Love is often thought of as the most important aspect of a relationship. In a society run by popular-culture, love is often the first and foremost consideration in any decision. In the media, love trumps careers and opportunity or even friendship (sometimes) and family among other things. Without love, there is nothing. From your run of the mill TV shows (watch Gossip Girl for one episode and your head will be spinning from all the love related nonsense), to the stories in the news; where love stories are one of the few things that pop up out of the death counts and tragedies. It’s been this way for a while too, anyone who studies Romeo and Juliet in high school will be well aware of that.
Unfortunately, this assumption is fatally flawed (was that a Shakespeare pun?). In fact, researchers are starting to believe that love has less of a role in relationships than we could have imagined. One area of study recently has focussed on the differences between your standard Western marriages and those that have been arranged. Basically, it seems to be the case that arranged marriages are associated with the same amount of love and relationship satisfaction, if not more! This finding is very consistent and leads into some interesting questions. Today, we’re going to give you The Dirt on one. This finding basically tells us that love has very little to do with how much we love someone. If love isn’t as important in creating deep, loving and satisfying relationship, what is?
For this, we’re going to consult what has been called ‘the backbone’ of psychology’s approach to intimate relationships. Hal Kelley and his colleague John Thibaut developed what is known as Interdependence Theory. Basically their work showed us that relationship substance and satisfaction is largely a function of the ways each person influences each other. A very important scholar for romantic research delves into this a little deeper. Ellen Berscheid‘s research tells us that the substance of a relationship is in the number and strength of the connections people have. The more each person relies on the other, the stronger they feel about each other. They might be your study buddy, your gym spotter, your Wednesday night dinner companion. They might have given you a pen or a necklace for your birthday. These are all connections, or as psychologists call them, interconnections. The amount of love we feel for each other comes down to how much influence they have in our lives (called ‘meshing’), or perhaps more accurately, the more holes there would be in our life if they were to leave. Quite obvious in hindsight really. But the important thing to note is that the research supports it. What’s more, the research shows that ‘love’ really doesn’t have much to do with it at all. It’s the interconnections that really determine the depth and the substance of a relationship.
So, Tina Turner had it right (at least in the chorus… I have no idea what the rest of that song is about). So what can we take away from this?
- Relationships are about interconnections. More of these (more meshing) equals a deeper relationship.
- But, there’s a downside. When a relationship dissolves, more of these means more time spent thinking about what we’ve lost.
- So we need to manage our interconnections. Make sure that as we become closer, it’s a product of desire not an accidental product of how much they’re in our lives.
- If we want to become closer, build those interconnections, mesh in as many ways as we can. Check out our article on Familiarity, and how this one type of interconnection can really boost your attractiveness.
- And finally, if a relationship is on the outs, we need to make sure we walk carefully. Break it off too fast and we’re going to struggle to get over it quickly. Go on a ‘break’ to sort things out and we run the risk of losing those interconnections and consequently losing the relationship (yep, that’s exactly why you rarely hear of someone going on a ‘break’ getting back together again).
Is your relationship really on the outs? We’ll tell you how to find out here. Or maybe you should check out our mini-series on easy ways to build and create these inter-connections! Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and ‘the good life’ at The Dirt Psychology.