From medieval theologists’ and their attempts at defining God’s love to modern-day studies on the mechanics of contemporary relationships, the concept of affection has continuously shown itself to be of interest to researchers. However, this interest is not merely scientific, as it prevails in culture, music, and social media, as well as day-to-day life. Asking a person to remember, for example, a movie with no romantic subplot may stump them.
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Thus, developing a personal relationships wellness (PRW) philosophy becomes the scope of this paper and remains essential for the betterment of personal relationships, which should be rooted in realistic expectations (Olson, DeFrain, & Skogrand, 2019).
Furthermore, the outlined goals, such as defining love, highlighting some depictions of intimate relationships in pop culture, and searching for potential gender-related undertones, may help further an understanding of healthy relationships. Finally, demonstrating ways for uplifting better practices into life, as per the AWARE post-test results and potential future family life cycle stages, should help maintain personal integrity and growth as essential to personal integrity.
Asking different people to define an intimate relationship may yield varying results, with each one having an inherently unique experience. Writers, philosophers, and even psychiatrists have attempted to identify love, comparing it to different concepts in an attempt to make it easier to comprehend (Olson et al., 2019). An article by Hammer and Hammer (2015) defines love as “the result of the process of relationship in which the two people psychologically feel as though they achieve a state of oneness” (p. 10).
While this definition pursues unanimity as an ideal of romantic relationships, it does not take into account the possibility of disagreement as a prerequisite for mutual growth. As per my AWARE post-test results, I am a person, who believes that love is an integral base for healthy relationships, as is mutual respect and an ability to communicate. Therefore, my definition of love centers less on unity and more on an ability to negotiate points of consensus while maintaining the same enamored feeling.
Relationships are not the result of a single emotion or a mere feeling of closeness. Instead, they may touch upon different cornerstones of human relationships. Robert Sternberg’s Love Triangle, also known as the Triangular theory of love, is a construction that joins intimacy, passion, and commitment in various combinations, resulting in “eight types of love relationships” (Olson et al., 2019, p. 240). While Sternberg’s theory is useful for demonstrating the seven possible pitfalls of a relationship, outlining only one gratifying result, there is no distinction between the feelings of those, who are in love.
Any of his eight combinations, from non-love to consummate love, rely on both partners being homogenous in the apperception of their own intimacy, passion, and commitment (Olson et al., 2019). Furthermore, the implemented binary system, where a phenomenon is either nonexistent or maximally domineering, does not seem to reflect the nature of relationships, alternately attempting to outline striking examples. Therefore, agreeing with the Love Triangle may become possible only during an introduction to the subject.
Another explanation that attempts to trace the mechanism behind creating a healthy relationship dynamic is the Attachment theory. Adherents of this theory use childhood experiences to explain the creation of attachments in adult relationships, outlining parental behavior as “a context for romantic relationships and marriage” (Olson et al., 2019, p. 255). This idea is more comfortable to agree with, as it draws upon conventional notions of the importance of familial influence, tradition, and the resulting mimicry (Olson et al., 2019).
However, the depictions of secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant types of behavior seem to rely on the existence of clinically-traceable patterns of conduct. Therefore, the Attachment theory, similarly with Sternberg’s Love Triangle, promises a perfect relationship based on the satisfaction of certain conditions (Olson et al., 2019). Nonetheless, due to its reliance on learned behavioral patterns, the Attachment theory seems more credible, if not reduced to a mere checklist.
While itemizing love is not possible, modern pop culture does not stop itself from creating the idea of it as attainable, effortless, and inevitable. Disney’s animated films, from Snow White to Aladdin, are one of the best examples of love triumphing against all the odds in a fairytale-like manner. Furthermore, taking the song “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande as a love-focused pop music example allows noting its focus on the brighter aspects of love and the idea of fruitful companionship after inputting effort. Finally, the popular novel-to-film adaptation of To all the boys I’ve loved before has the protagonist’s older sister say that “I think you should fall in love at least twice in high school” (Han, 2014, p. 23).
