Tag Archives: #love

How Can You Avoid Settling in Your Relationship?

Research shows why the solution to settling isn’t having higher expectations.

Make no mistake, expectations for today’s relationships are higher than ever.[1] Thanks to technology, you have hundreds of options for partners a swipe or click away. With so many possibilities, relationships are a choice. That freedom is a lot of responsibility. It also complicates decision-making and makes evaluating your relationship more difficult.  

No one wants to settle. A love life full of mediocrity isn’t an option. It’s relationship F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out). Careful though, if you’re too concerned about being single, you’re more likely to accept a relationship that falls short of your expectations.[2] You don’t want just any romantic partner, you want the right person for you. The secret to avoiding settling seems simple: Have high standards and demand only the best. 

Only the Best

The perfect relationship. If you could build it, what would it look like? Perhaps more importantly, how does your current relationship stack up? Perfection is a lofty goal, but for something as important as your relationship, it can feel like the right goal. Researchers refer to people who always want the absolute best possible option as maximizers.[3] Maximizer personalities are picky and will exhaust all options and explore all possibilities to secure the flawless partner. Only the best will do.

If you’re thinking long-term in your relationship, the maximizer method seems like common sense. However, there are hidden side effects. Call it the myth of maximization, because the research reveals that maximizers report, on average, more regret, depression, and feeling threatened by others who are doing better than them.[4] Maximizers also seem to experience lower self-esteem, optimism, happiness, and life satisfaction. 

Here’s another problem: Maximizers prefer reversible decisions or outcomes that are not absolute or final.[5] That’s not how we typically approach love. In our long-term relationships, we tend to prefer more of a “til death do us part” approach. However, the maximizer mentality may encourage an “until I find something better” approach. Temporary contentment and happiness due to the possibility of something slightly better on the horizon. 

What You’re Missing

Not only does this feel shallow, it’s shortsighted. The constant search for upgrades and maximization opens you up to an even bigger mistake: failing to recognize the truly great relationship that’s right in front of you. 

There’s an old saying: “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” In other words, before you let go and lose something valuable, take matters into your own hands. Instead of wondering, “Is there something better out there?” the better question to ask yourself may be, “What am I taking for granted or failing to appreciate in my current relationship?” 

Rather than cast aside a great relationship because you’re worried about settling, find the “knots” that help you to hold on so you can avoid the mistake of letting it slip through your grasp.

References: [1] Finkel, E. J., Cheung, E. O., Emery, L. F., Carswell, K. L., & Larson, G. M. (2015). The suffocation model: Why marriage in America is becoming an all-or-nothing institution. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(3), 238–244. [2] Spielmann, S. S., MacDonald, G., Maxwell, J. A., Joel, S., Peragine, D., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2013). Settling for less out of fear of being single. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(6), 1049–1073. [3] Parker, A. M., de Bruin, W. B., & Fischhoff, B. (2007). Maximizers versus satisficers: Decision-making styles, competence, and outcomes. Judgment and Decision Making, 2(6), 342–350. [4] Schwartz, B. Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing: Happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1178– 1197. [5] Shiner, R. L. (2015). Maximizers, satisficers, and their satisfaction with and preferences for reversible versus irreversible decisions. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(8), 896–903.

Copyright of this article totally belongs to Dr. Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., who is a Professor and former Chair in the Department of Psychology at Monmouth University. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Couple Life: Dating Apps Don’t Destroy Love (Psychology)

Contrary to earlier concerns, a UNIGE study has shown that people who met their partners on dating applications have often stronger long-term relationship goals, and that these new ways of meeting people encourage socio-educational and geographical mixing.

Mobile apps have revolutionised the way people meet in Switzerland and elsewhere in recent years. Unlike traditional dating sites, these apps do not feature detailed user profiles but are largely based on rating photos using a swipe review system. As dating apps escalated in popularity, so has criticism about them encouraging casual dating only, threatening the existence of long-term commitment, and possibly damaging the quality of intimacy. There is no scientific evidence, however, to validate these claims. A study by the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, provides a wealth of information about couples who met through dating apps, drawing on data from a 2018 Swiss survey. The results, published in the journal PLOS ONE, indicate that app-formed couples have stronger cohabitation intentions than couples who meet in a non-digital environment. What is more, women who found their partner through a dating app have stronger desires and intentions to have children than those who found their partner offline. Despite fears concerning a deterioration in the quality of relationships, partners who met on dating apps express the same level of satisfaction about their relationship as others. Last but not least, the study shows that these apps play an important role in modifying the composition of couples by allowing for more educationally diverse and geographically distant couples.

