In my work with couples I’m often faced with this question, and unfortunately, love is not enough to maintain a relationship. Love can motivate actions or motivate you to work on a relationship, but to maintain a relationship takes two motivated individuals. Have you ever ended a relationship even though you loved that person? Have you been in a relationship with someone who said he or she loved you back, but his or her actions showed something different? Have you been repeatedly hurt by the person who says they love you? Have you ever loved someone who didn’t feel the same way about you? These are all instances where love was not enough.
I have found that commitment—defined as a long-term orientation toward a relationship, including intent to persist and feelings of psychological attachment (Wieselquist et al. 1999)—is a major factor in creating enduring long-term relationships. Without commitment, it’s easier to move on to find the next “better” partner for you. In fact, scientific studies confirm that human beings are neurologically able to love more than one person at a time (Fisher 2005). Therefore, a strong sense of commitment is needed in long-term relationships. This helps to avoid distractions and urges to act from feelings of lust and attraction towards others than your long-term relationship partner. Other factors that have been identified in order to secure long-term relationships are cooperation, trust, and loyalty (Beck 1989).
I encounter much confusions about love when working with individuals in long-term relationships. My clients tell me things like: “I’m not in-love with him/her anymore,” “I don’t know if I love my partner the same way,” “I don’t have the same passion about my partner.” You may think some of the same things, because we have an idea of love that is highly influenced by mainstream culture: advertising, movies, TV shows, poems, songs, etc. Unfortunately, these influences create an unrealistic expectation about feelings, desires, and needs in relationships.
If you are in a long term relationship and have noticed that the love you feel for your partner is different from when you first got together, you’re experiencing something absolutely normal that comes with the changes you encounter as a relationship ages and evolves. Anthropologists and researchers have identified three stages of love in humans (Fisher 1998; 2005): Lust, attraction, and attachment. It’s believed that love evolves for mating and reproductive purposes, which allows us to live in long term relationships as we get older. Think about this: as our bodies age, even with the help of erectile dysfunction drugs, estrogen supplements, testosterone therapy, and hip replacements sex is not eternal. What stage of love are you currently in? Do you think that your partner feels the same way? What are you and your partner expecting of your relationship in the future? These are great questions for you to discussed together.