You know what I love? Carbs. Chocolate. My dog. Going for a run first thing in the morning… Oh! And sleeping! Definitely sleeping… And those things don’t even compare to my important relationships: my husband, my kids, my dog, my friends, my community…
Isn’t it unfortunate that the English language falls short in differentiating between the different levels of love in our hearts? Think back to my first blog in this series (about intimacy, commitment, and passion) and the second (about the brain chemistry of love). With the complexity of how our minds and bodies respond to deep emotions like love, we need to break it down a bit to differentiate what we’re feeling. When we focus only on romantic love, we miss out on the balance these other types bring to our relationships:
Eros– This is an erotic love, fueled by sexual desire with little to no concept of consequences. It’s passionate, but it’s quick-burning when it stands alone.
Philia– This is a pure-hearted, brotherly love and the foundation of quality friendship. It’s necessary for a fulfilling relationship that lasts.
Ludus– This love is playful, infatuated, and flirtatious. Limerence (a state of infatuation, obsession, and fantasy) also fits in here. It’s fun, but needs mutual effort to grow.
Pragma– This love is longstanding, practical, mature, affectionate, supportive, and respectful. This mature type of love requires individual health and united work over time.
Agape– This is a deep love that hits the soul. It’s altruistic without expectation from the other, offering true empathy and forgiveness without holding grudges.
Philautia– This is the trendiest: a self-love, but not in a narcissistic way.
Storge– This one is similar to the love a person has for a child. It’s about companionship with some of that familial attachment with an instinct to give.
Think about how these play out in your different relationships and the emotional response you have to each type. Talk to your partner about what you enjoy most together and where your growth spots might be.
Our brains are seriously amazing. Among the coolest are the ways in which different types of attachment affect our brain chemistry. “Love is blind,” is absolutely legit. Hormones flood our brains to turn off critical thinking, self-awareness, and rational behavior. Bye-bye, prefrontal cortex functions! So let’s talk about the three main hurricanes and how to use them in your relationship.
First up, lust and passion. Getting caught up in a moment isn’t simply about a lack of self-control; it’s about brain chemistry. Hormones like testosterone and estrogen rush to our brains, rendering our logical thinking useless. So how can you bring some of those hormones into your sex life? An easy way to boost testosterone is to take a power stance for two minutes before initiating sex. (Watch this TED Talk and you’ll understand how it works.) A more fool-proof way is to talk to your doctor and have your levels tested. There are all kinds of testosterone- and estrogen-based pills and creams for people of any age to bring a little passion back into the bedroom!
Next comes attraction and intimacy. Love high neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin hit the reward centers in our brains. Yep, the same ones that affect eating and sleeping. These neurotransmitters help our minds learn who we love and why we’re attracted to them. How can you bring more of these brain builders into your relationship? Take care of yourself! Eat well, get regular exercise, take Vitamin D, and invest in a happy light (Verilux is my totally-unsponsored brand of choice).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, attachment and commitment. These are the hormones that are going to carry your passion and intimacy to the next level. Oxytocin and vasopressin promote bonding, closeness, and loyalty. Looking for more of this in your relationship? Look into each other’s eyes more often and for a longer period of time, especially during times of positive communication. Volunteer together to get those altruistic mirror neurons firing. And do something relaxing together, like a massage or quiet walk in a park, so the stresses of life aren’t a part of the moment.
Our brains are capable of doing many things, so figure out how to make yours work for you in your relationship. Have fun!
In my counseling practice, it’s typical for half of my cases to be couples and the other half to be individual clients. No matter who is in my office, I find myself often talking about attachment, love, sex, and the ways they affect all our lives. Although we’re still 6 months out from Valentine’s Day (yep… I’ll wait while you check your calendar), love is always a topic on my radar. So I’m launching a blog series on love: summarizing some great theories, starting some practical conversations, and (hopefully) setting you on a path for a really great V-Day in a few months!
Love is complicated. I mean, sometimes it’s pretty simple, but usually only when our brains are experiencing an emotional high. One of my most-used diagrams is of the Triangular Theory of Love. Robert Sternberg looks at loving relationships using three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Intimacy is the closeness, connection, bond, and general friendship in a relationship. When a relationship only contains intimacy, it is referred to as Liking/Friendship. Passion is the arousal state that leads to romance, physical attraction, and sexual tension and consummation in a relationship. When a relationship only contains passion, we call it Infatuated Love. Commitment can be both the choice to love and the decision to maintain that love over time. When a relationship only contains commitment, we call it Empty Love.