The meteoric rise of romantic encounters on the internet is on its way of becoming the leading place where couples are formed in Switzerland, on a par with meeting via friends. “The Internet is profoundly transforming the dynamics of how people meet,” confirms Gina Potarca, a researcher at the Institute of Demography and Socioeconomics in UNIGE’s Faculty of Social Sciences, and holder of an Ambizione research grant awarded by the Swiss National Science Foundation to study the effects of digital ways of communicating on marriage formation and sorting. “It provides an unprecedented abundance of meeting opportunities, and involves minimal effort and no third-party intervention.” These new dating technologies include the smartphone apps like Tinder or Grindr, where users select partners by browsing and swiping on pictures. These apps, however, have raised fears: “Large parts of the media claim they have a negative impact on the quality of relationships since they render people incapable of investing in an exclusive or long-term relationship. Up to now, though, there has been no evidence to prove this is the case,” continues Dr Potarca.

Facilitated encounters

The Geneva-based researcher decided to investigate couples’ intentions to start a family, their relationship satisfaction and individual well-being, as well as to assess couple composition. Dr Potarca used a 2018 family survey by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. The analysis presented in this study looks at a sub-sample of 3,235 people over the age of 18 who were in a relationship and who had met their partner in the last decade.
Dr Potarca found that dating websites – the digital tools for meeting partners that preceded apps – mainly attracted people over the age of 40 and / or divorcees who are looking for romance. “By eliminating lengthy questionnaires, self-descriptions, and personality tests that users of dating websites typically need to fill in to create a profile, dating apps are much easier to use. This normalized the act of dating online, and opened up use among younger categories of the population.”

Searching for a lasting relationship

Dr Potarca sought to find out whether couples who met on dating apps had different intentions to form a family. The results show that couples that formed after meeting on an app were more motivated by the idea of cohabiting than others. “The study doesn’t say whether their final intention was to live together for the long- or short-term, but given that there’s no difference in the intention to marry, and that marriage is still a central institution in Switzerland, some of these couples likely see cohabitation as a trial period prior to marriage. It’s a pragmatic approach in a country where the divorce rate is consistently around 40%.” In addition, women in couples that formed through dating apps mentioned wanting and planning to have a child in the near future, more so than with any other way of meeting.

But what do couples who met in this way think about the quality of their relationship? The study shows that, regardless of meeting context, couples are equally satisfied with their lives and the quality of their relationship.

Couples with a diverse socio-educational profile

The study highlights a final aspect. Dating apps encourage a mixing of different levels of education, especially between high-educated women and lower educated men. Partners having more diversified socio-educational profiles “may have to do with selection methods that focus mainly on the visual,” says the researcher. Since users can easily connect with partners in their immediate region (but also in other spaces as they move around), the apps make it easier to meet people more than 30 minutes away – leading to an increase in long-distance relationships.
“Knowing that dating apps have likely become even more popular during this year’s periods of lockdown and social distancing, it is reassuring to dismiss alarming concerns about the long-term effects of using these tools,” concludes Dr Potarca.

Reference: Potarca G (2020) The demography of swiping right. An overview of couples who met through dating apps in Switzerland. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0243733. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0243733 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0243733

Provided by Universite de Geneve

Should You Worry When Your Partner “Needs Some Space?” (Psychology)

Wendy Patrick shed some light on personal and relational reasons for taking a break.

“I just need some space.” Hearing these words from a partner can create anxiety, fear, and a sense of dread. But according to research, it shouldn’t. Far from signaling doom and gloom, seeking solitude, at least in short periods of time, can actually help, not harm, your relationship.

The Sanctity of Solitude

Jerry M. Burger, in a piece entitled “Individual Differences in Preference for Solitude,” notes that for some people, being alone is a desirable, pleasant experience, which does not make them lonely, and may actually be beneficial through stimulating self-reflection.[i] Many of us can relate to this, either personally or with respect to others in our family or social circle, who genuinely enjoy their own company. Being alone, they do not experience solitary confinement, but comfort. They may, in fact, crave this special time to relax and recharge, after which time they are more receptive and responsive—to you.

Solitude can also be calming and helpful to regulate emotions. Thuy-vy T. Nguyen et al. (2018) examined ways in which solitude impacts affective self-regulation.[ii] The scientists began by acknowledging that some prior research demonstrates that solitude can produce positive experiences when people use it for relaxation, privacy, creative pursuits, self-reflection, and regulation of emotions.

In their own research, they found that solitude generally deactivates affective experiences, reducing the effects of both positive and negative high-arousal. They found these effects only occurred when people were alone, not with others, and found this effect was present whether or not someone was engaging in activity while alone, such as reading. Perhaps most relevant to relational dynamics, they discovered that solitude can produce relaxation and reduce stress when people actively chose to spend time alone—which could explain the request for “space.”

Home Alone: Accommodating Aloneliness

Another reason to accommodate (reasonable) requests for time alone is that researchers have determined that some people not only crave time alone, but feel anxious when they do not get enough.

