WHAT MAKES US ATTRACTIVE AND TO WHOM DO WE BECOME ATTRACTED?

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Whom do we really fall in love with?  And what makes us lovable?  Whether we have a partner or are looking for one, we all want to know why we are attracted to one particular person rather than another.

When we choose a partner, it often seems like love is blind.  It feels like we enter a relationship with blinders on—falling in love with whoever happens to be in close proximity to us (e.g. Tinder).  However, love is not blind, only a little myopic.  Moreover, this myopia is extreme at the time of the first encounter.  For love at first sight, the most important factor is the way we look, our physical attractiveness, as a study of preferences during a “hurry date” session showed.1 During the “hurry date” sessions men and women interacted with each other for three minutes and then indicated which of the people they met they preferred. Certainly, physical attractiveness can be important during the first encounter but, surprisingly, this factor is equally important to both men and women when selecting a sexual partner although men tend to put more of a premium on physical attractiveness when selecting a potential marital partner.2 Maybe that is why so many social media and matchmaking website descriptions and photos present a somewhat false front. 

It might be only a one-night hook-up that the most attractive women get because what predicted whether a couple would go out on even a second date, was a couples’ similarity in physical attractiveness rather than the degree of physical attractiveness.3 

If we want an attraction that lasts longer than just one evening, we look for one built on mutually perceived similarity.  After all, even two supremely attractive people can spend only so much time complimenting each other on their good looks.  The sexual attraction of the first encounter gives way to an attraction built on similar interests, values, and attitudes.4 Potential partners’ conversation quickly turns to fishing for what they have in common. 

The similarity we seek and that holds us together is in our image of ourselves.  We are attracted to people who are reflections of ourselves.  Indeed, a survey of people who married after initially meeting online found that those couples who had similar personalities were more satisfied with their relationship up to four years later.5 So physical beauty may attract the eye but personality attracts the heart.

  1. Kurzban, R. and Weeden, J. (2005). HurryDate: Mate preferences in action. Evolution & Human Behavior, 26, 3, 227-244.
  2. Walster, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D. & Rottman, L. (1966), Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior,Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4,5, 508-516.
  1. Folkes, V.S. (1982). Forming relationships and the matching hypothesis. Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 4, 631-636.
  2. Murstein, B. (1976). Whom will marry whom?: Theory and research in marital choice. New York: Springer, p. 180.
  3. Gonzaga, G.C., Carter, S. & Buckwalter, J.G. (2010). Assortive mating, convergence, and satisfaction in married couples, Personal Relationships, 17, 4, 634-644.

Don’t Just Say “I Love You”. Show It.

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You may think saying “I love you” is all that is needed in your relationship(s).  But, if you live each day as if it could be your last with the person(s) you love, you will find many ways to show your love rather than just announcing your love.

Here are some proven ways to show your love.

Give Reassurance and Emotional Support

               Both men and women feel loved when their partner gave assurances that he/she would always be there and supportive.1   Give your partner security by saying you are there for them when they most need it.  Show emotional support by being attentive though making eye contact and actively listening by repeating back a bit of what you heard.

Touch

Don’t let a day go by without touching your partner.  Maybe it is a hug or a kiss, or a shoulder rub.  Touch does not have to always signal, “I want sex”—it can signal, “I care about you.” 2   In fact, contrary to stereotypes, men in long-term relationships who get lots of kisses and cuddles report being more sexually satisfied.3

Be Positive

               When you are cheerful and optimistic, your replies are comforting for your partner.  This positivity also includes being patient and forgiving, showing a cooperative attitude during disagreements, and avoiding criticizing your partner.  Researchers have found that both men and women can show this equally in relationships and it is much appreciated by both genders.4

Do Things Together

               Sharing household tasks, working together on a mutual (fun) goal, walking and talking (but not about problems), and having a night out all communicate that you love to be with your partner.  Although one study found no difference in the men and women using this way of showing love, one other study did find that men tend to using this strategy more than women.5, 6

Show Appreciation

               When your partner does something you like, make sure you say so. And, often, just out of the blue, compliment your partner by saying what, specifically, you love about him/her. 

