We are all beings of connection. We need to be loved, truly loved, unconditionally loved. We will do anything to get someone to love us like this. Regardless of how tall the walls we’ve built are, deep inside, this is our core human need, and we want someone to climb over this wall or break it down.
But love isn’t a smooth journey. We make many starts and stops during our lives. Our hearts ache endlessly, and we question our worth. Some give up at this point and vow never to commit again, while others keep hoping, brushing their tears away.
Maintaining a healthy mental state is easy if you have strong connections in your life, romantic or platonic. Conversely, we can use psychology to mold ourselves into better lovers. This is not about changing yourself; it’s about truly understanding your partner and where they are coming from.
When you truly understand your partner, their dreams, and their fears, you will voluntarily do things to see that beautiful smile, because you don’t want to hurt them or make them feel insecure.
1. Triangular Theory Of Love
Psychologist Robert Sternberg proposes three main components for love: intimacy, commitment, and passion. We need all three to exist for our love to be explosive and everlasting. This love is called consummate love, and it’s believed to be rare. But hey, we can still hope for it.
When only one or two components make up our love, it’s not as strong, and it may crumble if there is opposition from parents or funding dries up. Intimacy and commitment together make up compassionate love, which continues to exist when a couple’s passion dwindles with age or busy schedules. Passion and intimacy result in romantic love—the love of our teenage years.
If you’re noticing that one or more of these elements are missing in your partnership, you can talk to your significant other about how to balance these three components.
If you lack passion, maybe more date night escapades or a few nights without your kids will help. If intimacy needs to be dialed up, perhaps you need to have deeper conversations to learn what your partner’s heart beats for, what they fear the most, and how their childhoods are still torturing them.
2. Attachment Styles
Attachment styles mirror our attachment to the primary caregiver in our childhoods. This is why parents can sometimes really mess up a child without even knowing they are doing so.
Those with secure attachment styles have the least amount of problems with adult relationships. They have had warm and assuring parental relationships and feel confident and whole as adults. They also communicate well with partners and are more empathetic towards others’ feelings. But with the other types, it’s not a pretty picture.
Avoidant types portray to the world that they don’t want to commit. They seem distant in general and can run away from relationships when they become more intimate. This is when your partner is standoffish and keeps pushing the engagement each year. If you or your partner had an absent, strict, or distant parent, who didn’t encourage emotional expression, you could lean towards this style.
Those of us who are Anxious types tend to want a LOT of external validation to feel secure. Guess from whom they want the most validation: their partners, of course. This behavior may pose challenges for partners because constant reassurance can get tiring very soon. This attachment style is a result of often misattuned and inconsistent parenting.
If one’s childhood is scarred by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, this leads to the Disorganized attachment style. These individuals behave in extremely inconsistent ways in adult relationships and can be very hard to read.
When people of different attachment styles get into close relationships, the result can be jarring at times. For example, if you are secure and your partner is anxious, their constant requests for affirmation can be too much for you. Although you may be understanding in the beginning, with time, it will get tiring, and you may rebel and convert into the distant type in this relationship.
You can understand your partner’s attachment style if you dig into their childhood and have them open up to you. Or you can observe how they are around their parents or how they act in your relationship now.
When you understand your significant other’s attachment style, you get a real sense of where their insecurities are coming from. You can either talk to them about this directly or guide them to get help, AKA therapy. If they don’t get help and their attachment style keeps making you anxious, you may need to leave the relationship for your sanity and your partner’s.
3. Love Languages
We all want to be loved, but not in the same way. Love languages refer to our preference for how we want to be loved. The five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, receiving gifts, and physical touch. This applies to platonic relationships as well.
To find out the preferred love language, you and your partner can take the test here. Once you know their preference, you can show your affection in a language that speaks to them.
This may not be your preferred language, and that’s okay. Because this is not about you, it’s about making conscious decisions to love your partner in the way they need to be loved. Some adjustments will be called for.
4. The Commitment Equation
Commitment = Investment + (Rewards – Costs) – Attractive Alternatives
Psychologist Caryl Rusbult published the investment model of love. In the equation, investment refers to what you have already invested in the relationship. How many years have you been together? How strong is the ecosystem that you have built around the relationship?
Rewards minus costs equate to how much you get from the relationship. Fewer costs and more rewards, the better. Commitment is also adversely related to the availability of attractive alternatives. If you have other desirable options, you won’t put up with his forgetfulness, excuses, or lies, now will you?
My personal belief is that investment and attractive alternatives remain part of the equation only when we fear that there is no one else out there for us, that we don’t deserve more than what we are getting now.
Maybe there’s also a certain threshold for rewards net of costs, and when a relationship goes below this threshold, we don’t really care if we’ve been going out with them for two decades. We finally realize that we don’t have to move from one relationship to the next; we know in our bones that we have more peace alone than in the relationship.
So, to be a good lover, you need to ensure rewards are always more than costs. How much more? Relationship experts recommend at least five or more positive interactions with your partner for every negative interaction. This should keep the commitment on a high.
But if the negative interaction is more serious and violates a core need in your partner, then it no longer becomes a simple numbers game. You can try upping the rewards more, but the rewards will have to negate the impact of the cost and more.
Regardless of whether you’re single, looking to date, or in a marriage that can be better, these psychology principles can help you better understand your date or partner and look at differences more objectively.
Most of the time, our differences are not caused by intentional actions to hurt the other. They are mostly due to wounds we carry from our past that we don’t even know of.