Robert J. Coplan et al. in a piece entitled “Seeking More Solitude” (2019), introduced the concept of aloneliness, described as negative feelings associated with a perception that a person is not spending sufficient time alone.[iii] Exploring its role emotionally, Coplan et al. found that an affinity for aloneness (distinguished from shyness) was associated with well-being. Specifically, they found that aloneliness mediated the negative link between preferring solitude and well-being, and the positive link between time alone and depression.

Coplan et al. found preliminary support for their conceptualization of aloneliness as a “mirror image of loneliness” in that where loneliness can be viewed as social dissatisfaction, aloneliness can be viewed as asocial dissatisfaction. Accordingly, they found support for their assertion that aloneliness does not depend on the actual or ideal amount of alone time, but the “mismatch between these values.”

As a practical matter, Coplan et al. note that when someone feels particularly busy or stressed, this might interfere with the ability to achieve a desired amount of solitude. This would be especially true for people who enjoy and even prefer spending time alone. The inability to achieve time alone could in turn enhance feelings of aloneliness, which could lead to negative emotions and further stress—which we can imagine is not beneficial for relationship quality or satisfaction.

Temporarily Alone Means Better Together

Obviously, too much separation can cause couples to drift apart, as out-of-sight might begin to mean out-of-mind. In the short term, however, absence can make the heart grow fonder. And apparently, for many people, privacy promotes personal wellness. So especially when someone seems to be overwhelmed or under stress, remember that an expressed need for space may reflect a desire to rest and recharge. Quality time alone can produce quality time with you.

References: [i] Burger, Jerry M. 1995. “Individual Differences in Preference for Solitude.” Journal of Research in Personality 29 (1): 85–108. doi:10.1006/jrpe.1995.1005. [ii] Nguyen, Thuy-vy T., Richard M. Ryan, and Edward L. Deci. “Solitude as an Approach to Affective Self-Regulation.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 44, no. 1 (January 2018): 92–106. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217733073 [iii] Coplan, Robert J., Will E. Hipson, Kristen A. Archbell, Laura L. Ooi, Danielle Baldwin, and Julie C. Bowker. 2019. “Seeking More Solitude: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Implications of Aloneliness.” Personality and Individual Differences 148 (October): 17–26. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.05.020.

This article is originally written by Wendy L. Patrick and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

The Biggest Reason Why Relationships Fail (Psychology)

Jeffery Bernstein shed light on biggest reason. He said, “The demise of relationships is obvious yet ironically lurks below the surface.”

Have ever gone to a high school reunion? Or, did you ever become reacquainted with a long-lost friend? If so, or if you have heard about these situations from others you trust, you probably can vouch that most of us have personalities that pretty much stay the same.

While we can usually accept that people, in general, are who they are, when it comes to our intimate partner’s less than desirable traits, we tend to want to change them. Yet, trying to change someone is detrimental to a loving relationship.

The following scenario sheds light on the partners wanting to push for change: “I’ve been frustrated and miserable for years,” complains Seth. “I keep asking Linda to give me space, but things don’t appear to be changing. It feels like all the life is getting sucked out of me.” Linda reflects, “Seth likes to have his softball team friends almost over to our house every weekend. He’s clueless about my needs and I feel so alone.”

When Time For Change–Meets Time For Reality

“Your partner is likely not going to change! Loving someone (even pleading with them) just isn’t enough to change a person’s basic personality. If, for example, your partner is emotionally reserved and you are more outgoing and need outwardly expressive of affection to feel secure, you’ll feel consistently dissatisfied.”, wrote Jeffery Bernstein.

That famous song, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, includes the lines:

“And now you’re starting to criticize little things I do. It makes me just feel like crying. Cause baby, something beautiful’s dyin.”

This criticism of those “little things” usually follows on the heels of partners’ frustrations that neither one will significantly change. This is what really break down and erodes those loving feelings in your relationship.

The Fix: Stop Trying To Fix Your Partner

If you want your partner to change, start by accepting them for who they are. Noted psychologist, John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.”

Many people stay in dysfunctional relationships with the unconscious desire to change their partner. So, stop being a change pusher. Instead of trying to change your partner, focus on improving your own life. Focusing on fixing your partner can prevent you from focusing on the issues at hand.

As Jeffery explained in his relationship book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind? , it is crucial to avoid toxic labeling and name-calling and don’t attack your partner personally. Remember anger is usually a symptom of underlying frustrations, hurt, and fear. Avoid defensiveness and criticizing or, even worse, showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc..)

Changing Your Perspective Can Improve Your Relationship

When you change your view of things, your situation will change. This doesn’t mean you should acquiesce and tolerate abuse or disrespect. It means, though, that your thoughts, feelings, and consequent communication impact how you feel about your partner and their behaviors. In general, you will be satisfied or disappointed with your romantic relationship depending on how well your views of what is happening match your expectations.

Focusing On Change Can Cause Forgetting to Forgive

Trying to change your partner interferes with your ability to forgive them. Forgiveness isn’t the same as forgetting or ignoring the hurt done to you. But forgiveness does give the gift of allowing you to move on.

