Love and CommitmentTerm Paper

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¶ … progression of committed romantic relationships is a notable topic of interest for psychologists and sociologists. As this literature review demonstrates, changes in behaviors, attitudes and feelings tend to accompany the growth of a committed relationship over time. Issues that threaten the relationship, such as a decline in physical intimacy, poor communication, conflict and a misalignment of perceptions can all serve to diminish the feelings of love as these problems persist.

A decline in physical intimacy is one of the most common indicators that a romantic relationship is in decline. According to Regan (2004) psychological research has demonstrated a strong correlation between sexual activity and feelings of love in couples who have committed to one another either in terms of marriage or cohabitation. When sexual activity begins to fade, the chances of the relationship dissipating, or at the very least, a dissipation of the feelings of love on behalf of the individuals involved, is likely to occur.

Other indicators of disengagement in loving, committed relationships revealed in the literature include poor communication and an inability to effectively handle conflict. Vangelisti and Crumley (1998) emphasize the importance of non-hurtful communication in romantic relationships, asserting that disassociation on the part of one partner can be even more hurtful to the relationship that verbal insults.

The literature additionally demonstrates that a misalignment of perceptions, or in colloquial terms "he said-she said" situations, are primary indicators that a relationship is disintegrating. In fact, one of the things that couples disagree most about is exactly what the turning point was that caused their relationship to fail (Baxter and Bullis, 1986). Each of these indicators is discussed at greater length in the following literature review.

Understanding Psychological Changes in Loving Committed Relationships

Literature Review

Many couples find that the nature of their love changes once they enter a committed relationship (Note: for the purposes of this paper, committed relationship is defined as engagement, co-habitation or marriage). The purpose of this literature review is to examine how and why feelings and behaviors tend to change in couples who have committed themselves to monogamous, long-term relationships. This topic will be reviewed from a psychological viewpoint, with a specific focus on the psychosocial contributors to the changing nature of love in committed relationships.

The Significance of Sexuality and Passion

One of the most common behavioral changes that occur in long-term, committed relationships is a decrease in sexuality activity (Acker & Davis, 1992; Henderson-King & Veroff, 1994). According to Regan (2004) "Research conducted with individuals involved in ongoing romantic relationships…supports the association between sexual desire and passionate love" (p. 120). When couples are able to keep their passion and sexual desire for one another at an intense level, then they are more likely to keep their feelings of love alive as well (Kumar & Dhyani, 1996).

Christopher & Specher (2000), who reviewed a decade's worth of studies on intimacy, report that numerous studies have revealed that the feelings of love an individual has for his or her committed partner are significantly reliant upon the amount of sexual intimacy as well as the perceived quality of sexual intimacy. However, studies also show that "sexual intimacy has been found to be a weaker predictor of love or of general relationship quality than have other forms of intimacy, including degree of affection expressed...and supportive communication" (p. 1000).

This begs the question: 'Does romantic love always have to include a sexual relationship to be considered actual romantic love?' Romantic love has been defined in numerous ways in the psychological literature. Amato (2007) asserts that "romantic love is a strong emotional bond with another person that involves sexual desire, a longing to be with the person, a preference to put the other person's interests ahead of one's own, and a willingness to forgive the other person's transgressions" (p. 306) While sexual desire is the first item on the list in this definition, other important aspects of personal intimacy are included as well. This seems to indicate that while sexual intimacy in committed relationships is important, it is not all-encompassing. Other factors, such as communication, can affect the feelings of love and the behaviors exhibited in a committed relationship as well.

The Importance of Communication

Since the beginning of time, couples in intimate relationships have had difficulty communicating successfully. Many find that these problems are based on innate differences between men and women. Dr. John Gray for example, author of the bestselling book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus believes that "men and women differ in all areas of their lives. Not only do men and women communicate differently but they think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently. They almost seem to be from different planets, speaking different languages and needing different nourishment" (1992, p. 5).

While gender differences are certainly a partial explanation for communication problems in relationships, to say that this is the only factor would imply that same-sex couples are immune to miscommunication. Obviously that is not the case. There are in fact a variety of factors that contribute to a lack of effective communication and problem solving abilities in interpersonal relationships.

The literature reveals a multitude of information about the etiology and outcomes of hurtful communications. Vangelisti and Crumley (1998) assert that hurtful behaviors and negative communications between individuals can be categorized as either "acquiescent," "invulnerable" or "active verbal." If the interaction is "acquiescent" then it is non-confrontational but subtly hurtful. If the interaction falls into the "invulnerable" category, then the individual is likely to put up defenses that minimize the hurt. Finally, if the interaction is classified "active verbal" then it is confrontational to the point of aggression, seeming almost like an attack.

The Influence of Conflict

Conflict is inevitable in long-term committed interpersonal relationships. The amount and the type of conflict in the relationship can have a significant effect on the intensity of the love and commitment embodied by each partner. Guerrero and Jones (2005) conducted an observational study in order to determine the role that conversational skills affect the way conflict is handled in romantic relationships. They discovered that anxiety plays a significant role in how conversations proceed during times of conflict, particularly in regard to avoidance. The higher the level of anxiety in the individual is, the more likely they are to walk out on a heated conversation or avoid an uncomfortable conversation entirely. This type of avoidance can diminish the feelings of love and commitment in the partner of the individual practicing avoidance because he or she begins to feel that their partner is not as invested in the relationship as they are, which causes them to withdraw emotionally (Guerrero & Jones, 2005).

According to Acitelli (1998) emotional withdrawal, also known as disassociation, is generally linked with reticence, and withdrawal behaviors that are used as messages in creating distance with others or withdrawing oneself from direct interaction. Because criticism, disappointment, and momentary rejections are a part of intimate life, developing a thicker skin can be a healthy means of not simply surviving, but thriving in intimacy. While these negative behaviors will never feel good, accepting their inevitability can reduce one's outrage and feelings of being attacked. Moreover, occasional (not constant) criticism can be growth-inducing because it challenges one's typical ways of behaving. Equally, periods of inattention can foster self-reliance and reduce dependency. Conflict in a relationship does not have to be a destructive element if it is handled maturely and with open communication (Baxter, 1988).

Conflict may occur for one partner as a dissatisfaction with the present stage of the relationship (Collins & Read, 1990); or between partners, as in a disagreement over the definition of their relationship (Carnelley, Pietromonaco & Jaffe, 1996). Conflict may also occur as a discrepancy between each partners' views of their relationship and the view that is held by members of their respective social networks (Beebe, et al., 2004); that is, they may see themselves as a perfect match while their friends and family see them as a total mismatch. Sometimes the lack of approval from family and friends can be the trigger that sets of a failed relationship. Other times, the turning point is either less or more definitive. Identifying the turning point in relationships is a substantial part of psychological evaluations of relationship development.

The Turning Point

Nearly fifty years ago, Bolton (1961) identified the significance of "the turning point analysis" in romantic relationships, and its importance in analyzing the progression of those relationships. Since then, numerous scholars have integrated a "turning point analysis" into their studies of how and why certain relationships succeed while others fail. The primary focus of these analyses is the manner in which the relationship changes over the course of the commitment period.

Baxter and Bullis (1986) recognized that studies of relationship disengagement, the expression of the words "I love you" and physical affection all centered around certaing turning points. These studies highlight the intricate details of how close romantic relationships evolve. Baxter and Bullis assert that turning point… [END OF PREVIEW]

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