From time to time, our romantic relationships can be difficult to understand. It is confusing especially to the woman whose husband continues to cheat on her and for the life of her cannot understand why he would beg her not to leave, yet will get caught cheating over and over again. Part of this confusion of love and sexual desire stems from the fact that our relationships are influenced by three powerful, yet separate, emotional systems.
Often these three emotional systems work together to create satisfying outcomes. But, that is not always the case. Sometimes these three emotional systems compete with each other—leading to mixed feelings and confusion. You can read about cultural construction of Reddy’s The Making of Romantic Love.
The first emotional system is sexual desire. Sexual desire involves the lustful, sexually passionate feelings people have for each other. Sexual desire is a very intense and powerful emotion; it can cloud one’s judgmental and prompt risk-taking. Sexual desire is often based on physical appearance, novelty and the chemistry between two people. And while sexual desire motivates a lot of our behaviours early on in a relationship, intense levels of sexual desire are difficult to maintain with the same person over the course of time.
The second emotional system entails love. And love, in and of itself, is composed of a complex set of feelings. Love often entails feelings of closeness, genuine appreciation, and concern. But, the experience of love is not the same for everyone. For some people, love is delusional and needy, or based on emotional game playing, or experienced as the desire to take care of another person. I will not get too much into it here, however you know what I am talking about. Click to see elements between lust and love.
The last emotional system involves attachment. Attachment is the feeling of security and comfort we get from being close to someone else. Attachment provides a sense of stability, certainty, and safety—the feeling that someone will always be there for you in a time of need. And, like with love, there are individual differences in the experience of attachment, it is all making sense now doesn’t it?
Again, these three emotional systems can work together to produce a healthy and satisfying relationship. Love and sexual desire can turn into feelings of deep intimacy, resulting in a lasting attachment.
However, these basic emotional systems do not necessarily work in sync over the course of time. Long term, it can be difficult to find one person who consistently satisfies all three needs. In many cases, these three emotional systems work against each other—creating competing desires and interests.
For instance, it is possible to be attached to one romantic partner, be in love with someone else, and still have sexual desire for another person. This is where you have to make a choice, because choosing to experience all levels of the emotional systems with different persons can cause a breakdown with one or more of the individuals involved and at the end of day may be left with an unhealthy situation.
Love and Sexual Desire
Being aware of these competing emotions, and that not everyone experiences love and attachment in the same way, often helps make sense of the problems that arise in our romantic relationships.