Give your partner the benefit of the doubt where possible. Accept that people do the best they can and try to be more understanding, at least within reason. If your relationship is basically healthy, develop a growth mindset of acceptance and forgiveness about daily disappointments. After all, none of us is perfect. The only perfect people, after all, are in the cemetery.

Take responsibility for your part in the conflicts and you will spread good will. Bottom line: Don’t let your partner’s limitations leave you overly focusing on the small irritants. For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel that they are needed and appreciated. Trying to change your partner can prevent you from connecting and staying connected and achieving true intimacy.

For more about Dr. Jeff, click here.

This article is originally written by Jeffrey Bernstein, who, is a psychologist and the author of seven books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

Loving a Loner: How to Approach the Unapproachable (Psychology)

How to Bond While Respecting Boundaries.

If you have ever been interested in someone who is more reserved than gregarious, who does not radiate the warmth of approachability, you might have wondered how to best break the ice. If you identify signs of introversion, consider that you might be dealing with a loner, and should proceed with reservation and respect.

What is a loner? Sometimes, simply someone who likes to be alone. Research has long established the potential benefits of privacy, and that some people not only enjoy solitude but actively seek it out.[i] Many people genuinely enjoy their own company and relish time alone to rest, relax, and recharge.

With respect to romantic intentions, consider that someone who prefers flying solo might not be looking to climb onto a bicycle built for two. Yet if you know that is not the case, and barring other relational exclusions (make sure you are setting your sights on someone who is single), the next question is whether dating a loner is right for you. If your idea of a great date is a crowded party or networking mixer, a loner might not be a good match. If you are comfortable one-on-one, read on.

Romancing a Recluse

Many loners are homebodies, not hermits. Viewing their residence as a cave or castle (or both), they experience time at home as a staycation, not house arrest. And regarding the motivation to mingle, some reclusive individuals simply prefer the sanctity of solitude over social activity.

If you are interested in building a relationship with someone who enjoys spending time at home, you might start with electronic communication. And if you want to talk, try an old-fashioned phone line instead of a Zoom link, because people comfortable at home don’t live camera-ready.

Inviting a loner out to dinner or to a social event is often not an invitation well-received unless he or she knows you very well first. Conversely, if after a period of remote relationship building, a loner asks you out for coffee or lunch, consider that to be a bright green light. But what will it be like to be in a relationship with a reclusive romantic partner?

Private Individuals and Public Displays of Affection

Do people who prefer privacy publicly display affection? It might depend on why someone prefers to spend time alone. Xia Jiang and Bi-hua Zhao (2017) found a negative correlation between preference for solitude and positive affection, moderated by the ability to be alone.[ii] They concluded that having the ability to be alone decreases the negative impact of solitude preference on positive affection.

Other research notes that some people not only have the ability but the desire to spend time alone, and feel anxious when they do not get enough privacy. Robert J. Coplan et al. in a piece entitled “Seeking More Solitude” (2019), introduced the concept of “aloneliness,” described as “the negative feelings that arise from the perception that one is not spending enough time alone.”[iii] Coplan et al. found that an affinity for aloneness (not the same thing as shyness) was associated with wellbeing.

Taken together, these studies appear to indicate that understanding why someone spends time alone might be key to maximizing quality time together.

Loving a Loner: Bonding Within Boundaries

Apparently, it is possible to have a healthy, wholesome, happy relationship with a loner—who values spending (some of their) time alone. Respecting boundaries, perceiving social preferences, and expressing nonjudgmental acceptance will facilitate your ability to cultivate a satisfying relationship of trust and mutual respect.

References: [i] Burger, Jerry M. 1995. “Individual Differences in Preference for Solitude.” Journal of Research in Personality 29 (1): 85–108. doi:10.1006/jrpe.1995.1005. [ii] Jiang, Xia, and Bi-hua Zhao. 2017. “Relations between Preference for Solitude and Positive Affection: Moderating Effect of the Ability to Be Alone.” Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychology 25 (3): 527–30. https://search-ebscohost-com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2017-37197-029&site=ehost-live&scope=site. [iii] Coplan, Robert J., Will E. Hipson, Kristen A. Archbell, Laura L. Ooi, Danielle Baldwin, and Julie C. Bowker. 2019. “Seeking More Solitude: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Implications of Aloneliness.” Personality and Individual Differences 148 (October): 17–26. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.05.020.

This article is originally written by Wendy L. Patrick, who is a career trial attorney, behavioral analyst, author of Red Flags, and co-author of Reading People. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Deciding Whether to Stay or Leave (Psychology)

Why partners become more or less committed to their relationship.

Leaving a long-term intimate relationship is never an easy thing to do. When things are not going well in our relationships, our minds often stray towards thoughts of how much better our lives would be without our current partner.

© Jasmine Carter from Pexels

But acting on a desire to leave requires great effort—packing our things, setting up a new life for ourselves, and making the final announcement that the relationship is over, not just to our partner but also to our family and friends. It also demands a high degree of confidence that leaving is better in the long run than staying.

