The Anatomy of Love

Any given relationship can have any combination of these three components. Passion without the others is infatuation, intimacy on its own is platonic friendship, and commitment on its own is just rather sad. Passion plus commitment is  fatuous love (think of sixteen year olds texting “I hart u 4eva” 60 times an hour), while intimacy plus commitment is  companionate love (think of your favorite sibling here). Passion plus intimacy is  romantic love (like you need any more encouragement to think about that one). Those who find all three in the same person, have  consummate love. Lucky lucky them.

Now let’s put our lab coats on and take a more intimate4 look at these various bits in the anatomy of love.


“Ever since that night, we’ve been together. 
Lovers at first sight, in love forever. 
It turned out so right, 
For strangers in the night.” 
-Frank Sinatra

Commitment comes in levels. Sometimes couples start off with a strong commitment that gets weaker, but usually it increases as people invest more in a relationship (Rusbult & Buunk, 1993). You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that people who are engaged or married report more commitment than do people who are only dating (Stanley & Markman, 1992). But in today’s topsy-turvy world of chaos and upset does commitment really mean so very much? Actually it does; couples who report more commitment have relationships that last longer, on average (Cate & Lloyd, 1992), and are also more willing to forgive the other person, leading to healthier and happier lives (Karremans, Van Lange, Ouwerkerk & Kluwer, 2003). Not bad, eh?

One of the secrets to building commitment in relationships is to convince your partner that you really like them. A lot. People who are confident that their partner likes them seem pretty unshakeable about their relationships, to the point that they will engage in what John Holmes terms “knights move thinking”. If you tell them that their partner is angry at them, that their partner has some horrendous fault, or thinks that THEY have a horrendous fault, they report liking their partner, if anything, more than they did before. Told, for instance, that their partner is painfully quiet ("two hours, three syllables. Honest to heck"), they might make a knights move, acknowledging the fault, but connect it to a greater virtue: “Ah yes, he’s the strong silent type.” People who aren’t so sure about their partner (which, in practical terms, is often people with lower self esteem) behave quite differently. Faced with a challenge, they will often start backing out and proactively distancing themselves, seemingly preparing to reject their partner before they themselves can be humiliatingly rejected (Murray, Holmes & Griffin, 1996).

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