If a relationship doesn’t contain any of the three components, it’s Non-Love, and Sternberg developed the term Consummate Love for when all three components are at play. But look at all the combinations! Romantic Love is when a relationship lacks commitment. Fatuous Love is when a relationship lacks intimacy. Companionate or Friendly Love is when a relationship lacks passion.
It’s normal for relationship to go through ebbs and flows, but the levels of each component in a relationship at any given time allows us to assess where we need to grow as individuals within out relationships. Think of a significant relationship in your life. Where are your strengths? Weaknesses? Think about where you can take some initiative, how you can verbalize your emotional needs, and where you need to draw the line in what’s important for your heart.
This is a follow-up to my Boundaries post from April 2019 where I discussed the three types of boundaries and their functions in our lives. It started some great conversations with clients and other counselors, so if you haven’t read it, start there and then come back to this post. Today, I want to expand on the earlier post by highlighting the 10 Laws of Boundaries as outlined in Boundaries (Cloud & Townshend, 2004).
1- The Law of Sowing and Reaping. One of the first things we (hopefully) learn as children is that our actions have consequences. The older we get, the more serious our choices and the more serious the consequences. There are a lot of phrases across many cultures and capture the “what goes around comes around” idea, and that’s because it’s legit. If you enable a person by protecting him from the consequences of his actions, you are intercepting his opportunities for personal growth and doing him a great disservice in the long run. It’s difficult to watch someone struggle, especially when we care a lot for that person, but struggle is what brings character growth.
2- The Law of Responsibility. Being responsible to someone without being responsible for them can be challenging, particularly in relationships which haven’t had healthy boundaries in place for a long period of time. We can be held accountable by people we trust, but they aren’t responsible for us or our choices. Love people without trying to live their lives for them.
3- The Law of Power. Power is different from control. That’s a blog for another day, but I want to highlight that what we are talking about here is having influence over some things in our lives while not having influence over others. We have power to change ourselves in many ways: our attitudes, our belief systems, our behaviors. But great peace comes when we accept that we don’t have the power to change anyone else!
4- The Law of Respect. Mutual respect for people and boundaries is crucial. We want other people to care enough for us that they will respect what we need, and it is healthy for us to behave in similar ways.
5- The Law of Motivation. My dad has given me a ton of “wisdom nuggets” throughout my life. One of my favorites is: “If someone needs an immediate answer, then your answer ought to be ‘no.’ If you don’t have time to weigh your options, then you might feel obligated to go along with something that you wouldn’t do if you had enough time to think about it.” The bottom line: if you don’t feel free to say no, then you’re not genuinely saying yes anyway. Keep your motivations in check. Love is a choice.
6- The Law of Evaluation. It’s important to evaluate whether our boundaries bring pain to people in our lives. If the pain brings growth, it is oftentimes worth sticking to. If the pain brings wounding or trauma, that’s a red flag to revisit the boundary and consider whether it needs to be changed in some way. Although we don’t have to adjust our boundaries based on their effects on others, it’s important to consider how other people hurt while we strive for safety and wellness.
7- The Law of Proactivity. It is wise to set boundaries based on our wants, needs, and desires. By using our wise minds (both logic and emotion) in this process, we can step forward confidently. Prioritizing personal values is worth it!
8- The Law of Envy. You can’t drive your own car well if you’re focused on the cars everyone else is driving. Stay in your lane! Adopt an attitude of gratitude instead of dissatisfaction. Look at yourself long enough to see where you need to make the changes that will get you where you want to go.
9- The Law of Activity. Lean in when you’re solving problems. Boundaries are easier to set before there’s an issue rather than trying to backtrack after someone has overstepped. Without boundaries, a passive person is more likely to be dominated by a more aggressive person. It’s a good thing to assert what you need, especially with people you love. Boundaries require action, and often that means allowing people to reap what they’ve sown.
10- The Law of Exposure. No one will know our boundaries if we don’t communicate them! If it’s not clear, then it’s not working. These conversations can be difficult, but worth it. Boundaries allow for consequences without nagging; if you’re nagging, then you’re working too hard.
Which ones are easy for you? Which ones are more difficult? If you’re looking to establish new boundaries, you can start by saying ‘no’ to small things without trying to justify your response. One step at a time, friends!
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. S. (2004). Boundaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
“Happy Father’s Day” doesn’t apply to everyone. There are many situations— death, estrangement, unfulfilled dreams of being a father, and more— that may leave a person feeling a tangled ball of emotion this weekend. If you’d like tips on how to survive this Father’s Day or how to support someone you care about over the weekend (including alternative e-cards), check out optionb.org!