In contrast, staying in a relationship isn’t so much a decision we have to act on rather than simply accepting the status quo. As long as we get up each morning and muddle through our daily routine, we are staying in the relationship, whether we’ve made an intentional decision to do so or not.

Plenty of research confirms what we already intuitively know, namely that when people are satisfied with their relationships they stay in them. However, people who are dissatisfied with their relationships don’t necessarily leave. In fact, many unhappy couples endure a life sentence together, sometimes out of perceived social pressure to do so, and other times because they’ve resigned themselves to the idea that this is the best they can do.

What then predicts whether a couple in a committed relationship will eventually break up? This is the question that Syracuse University Laura Machia and her colleague Brian Ogolsky explored in an article they recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Machia and Ogolsky pursue their research question within a framework known as Interdependence Theory. In brief, Interdependence Theory proposes that we enter into relationships to get our needs met. Of course, that also requires that we endeavor to meet the needs of our partner. Hence, the two members of the relationship are interdependent on one another.

According to Interdependence Theory, we evaluate the outcome of every interaction we have with our partner, mentally tallying each as positive or negative. If the outcomes are mostly positive, we’ll feel satisfied with the relationship. And if the negatives outweigh the positives, we’ll feel dissatisfied.

At the same time, we also compare the actual outcomes of the relationship with the imagined outcomes of being in an alternative situation instead. Even if the “balance sheet” is more positive than negative, we may still feel dissatisfied if we believe we could do even better elsewhere.

Thus, Interdependence Theory predicts that the reasons that drive us to leave a relationship aren’t just the mirror opposite of those that motivate us to stay. For example, compatible personalities, shared interests, and trust are all characteristics that people often name when they explain why they’re satisfied with their relationship. However, incompatible personalities, lack of shared interests, and broken trust are generally not sufficient, in and of themselves, to motivate people to act on their desire to leave the relationship.

The idea that people stay for different reasons than they leave is a tenet of Interdependence Theory that is generally accepted even though it hasn’t been formally tested until now. This then was the goal of Machia and Ogolsky’s study.

To examine the dynamics of staying together and parting ways in committed relationships, the researchers recruited 232 dating couples to take part in a longitudinal study. Once a month for nine months, each partner was individually interviewed about the state of their relationship.

The key question in each interview was how committed the person was to eventually marrying their partner, and this was plotted on a graph ranging from 0 percent (absolutely certain they would not marry) to 100 percent (absolutely certain they would get married). If the current level of commitment had changed, either positive or negative, from the previous month’s level, they were asked to explain what had happened in the interim that had altered their feelings.

Participants typically explained upward movements in level of commitment to positive characteristics of their partner or the relationship as a whole, such as shared interests or common friends. In contrast, they generally attributed downward movements to unfavorable circumstances that made the relationship difficult to maintain, or else they explained it in terms of conflict. This patterning of reports lends support to the prediction of Interdependence Theory that people stay for different reasons than they leave.

Afterward, the researchers used these reports to search for patterns among those who were still in the relationship at the end of nine months versus those who had left their partners. By the end of the study, almost 20 percent of the couples had broken up. Not surprisingly, virtually all of these participants reported low levels of satisfaction and commitment to the relationship at the very first interview.

Thus, it’s clear that partners who left were unhappy with the relationship. However, many participants who reported low levels of satisfaction nevertheless stayed with their partner for the duration of the study. In fact, some participants even described current difficulties in with their partner as positive events, in that they provided opportunities for growth in the relationship. Clearly, dissatisfaction with the relationship is not a sufficient reason for leaving it.

In the final analysis, only one thing predicted whether the relationship would fail, and that was the availability of alternative partners. That is to say, the couples who broke up during the timeframe of the study did so because they had left their current partner for somebody new. This finding provides strong support for Interdependence Theory, particularly the tenet that people only leave relationships when the available alternatives are perceived as better than the current situation.

We all know couples who stay together even though they’re unhappy with their relationship, and we wonder why. The results of this study by Machia and Ogolsky suggest an answer. Namely, unhappy couples stay together because they cannot imagine an alternative situation that is any better than what they currently have.

References: Machia, L. V. & Ogolsky, B. G. (2020). The reasons people think about staying and leaving their romantic relationships: A mixed-method analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/0146167220966903

This article is originally written by David Ludden, who is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Is It Right to Love Unconditionally? (Philosophy)

Susi Ferrarello, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Francisco answered what is unconditional love? Does it make us lazy human beings? And many other questions

For those who already know

You were born and that is enough, in theory, to know what unconditional love means. When at loss for words to describe unconditional love, people often point to parental love as the easiest example to explain what unconditional love actually means.

You were born and your parents loved you despite all your flaws and strengths.

Good for you! 

