What Does Passionate Love Really Mean?

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There are all different kinds of romantic relationships. Some types of romantic passion are super intense, then the intense feelings burn out quickly. Others maintain a slow burn for years to come. Relationships progress in different ways, but what’s pretty universal is how those early stages of passion can make us all feel a little crazy. (Quite literally, as we’ll soon discuss below.)

Understanding the different types of love can be helpful for clarifying what kinds of relationships really can stand the test of time. While enduring passion remains a social and cultural ideal for romantic bonds, it may not be as desirable as you might think.

Here’s what you need to know about passionate love—and the truth about what kind of love may be even better.

The meaning of passionate love—and compassionate love

The scientific term “passionate love” is defined as “a state of intense longing for union with another.” This definition was coined by social psychologist Elaine Hatfield, who specializes in relationship science. 

It’s the feeling that many of us have experienced, one you can’t get with a long distance relationship. It’s where you feel you absolutely need to be physically with your beloved, and to be apart feels excruciating to your very soul. Your heart may ache in the person’s absence, your mind races everytime they text you and you may feel nervously excited in their presence. 

Hatfild not only defined passionate love, she also explored the difference between this early, excitable state of a relationship and a more enduring type, compassionate love. Compassionate love (which can also be called “companionate love”) is less about intense passionate feelings of lust and sexual attraction and more about having a deep sense of trust in the other person, as well as feelings of mutual respect and affectionate love. (you can read more about this form of platonic relationship here).

The hallmark difference between these types of intense romantic love is that while passionate love includes feelings of anxiety, compassionate (or companionate) love doesn’t. With compassionate love, you don’t feel that underlying sense of uncertainty about your romantic relationship. 

Signs you’re in a passionate relationship

Passionate relationships are hot and heavy, and they may leave you with more feelings of anxiousness than happiness. Passion can border on obsession, causing intrusive thinking about losing your partner, negative feelings, feeling uncertain about where you stand and unsure about your relationship’s progress. 

Passionate lovers burn bright in the beginning of their romantic love but these kinds of relationships aren’t typically sustainable for very long. Here are some of the key signs of a passionate relationship more in detail so you can better understand this type of human love:

You put your relationship on a pedestal 

People in passionate love relationships idealize their romantic partners and believe they have no flaws or faults. This means that they often fail to see the red flags signaling that this person may not be the best partner for them in the long term. At the very least, they ignore any warning signs of incompatibility, believing instead that any differences between them can be changed, overcome or inconsequentially brushed off as no big deal. 

You have an overwhelming desire for emotional intimacy

When you’re in a passionate relationship, you want to know your partner on every level and be known by them. Even the smallest details like how they take their coffee, what they were like as a kid or what their favorite movie is becomes fascinating information rather than just normal facts. You can spend hours messaging and talking on the phone (or being together in person) to soak up every last detail. 

You eventually feel emotionally dependent on your partner 

With passionate love, your relationship ups and down become your personal ups and down. When your union is thriving, you feel a surge of happiness. When the situation becomes rocky, you feel depressed. You can no longer separate your mental state from the state of your relationship. 

You have an intense craving for physical closeness

Emotional and physical dependence are signs you’re in a passionate relationship. You not only have strong sexual interest in your partner but you crave being in their presence and feel an ache when you’re apart. When you’re with each other, you have a hard time keeping your hands off each other because of your sexual chemistry. 

You’ve tested your relationship on the “Passionate Love Scale”

Hatfield, along with sociologist Susan Sprecher, created what they call the Passionate Love Scale, which is a set of questions that helps you determine if you are indeed in a passionate relationship. 

Some of the questions include things like:  

  • Do you feel a powerful emotional and sexual attraction to this person?
  • Would you be devastated if your partner left you?
  • Do you think about your partner constantly?
  • Does your relationship sometimes make you feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster?
  • Do you feel depressed or anxious when your relationship is in question?