Do Things for Your Partner (Especially Surprises)

               Have a plant or flowers sent to your partner at work.  Wrap a warm blanket around your partner when he/she needs comforting.  Pack a suitcase for each of you and take your partner on a surprise weekend trip.  A lot of what love is all about is the attraction, caring, and intimacy you are showing through these actions.7

  1. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  2. Marston, P.J., Hecht, M.L. & Robers, T. (1987). True love ways: The subjective experience and communication of romantic love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 387-407.
  3. Heiman, J.R., et. al. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 4, 741-753.
  4. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  5. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  6. Schoenfeld, E.A., Bredow, C.A., & Huston, T.L. (2012). Do men and women show love differently in marriage? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 11, 1396-1409.
  7. Rubin, Z. (1973). Liking and loving.Y.: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Do Marriages from Meeting Online Last?

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According to a recent study, more than one-third of marriages in America now begin on-line.1   But do these marriages last as long as do marriages that result from off-line meetings?  The answer is a resounding “yes”.  In fact, marriages that began with an on-line meeting were slightly less likely to result in a marital break-up than were marriages resulting from an off-line meeting.  Furthermore, among those who remained married, marital satisfaction was higher in this group.2

  1. Cacioppo, J.T., et. al. (2013) Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America,110,25, 10135-10140.
  2. Ibid.

So That’s Why I Fall in Love with the Wrong Person

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Blame it on the chemistry.  Yes, it is chemistry that causes you to fall in love with the wrong person. That tingly euphoric feeling that is there soon after you meet that special person comes from a surge of dopamine that makes you feel so good but it also impairs your judgment.1   You then become obsessed with having the high that comes from every text, every moment with your loved one.

Yet, you aren’t really experiencing the totality of your loved one—you are experiencing only the ecstatic feeling when you are connected with him/her.  And, like any addict, you need increasing amounts and doses of dopamine in order to continue to feel the ecstasy.  What you are experiencing is “romantic intoxication”.2 Then, when your partner does not instantly reply to a text or isn’t available for an entire day, you start experiencing withdrawal.  So you frantically try to reestablish the connection as soon as possible.  At this point you don’t love the person—you love the ecstatic feeling.  And you will do anything to be with that person, even if it is the wrong one.

  1. Doidge, Norman (2007) The brain that changes itself. N.Y.: Penguin Books, p. 115.
  2. Liebowitz, M. (1983). The chemistry of love. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.

What’s Wrong with Satisfying Each Other’s Needs?

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A recent relationship advice book focuses on his needs and her needs.  The author “discovered” these top needs from interviewing his patients and others.  Of course, this is not science—it is just the opinions of a group of people. 

Men stated their top needs as:

  1. Sexual Fulfillment 
    2. Recreational Companionship 
    3. An Attractive Spouse 
    4. Domestic Support 
    5. Admiration

Women stated their top needs as:

  1. Affection 
    2. Conversation 
    3. Honesty and Openness 
    4. Financial Commitment 
    5. Family Commitment

Yes, we have these needs and often look to our partner to satisfy them.   A relationship that satisfies these needs feels so comfortable.

But what happens when your partner stops satisfying your needs? Maybe your partner lost his/her job and is having trouble finding another one.  Maybe you both are so busy satisfying the domestic support and financial commitment needs that there is little time and energy to address some of the other needs.

Is the solution to make sure there is a change?  A change where your partner shapes up and satisfies most of your needs?  Or a change where you become so disillusioned that you withdraw into your own world (or maybe into a relationship with someone else)? 

Erich Fromm, in his theory of love, stated, “Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.”1 Children are dependent on others for their needs to be fulfilled by others because they cannot fulfill many of those needs themselves.  So parental love helps a child grow through fulfilling many of the child’s needs. 