What about all those who struggled with the love received from their parents? Those whose parents were emotionally immature or those who were never enough for their parents; those who grew up with aloof parents or those who felt suffocated by their parental love? The rest of my reflections are for them: 

For those who have no clue

How often have you desired to be loved for who you are? How many times have you caught yourself chasing a relationship because you just wanted to be loved? Have you ever thought that unconditional love should imply sacrifice? 

Unconditional love is often the goal of an entire life and very rarely do we stop reflecting on what it is and how it can be achieved. Our instincts might drive us to fulfill our thirst for love in a chaotic way while our mind might lead us in directions that do not necessarily make our heart happy. Where is the right balance?  How can we experience unconditional love for ourselves or others?

Christian religion, for sure, dedicated refined discussions on what agape—charitable love—is and how we can achieve it. There’s an animated debate about whether we can take agape as a synonym for unconditional love. In fact, what is called agape refers to that brotherly love that keeps the community together no matter our individual flaws. Also, unconditional seems to be the love that God holds for us regardless of what we feel for God or the damages that we might  bring to God (For, God loved all humans unconditionally by sending his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins—John 3:16).

Yet, again, what if we are not Christians? What if we want to understand unconditional love in less Biblical terms? How can we be capable of this form of love? More importantly, should we be striving for this form of love? Or is it somewhat unethical being so forgiving toward ourselves and others.

Love, Ethics, and Humanistic Psychology

In the mid twentieth century, a group of psychologists rose up against the limitation of Freud’s and Skinner’s interpretations of human nature in search for a more holistic approach to human beings. Their positions were strongly influenced by existential and phenomenological philosophy—which means that they were trying to make sense of human existence as it unfolds in their life-world.

It seems that it was with the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, and then with the humanistic approach of Rogers and Myers that the term ‘unconditional love’ was first introduced under the expression of ‘unconditional positive regard’. This showed the healing power of love that developed the full potential of the human being. This term brought the sparkle of divinity to humans as it showed the importance of the unconditional acceptance of who we are in our healing.

Yet, one problem that always emerges in my practice when I talk about unconditional love has to do with the ethical boundaries. What are the ethical boundaries of unconditional love? Should we accept our children if they intentionally produce harm to ourselves and others? Should we keep loving an abusive partner?

Let’s Start with Parental Relationships

Let’s assume that parents should be an example of unconditional love for their children. Yet, how often have we encountered parents who cannot accept a son because he is gay, or a daughter because she is in love with the wrong man? In his 2012 book, Andrew Solomon reads for us a few lines from a bioethicists, Joseph Fletcher, who, in 1968, mentions a parental dilemma in relation to children with down syndrome:

“There is no reason to feel guilty about putting a Down’s syndrome baby away, whether it’s “put away” in the sense of hidden in a sanatorium or in a more responsible lethal sense. It is sad, yes. Dreadful. But it carries no guilt. True guilt arises only from an offense against a person, and a Down’s is not a person” ( Fletcher, Bard, 1968, 59-64)

This is an ethicist who clearly underestimates the power of unconditional love. In fact, now that we have higher acceptance of babies born with down syndrome, their life expectancy increased together with the quality of their life. Yet, before this, plenty of others were hidden in sanatoria or never allowed to live. 

I believe that unconditional love can be described as a force capable of bringing to existence the essence of a human being in any form it presents.

In this case, the children were the victims of blind parents. But what happens when the children are causing suffering to others? What if your children are also guilty of despicable crimes?

Let’s take Susan Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, the shooter at Columbine. When interviewed, she was asked what she would have said to Dylan if he were still alive. She would have asked for forgiveness—she said. She was feeling sorry for not having understood the sense of confusion that Dylan was feeling inside, for not having been able to see him.

Clearly, Dylan did something wrong and clearly those parents had to acknowledge the tragedy that this caused. Yet, in reviewing this recent tragedy, Susan realized that more than avoiding all the choices that led up to that catastrophic event—going to college, marrying her husband, having that child—what she would change is paying more attention to the human being she was raising to know who he was and accepting or at least seeing his essence.

This acceptance does not erase the ethical wrong he personally did; it just gives existential justice to his soul. This person is no longer the whole cluster of projection of his parents’ dreams and regrets but he is his own existence. 

Same problems arise in abusive relationships

Is unconditional love the ultimate goal of our lives? If we say yes, aren’t we condemned to endure abusive relationships with our romantic halves, unfair parents, or siblings? To what extent does the pursuit of unconditional love nail us to a self-sacrificing life?

I would say to no extent. Unconditional love implies the ability to see, bring to awareness the essence of the person we are living with, whether that is just ourselves or our romantic partner. 

How often do we see what we want to see in the person we have in front of us or in ourselves? In one of my previous blog posts, I was playing with the Lacan notion that “love is giving what you do not have to someone who does not want it.” I believe that there is some painful truth in this.

