner did something so we would enjoy spending time together”
- “Today, my partner showed physical affection to me”
- “Today, my partner did something to have fun with me”
- Generally, see your relationship in a “glass is half full” way, be optimistic
- Look for their good traits, focusing on qualities that demonstrate warmth/trustworthiness (“understanding,” “supportive,” “considerate,” “kind”), their mate value (“adventurous,” “outgoing,” “sexy,” “attractive” “successful,” “dresses well.”)
- Give your partner the “benefit of the doubt”
This approach helps overcome our natural negativity bias where we tend to focus on what’s wrong. Finally, when things aren’t perfect, be kind.
- Pro-Relationship Behaviors. As they say, actions speak louder than words. Here’s what you generally want to do:
- Do things that show your partner how much they mean to you.
- Being thoughtful and considerate toward your partner.
- Sacrifice for your partner. You don’t always have to get your way.
- Being warm and affectionate toward your partner.
- Providing your partner with help and support.
- Go out of your way to “be there” for your partner.
Some specific ideas include surprising your partner with their favorite meal, hiding a love note that they’ll find during the day, doing one of their chores for them, asking them how their day went and really listening to them, let them pick the show you’re going to watch, and just generally make time to enjoy each other’s company.
Passionate love feels good, but that’s not what makes it so great. The power of passionate love is that it encourages us to think about our partner and relationship differently. Specifically, more positively. Early on, that’s easy. The key is to be more intentional about engaging in these behaviors as our relationship develops and matures.
Hope this helps,
Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Ph.D. an award-winning professor, researcher, writer, and relationship expert. His TED talk and relationship programs have been enjoyed by millions worldwide. As a Love Strategies Instructor and Course Designer for Relationship Synergy, he shares insights from 25 years of experience studying the science of relationships to help women build a deeper, more meaningful romantic connection with their partner.
Mizrahi, M., Lemay, E. P., Maniaci, M. R., & Reis, H. T. (2022). Seeds of love: Positivity bias mediates between passionate love and prorelationship behavior in romantic couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 39(7), 2207–2227. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075221076002