Erich Fromm went on to state that, “Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’”2 Adult relationships that are built on fulfilling each other’s needs create dependencies.  You depend on your partner to fulfill your needs rather than developing into a person that can fulfill some of his/her own needs. 

When you fulfill some of your own needs you have a mature loving relationship that is interdependent, not dependent.  For example, you can have some recreational companionship with your partner but you can also have some of it with others and even some of your recreation by yourself.  You could also have conversations with others besides your partner so that your dependence on your partner to fulfill that need is not an everyday occurrence. 

Of course you are not going to ignore your partner’s needs nor is your partner going to ignore your needs.  You just will not feel resentful when your partner demands they be met or when your partner fails to meet your needs.  You will, instead, develop a relationship based on looking inside yourself and not always just outside yourself.

Needs also change throughout one’s life.  The attractive partner need becomes less as the relationship develops into a deeper connection of minds and hearts.  The family commitment need becomes less as the children leave home (unless, of course, an aging parent moves in). 

Yes, do connect through understanding and responding to each other’s needs but make sure you are not desperately dependent on each other for need fulfillment. Give the love you have within rather than waiting to get your needs fulfilled through love.

  1. Fromm, Erich (1962). The art of loving. New York: Harper & Row, p. 26.
  2. Ibid., p. 41.

 

Disappointed?

avatars-love-399139   Disappointed? Really, really angry? Your partner failed your expectations, failed to do the right thing, failed you.

How do you express your feelings without coming across as accusing or criticizing?

First state how you feel using an “I” statement. e.g. “I am disappointed.”

Then go on to describe the behavior that occurred with that feeling e.g. “I am disappointed that you spent the entire time at the party talking with another person and paid no attention to me.”

Notice, there are no judgmental words in this statement–just a pure description of the event and behavior.

Now stop. Do not say anything else. It is now up to your partner to reply and rectify the situation.  When you have stated your feelings in this way, your partner is much less likely to get defensive and give a defensive reply.

Flirting

Whether you want to meet someone new or want to ignite a spark in your current relationship, try flirting.

Flirting begins with a smile and a glance. If the other person is interested, he/she will return the glance and hold the gaze.
Next comes preening–touching your body parts you feel are particularly attractive, such as stroking your hair.
Then lean forward and adopt an open posture, with arms uncrossed, to indicate interest in the other person.
At this point the two of you are engaging in mutual eye contact and are beginning to mirror each other’s movements. For example, if you put your hand on the arm of a chair, you will see the other person do the same.
Then comes the casual touch–you might quickly touch your partner’s arm or leg. At that point, the signal is all systems go.
Of course, either of you can stop the flirtation at any of these stages. But a lot of flirting behavior is done unconsciously so it is difficult to monitor. And, it is not what the two of you are talking about that establishes the attraction–it is what the two of you are doing.
–Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D. as reported in AOL Health (http://www.aolhealth.com/healthyliving/feature/_a/psychology-ofattraction/20081119125909990001)

Letting Go of Old Perceptions

 

Before you click on the arrow of this video, do you see three vases or do you see two people talking?

Now click on the arrow.

In love it is all about how you see yourself and how you see the other person.

How You See Your Partner

Is your perception of your partner preventing you from fully loving?  And is your partner’s perception of you preventing him/her from fully loving you?

After being together for many years, we start to see only one part of our partner–and sometimes it is a part that really annoys us.  “You are always judging what I say” or  “You should know what I need without my having to tell you,” you may be thinking.  Maybe your partner sometimes does accept what you are saying without judging it.  Or maybe expecting your partner to read your mind is unreasonable.  Yet, we tend to see only the behavior that annoys us.

To free yourself from limited perceptions of your partner, try writing down some of the behaviors that your partner seems to frequently exhibit.  Then, next to each behavior, write a behavior that is the opposite of that behavior.  For example, if you wrote, “My partner is a slob” you could write, next to it, “Sometimes my partner cleans up his/her messes.”

When we try to see the totality of our partner instead of just the part that annoys us, we are opening up to loving our partner more fully.