Unconditional love does not mean that we are condemned to accept the rightness of an abusive partner, it means that we can see his unfair violence, but we stop making excuses for them in the pointless effort to justify our life in relation to them. 

Unconditional love means to be compassionate toward our child, partner, or ourself especially after the realization that not all the expectations are met; it means to have eyes to see what kind of life is unfolding in front of (and within) us and to have a heart big enough to accept the social implications of that life—whether that involves having a son who is a mass murderer or a daughter who wants to devote her life to justice. Human capacity to love unconditionally is a means to living a meaningful life. 

To conclude with a quote from Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning: “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the essence of another human being unless he loves him”.

References: (1) Frankl, V. (1946). Man’s Search For Meaning, Beacon Press. (2) Fletcher, J. & Bard, B. (1968). “The Right to Die”, Atlantic Monthly, 221, 59-64. (3) Solomon, A. (2012). Far from the Tree, Simon & Shuster.

This article is originally written by Susi Ferrarello, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Francisco, and a philosophical counselor and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

Why Do We Like Holiday Movies? (Psychology)

Holiday movies offer hope, joy, love, and the promise of a kinder world.

Using entertainment for comfort, escape, and positivity can be an important antidote to COVID stress and Zoom fatigue. Holiday movies are a reliable and popular choice. Media companies have noticed, and some have upped their investment in holiday “feel good” movies. For example, according to the LA Times, Mar Visa entertainment has gone from investing about 10% of its development funds in holiday movies to about 50%. Why? Holiday movies make us happy.

©Getty Images

Psychologists talk about happiness by distinguishing between two types: hedonic and eudaimonic. Hedonic happiness is what we feel from sensations of pleasure and enjoyment. It tends to be more transitory, like eating chocolate. Eudaimonic happiness comes from experiences that create a sense of meaning and purpose and tends to be with us longer. Both kinds of happiness are important and contribute to overall well-being in different ways.

With holiday programming, we can experience both hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. We feel positive emotions when we respond to humor, romance, a beautiful location, appealing actors, or a satisfying ending. Holiday movies can also create a more profound sense of meaning by restoring hope and the promise of social connection, love, and purpose. The message is there, no matter how convoluted the plot. We can go along for the ride, suspend disbelief and revel in the simplicity because we know where we’ll end up, and it’s someplace we all want to be. 

Holiday movies have a reputation for being predictable and often disdained for their “cheesy-ness” and stereotypical characterizations, low(er) budgets, and reliance on tropes. They blend bits of rom-com and light drama with an infusion of seasonal inspiration about the meaning of generosity, caring for others, and family. They are guilty pleasures that make us feel good—we don’t expect critical acclaim. We want reassurance that the world will be put right, especially now when everything feels so upended. The characters face challenges, a disillusioned or an ill-fated hero struggles, makes sacrifices, and ultimately achieves not just happiness but the true meaning of holiday spirit through romantic connections or familial reconciliations.

The predictability provides comfort; no matter how outlandish, unbelievable, or simplistic, the plot taps into real emotions. The predictability means we also enjoy re-watching favorite Holiday movies, like White Christmas, because the familiarity feels good. We all want to feel connected and “home” for the holidays. These movies can trigger memories and shared experiences that make the holidays more meaningful. 

Holiday movies also tend to be family-friendly and can be a good option for multi-generational entertainment. You can organize a family watch party, coordinating viewings across multiple households. Everyone can make popcorn and watch the same movie at the same time. (Check out the Netflix’ TelepartyHulu’s Watch Party, or Disney’s Plus Party.) Just because we can’t be together, doesn’t mean we can’t do things together.

If you’re feeling guilty indulging in a holiday movie, don’t. If anyone in your family gives you grief, tell them it is cinematherapy. Holiday movies bundle together highs and lows, so we get the psychological and physiological benefits of laughter and empathy. Laughter can impact brain levels of neurotransmitters similar to antidepressants and can minimize your responses to threats like COVID anxiety. Laughter also can lower stress hormones that can damage our cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune systems over time, increasing vulnerability to diseases. Similarly, positive emotions such as hope, empathy, awe, gratitude, and joy have longer-term psychological benefits. A steady diet of positive emotions can increase optimism and resilience and make us more open-minded, creative, and productive.  

This article is originally written by Pamela Rutledge who is the Director of the Media Psychology Research Center and a professor of media psychology at Fielding Graduate University.  This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

Love After Heartbreak: Finding the Courage to Love Again (Psychology)

Psychotherapist Kathy McCoy, suggested some possible solutions to find love after heartbreak by sharing one of her client’s case with us.

Alicia was heartbroken – and angry with herself – after her latest breakup with a man who took advantage of her in every way, including financially – leaving her credit, her finances and her life in tatters.

Source: Teo Taras/Shutterstock

Jason was still consumed with anger and bitterness over his wife’s repeated infidelities and the pain of divorce – eight years after the fact. He said that he was convinced that “Most people are jerks and no woman can be trusted.”

