About Intimate Relationships

What is Love?

Love may be defined as expressions of affection; a wish to offer pleasure and satisfaction to another person; tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity to the needs of the other; a desire for shared activities and pursuits; an ongoing, honest exchange of personal feelings; and concern, comfort, and outward assistance for the other person’s aspirations.

Love includes feelings for the other person that go beyond a selfish or self-centered interest. Love tends to have a positive effect on each person’s self-esteem and sense of well-being. Love never involves deception, because misleading another person fractures his or her sense of reality.



What obstacles do people encounter in striving to form and sustain an intimate relationship?

The major barriers to love and closeness can be found in the psychological defenses that each partner brings to the relationship. It is difficult for many people to accept love and respect from another person because the experience threatens their defenses and causes anxiety. As a relationship becomes more meaningful, one or both partners may retreat to a more inward, defended posture and act in ways that limit the amount of love and affection they are both giving and receiving in their interactions with each other. As a substitute, they develop a fantasy bond, an illusion of love, closeness, and connection.  They begin to view each other through an alien, defended point of view, based on critical inner voices that distort their partner’s real image.

How are these defenses reflected in intimate relationships?

People maintain their defenses and alter their new situation by recreating the negative circumstances of their childhood in three ways, through selection, distortion, and provocation in their current day relationship. First, people often select partners who are similar in appearance, behavior, and defenses to a particular family member because these characteristics are familiar and therefore comfortable. Second, people can distort their perception of their partners in a way that corresponds more closely to that of a member of their family, either in a positive or negative direction.  Third, partners may provoke each other to respond the same way a parent or family member responded to them in the past.

What are the characteristics of an ideal relationship?

An ideal relationship is characterized by non-defensiveness and openness; honesty and integrity; respect for the other’s boundaries, priorities and goals; physical affection and intimate sexuality; understanding, and a lack of distortion of the partner; and non-controlling, non-manipulative, and non-threatening behavior.


How can we enhance our ability to both give and accept love?

There are steps people can take to recapture the feelings of friendship and love that were experienced at the beginning of their relationship. They can take back their projections, learn to be non-defensive and open to feedback, and admit critical attitudes toward themselves and their partner. Partners can talk openly about their fears of being alone, of being rejected or abandoned, and about the sadness and anxiety they experience when they contemplate the inevitable loss through death of themselves and their partner. They can move toward independence, increase their respect for each other, and establish equality and interdependence in their relationship. Lastly, by differentiating from negative internal influences (critical inner voices) and strengthening their own point of view, people can expand their capacity to both offer and accept love and sustain feeling and passion in their relationship.


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