If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, your relationship is in the passionate stage. 

Are passionate relationships good for you?

When it comes to your general well being and overall happiness, passionate relationships are not in fact the best for your mental health. In fact, the way people act when they’re in a passionate relationship can be compared to having behavioral addictions, almost like the way our bodies react to having obsessive-compulsive disorder or doing drugs. 

Passionate love alters people’s brain chemistry, causing them to crave their partners, feel euphoric on the good days (and anxious on the bad days) and even experience withdrawal when they are not with their beloved.

In short, this kind of love really can make you feel like you’re going insane—because, according to your brain, you are. Because of the constant ups and downs of passionate love, you may even experience self esteem issues, doubting yourself when things aren’t going so well. This can be because people who seek out and stay in passionate relationships can sometimes have more anxious attachment styles that crave the excitement and uncertainty of these roller coaster relationships. 

Why you should seek out a compassionate relationship

Almost every relationship begins as passionate love, to some degree. The key to making these bonds last is allowing them to evolve into compassionate relationships. Compassionate love involves feelings of longing and desire, without all of the anxiety. You get the lasting romance and the happiness of love without the intense highs and lows.

Not every passionate relationship will become a compassionate relationship. If you and your partner are not well matched or your relationship is rooted more in sexual interest than emotional connection, you likely won’t make it past the purely passionate state.

Here are some of the key qualities of compassionate relationships so you know what to look for:

Desire for long term commitment

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For compassionate love to work, both people need to be on board with long term commitment. They don’t get bored when passionate love wanes and want to move on to the next fiery relationship. Instead, they look forward to the more “boring” phase of a union and the comfort that brings. 

Secure attachment styles from both partners

Compassionate relationships often require people with secure attachment styles, as these  securely attached individuals tend to feel more at home with long-lasting, steady love. As mentioned, those with anxious attachment styles tend to seek out relationships that feel comfortable to them—they are drawn toward bonds that replicate the highs and lows they are used to. Attachment style isn’t a fixed quality, however: If you feel like you are drawn toward anxious types or are one yourself, you can work on forming attachments that are healthier for you. 

Deep sense of emotional intimacy

Compassionate love relationships are defined by their emotional closeness. Partners are not emotionally dependent on each other in an unhealthy way but rather mutually invested in the relationship emotionally. They can tell each other anything without judgment or worry. They don’t need to second guess the other person’s feelings. 

Mutual respect and trust

Passionate love is intense and exciting but often you’re not always sure about where you stand with the other person. Compassionate love, by contrast, doesn’t leave you guessing or worrying about the direction of your relationship. Your union is solid and you and your partner are equally invested in your relationship. 

How to keep the passionate love spark alive in a compassionate relationship

While compassionate relationships are quote-unquote healthier for you mentally, they can lack that exciting, falling in love feeling that many of us crave. To keep that passionate love spark alive, you may have to put in more effort than you used to at the beginning of your relationship.

This means scheduling date nights (and even sex) to make time with your partner a priority. It could mean getting dressed up when you’d rather wear sweatpants. It may mean putting in some extra effort around the house to take the load off your partner. Small gestures of love can reignite that passion, even leaving little love quotes for them or something similar, to let them know you care. Sometimes that’s all you need to give your relationship a little boost. 

The important thing is that you don’t worry too much about the fact that you’ve lost that spark. Know that this is just a normal part of a romantic relationship. While passionate love burns out quickly, compassionate love endures over the long haul. Many of us have been taught through movies, TV shows and other media that “real” love should forever give you butterflies and that you should spend decades staring dreamily into your partner’s eyes. This is not the case.

Yes, you may still find your partner attractive after many years in a compassionate relationship but it’s okay if you don’t gasp in ecstasy every time they enter the room. The exciting fervor of your early days inevitably gives way to a steady intimacy that will sustain you both as you grow old together. While that may not seem overly passionate, it’s still a very romantic notion.

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