Both Alicia and Jason were clients of mine who shared a heartfelt sentiment: “I’m never going to love again. Never again!”

Taking the risk of loving after heartbreak is daunting to be sure. You fear being hurt again. You imagine that there is something about you that makes it impossible for anyone to love you. You’re convinced, like Jason, that the world is full of women who cheat and male friends who betray you. You may fear, like Alicia, that your attraction to certain kinds of men or your own behaviors will doom your love life forever. You may be fearful about trusting another and being vulnerable to hurt. You may feel empty without another in your life and rush out to find a new love –only to be disappointed again.

It is possible to find love after heartbreak, to find joy with another if you give yourself time to reflect on what happened and to resolve your feelings about the past before moving on. What can help?

1.     Give yourself time to grieve and reflect.  Working through your grief will help you to let go of your former love and free you, in time, to love another. Reflecting on what went wrong – and your own part in the relationship not working – can keep you from making the same mistakes over and over.

2.     Forgive the other person and yourself. Forgiving doesn’t mean saying what happened was okay or that you can just forget the pain. Forgiving your ex and yourself frees you to begin to let go so that you can start moving on with your life.

3.     Work on rebuilding good feelings about yourself and life on your own. Do things you enjoy. Spend time with friends you might not have seen as much when you were with your ex-love. Re-discover the positives of being on your own. Think about all you have to offer friends, family and, eventually, a new love. Celebrate who you are – perhaps with the help of a therapist who can work with you to explore the ways you can grow toward new possibilities.

4.     Avoid assumptions that keep you mired in the wreckage of your past relationships. Just because your ex-love was a liar and a cheat doesn’t mean that the next person you meet will be like that (unless you go looking for someone just like your ex). Jana, a client whose first marriage ended because her husband was unfaithful and whose subsequent relationship crashed and burned due to her constant suspicion and accusations, came to therapy contending that “All men are dogs. They all will cheat given the opportunity. So why should I trust anyone? I HAVE to check a guy’s phone to see who he’s calling and texting. I HAVE to keep tabs on where he is at all times. Otherwise, I’ll get hurt again.”  It took some time for Jana to realize that she was allowing her unhappy marital experience to keep the pain going and squeezing the life out of new relationships with her vigilance. In time she was able to let go of those old assumptions and begin to trust a new man in her life.

5.     Be aware of old relationship patterns – either of attraction or of your own actions. Have you been hopelessly addicted to bad boys? Or to beautiful women who let you down emotionally? Or to relationships where you rescue or otherwise try to change another? 

My friend Ann fell hard for a long string of bad boys and flawed men starting in her teens and extending through middle age.  “I finally asked myself ‘Why?’ after all this time,” she told me. “Initially, I dated bad boys mostly as a form of rebellion to shock my parents. But my parents have been gone for a long time. And these guys have caused me so much grief and pain in my life. It’s time to be good to myself – which means enjoying time alone and holding out for a guy who will treat me well.”

When you’re aware of your own pattern of behavior in relationships, you can begin to make positive changes. My client Tessa decided that she could satisfy her need to help others through her work as a nurse – and not try to rescue and change the men in her life.

Sometimes changing even one behavior can make a major difference. Julianna, another client of mine, had a pattern of rushing in to help men who were down and out – and ended up nearly homeless herself as a result. Now she’s mindful of the need for boundaries in her relationships and for finding ways to help that don’t make a lover’s problems her own. “My current relationship is with a guy who had a good job and secure finances – before the pandemic hit,” she told me recently. “Then he lost his job. I didn’t rush in offering money. Instead, I’ve listened to him vent, voicing his frustration about job-hunting. I’ve just supported his efforts to get through these hard times. And he’s doing well, living on his unemployment benefits and savings as he looks for a new job. And our relationship is better than ever.”

6.     Be open to someone who is different. This doesn’t mean deliberately seeking out the polar opposite of your ex. It means keeping an open mind in getting to know someone who might be different from the type of partner to whom you’ve been attracted in the past. It might mean putting less emphasis on looks and more on the capacity to share emotionally. It might mean looking past old male or female stereotypes to someone who can be both a friend and a lover. It might mean taking a new look at your values and what really matters to you on the way to finding someone who could be a true partner in your life.

7.     Give love time to grow. We’ve all experienced the sad trajectory of rebound relationships that happen too soon after heartbreak. But it’s also important to be mindful of the importance of giving a potentially good relationship time to develop. It’s tempting to give in to the thrill of romance, swept away by the excitement of a new love at last. Taking things a little slower this time around, building a solid friendship with each other, letting trust grow and vulnerability show, enjoying each step along the way can help love to be not just lovelier but also more enduring this time around.

This article is originally written by Kathy McCoy, who is psychotherapist, journalist, and speaker and the author of books including We Don’t Talk Anymore: Healing After Parents and Their Adult Children Become Estranged. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses. To read original click here.