Many of us equate desperate and yearning lyrics like “I can’t live without you” and “you’re my everything” with an ideal form of romantic love. And why wouldn’t we when it’s advertised everywhere? From Billboard music charts to blockbuster films, popular culture perpetuates this notion of healthy passion as an uncontrollable, “swept away” feeling.
However, while an unbridled passion may be what we desire, it can be harmful to our well-being and relationship, according to Robert Vallerand, professor of psychology at the University of Quebec at Montreal. An all-consuming or “obsessive passion” is more damaging to a relationship than having no passion at all. In fact, women in relationships with men who were obsessively passionate towards them reported being less sexually satisfied.
Obsessive passion is associated with distrusting one’s partner. People who are obsessively passionate toward their lovers are insecure and are preoccupied with protecting their ego rather than being attuned to their partner, says Vallerand. Additionally, they tend to be controlling, defensive and need to win all the time.
Not exactly what Cupid intended.
So does this mean that if we are consumed with our partner in the early stages of a romance – perhaps experiencing butterflies in our stomach at the mere mention of our lover’s name and daydreaming at our desk rather than drafting that important document – that we are in an obsessively passionate relationship? Of course not. We should cherish these glorious moments and pleasant feelings of a budding relationship.
However, if months or years into the relationship, we are still distracted at work and have abandoned our friendships and hobbies, these may be signs of an obsession, rather than a healthy love, according to research findings. Our relationship will likely fall apart since it’s stuck at this stage and can’t develop.
We may not be in love but rather lovesick.
The good news is that passion can strengthen our relationship as long as it’s the right kind of passion. A healthy or “harmonious” passion feels good and is good for us. In a harmoniously passionate relationship we are able to control our passion rather than being controlled by it. A healthy passion leads to a more sustainable and mature relationship. We retain our overall identity and maintain a balanced lifestyle and experience a deeper connection with our partner.
Fortunately, harmonious passion isn’t an innate quality but rather something we can cultivate to build a more satisfying and sustainable relationship. Try practicing the following tips to build a healthy passion:
- Maintain your sense of identity. Thing back to before your relationship. How did you spend your time? What were those activities that made you feel like you? And who did you enjoy doing them with? Engage in those activities again and nurture those friendships so you don’t lose your sense of self.
- Pay attention to what your friends say. Consider any concerns from friends who say they no longer recognize you because you changed so much since your relationship. Research finds they often see red flags of obsessive passion before we do.
- Reflect upon your interests and those of your partner. Identify something you and your partner both enjoy and do it together since engaging in novel activities boosts attraction. Avoid serious competition, which may damage the relationship. The idea is to have fun connecting, not competing. So if you’re a chess master and your partner can’t distinguish between a pawn and a bishop, choose another activity.
- Carve out daily time to savor together. Practice sharing with your partner secrets or something good that you personally experienced to build trust and a deeper bond.
Healthy habits like these are associated with flourishing romantic relationships. So remember when Cupid’s arrow strikes, not to fall prey to lovesick desires, which will likely cause your relationship to go up in smoke. Rather, take control of your passion to keep the spark alive, and build a healthier, more satisfying and longer-lasting love.