From childhood to adult life, pop culture continuously presents love as victorious over anything while being both flippant and meaningful. Thus, this depiction affects people’s definitions and expectations of love, making them strive for an ideal in a flawed world, and wanting to receive affection only in romantic ways.
The goal of pop culture is to monetize widespread feelings successfully, appealing to a broad audience, and, therefore, it is not surprising that particular gender roles are propagated concerning the dynamics of love. If “language is one of the most powerful tools people use,” then the pop-culture created dictionary of love helps focus on differences to create the prerequisites for drawing near, often creating irreconcilable stereotypes (Olson et al., 2019, p. 188).
Thus, as discussed in lectures, emotional work becomes an automatically assigned position, with certain expectations, for example, neediness versus aloofness or emotional connectedness against one of a sexual nature, for women and men respectively (Olson et al., 2019). Therefore, gender and gender roles may be defined as an expression of what is considered typical behavior based on a person’s gender identity. In turn, these connect with how people express and experience love, creating one-sided dynamics that ignore the other partner’s actual needs, such as tenderness or libido, falling instead for an idealistic fallacy.
Under these conditions, creating a healthy relationship becomes complicated not only due to the personal differences between people but also because of expectations instilled by society and culture regarding what may be considered normal. As per the AWARE post-test results, one of my strengths is my understanding of friendship, intimacy, and singlehood, making me realistic in how I expect my relationships to develop.
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Conversely, dating, mate selection, and living together remains a growth area, as a yet unexplored but impeding life cycle stage at 26 years old. Nonetheless, the skills of positive communication, imperative for the creation of a successful relationship, make possible entering these future circumstances prepared properly (Olson et al., 2019). My AWARE post-test results allow highlighting how having realistic expectations and conscientiously giving love may help a relationship flourish.
Not expecting a full fulfillment of companionship needs through romance and taking into consideration a partner’s needs based on their actual wants through communication, rather than improvisation, positions love as rewarding but hard work.
Furthering the existing and potential strengths that the AWARE post-test results make apparent may be a matter of applying the same thorough approach to self-betterment as to intimate relationships. Healthy relationship practices rely on constructive intimacy games, which help supply the relationship with a positive focus, instill productive behavior, and could even help reinforce intimacy (Olson et al., 2019). Therefore, deepening the love present in relationships may become possible through reinforcing the positive behavior of both partners. While love cannot be expressed, manifesting itself as affection, conveying fondness becomes possible through communication (Hammer & Hammer, 2015).
Thus, integrating support in day-to-day life is as easy as creating lines of communication in your relationships and finding a partner who is willing to do the same, allowing diffusing any threatening situation. Such a plan may not be measured effectively, but involves a degree of always-pressing self-awareness and diligence, which becomes quick to achieve when a relationship is valued and understood from a needs perspective.
The existence of love relies on a multitude of factors, from positive parental influence to communication skills. This conducted project helped visualize and verbalize ideas first made evident by the AWARE post-test results, and the carried out work allowed understanding my expectations better, contributing to both intrapersonal and interpersonal learning. The book by Olson et al. (2019) contributed most to this advancement, being a well-rounded depiction of love, gender, and intimate relationships, the focus of which a broader emphasis on LGBT issues may expand.
As the book strives to be all-inclusive of gender and age, a further comprehensive stance on sexuality may be beneficial to illustrating modern-day mechanics of intimate relationships. Nonetheless, it helps build a PRW philosophy that helps rely on lived experience and continuous self-reflection, when both people involved are like-minded enough to achieve a joint goal and sufficiently dissimilar to progress their relationship. This action, in turn, helps prepare for the future, anticipating a change in family life cycle stages.
Hammer, M., & Hammer, B. (2015). The essential basis of true love and the psychologically healthy interpersonal relationship. Journal of Psychology and Clinical Psychiatry, 3(1), 1-12. Web.
Han, J. (2014). To all the boys I’ve loved before. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Olson, D. H. L., DeFrain, J. D., & Skogrand, L. (2019). Marriage and families: Intimacy, diversity, and strengths (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.