A visual model to understand passion and attraction: The Passion-Attraction Model

August 12, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Models, Visualization

[Last week I posted a five-part series on a mental model I have for how our passion and attraction grows and wanes over time and the consequences of that pattern, according to the model. Today I’m posting them all in one post.]

Day 1:

Introducing a new model: Passion and Attraction

I’m starting a new series today on a new model, this time on passion and attraction. Everyone I showed it to told me it gave them useful insights, so I expect you’ll find value in it too. I’ll apply the model mainly to intimate relationships, but you can also apply it to anything that evokes passion, attraction, or both, like hobbies, jobs, sports, and so on.

So what does a science-trained, leadership-minded, self-awareness and emotional-intelligence focused guy have to say about passion and attraction?

I’ll start by showing this picture of my Passion-Attraction Model as a taste of things to come, for now without explanation, except that I expect you’ll find life-improving insight from a fresh and simple perspective.

Passion Attraction Basic ModelI find visualizing things makes understanding complex things easier. This model shows one way I visualize how passion and attraction evolve over time. Later we’ll see the consequences of how those feelings change.

I also showed the graph early to show something (I hope) visually appealing and intriguing before some caveats I have to cover to avoid later potential misunderstandings.

Qualifications and caveats

First I’ll clarify a few points people always ask me about before they come up.

It’s a model, not the real thing.

Before emailing me the model leaves out important information or disagrees with how you see things, please note this series presents a model of something, not reality. I’m not telling you how to think or how things are, just giving you an alternative to how you think now. If it improves your life, enjoy it. If not, you can let it go, but I recommend understanding it if you care about passion, attraction, and intimate relationships.

I’ve written about models at length in this blog. My most relevant and informative posts on models in general are “Models in General” and “A model that all models are flawed but inevitable.” They go into more depth on models and will help put the Passion-Attraction Model in context.

For thoroughness, I’ll note here my working definition that a model is a simplification of something for a purpose.

Simplification means models throw out information, which sounds problematic, but since our minds can’t comprehend everything at once, we can’t avoid simplifying. Any alternative way of looking at something throws out information too. All models, in that sense, have flaws. But, like a subway map that throws out street information to clarify subway routes, useful models can achieve their purposes more effectively for having less information.

Having a purpose means the only measure of a model’s value is how well it serves its purpose.

The Passion-Attraction Model’s main purpose is to help visualize and think about one aspect of the human emotional system — passion and attraction — and thereby help you live your life better. A side goal is to be easily communicated and understood.

Like any model it may be useful for some purposes but not others, or for some people but not others, or for you at one time but not at another. If it doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to use it.

Your experiences or goals may differ.

When I explain the Passion-Attraction Model you may find it inconsistent with your experience of passion and attraction. Or you may have different goals than its purposes help with. In those cases it may not help you. If you find it consistent with your experiences and goals, I expect it will help you in life and relationships.

Even if it doesn’t fit with your experience or goals, it may fit with your partners’ and help you understand them. Or you might be able to change it to make it work better for you.

Personally I find it useful for understanding myself better and communicating this part of relationships to others.

It models your feelings, not your behavior.

Note that the P-AM plots how you feel, not how you act in the moment or long-term strategy. Knowing your feelings, however, as a major part of self-awareness, helps guide your behavior and strategy.

Relationships involve more than passion and attraction. Focusing on them doesn’t mean the other parts mean less.

When talking about relationships, if I ask someone if they’re hungry they don’t think I forgot about their other motivations and feelings. For some reason if I bring up passion and attraction they consistently remind me there’s more to relationships than just those things.

So let’s explicitly note that relationships involve many things beyond passion and attraction. By only treating passion and attraction this model and I don’t mean those other things are less important. They are often more important. The all affect each other. As you’ll see I’ll meander among perspectives you could call reductionist, holistic, both, and neither.

I’ll refer to two main classes of other parts of relationships often so for easy reference I’ll call them: Other Feelings and Other Events.

Other Feelings

Relationships evoke many other feelings than passion and attraction — more than I can mention, but love, hate, caring, support, anger, trust, intimacy, anxiety, and many more come to mind.

When I refer to “Other Feelings,” I mean these other relevant emotions.

Other Events

Many things will influence your relationships — more than I can mention, but age, jobs, marriages, biological clocks ticking, kids, friends, family, the economy, school, and many more come to mind.

When I refer to “Other Events,” I mean these other relevant events.

The basic Passion-Attraction Model

I’ll close today’s post with the basic P-AM in slightly more detail than above. The next few posts will explore it and its consequences more.

Passion Attraction Basic Model with NotesThis plot illustrates the most basic elements of the passion and attraction many people feel when they feel passion and attraction for someone. Again, it doesn’t apply to everyone in all cases. As a model it illustrates a general case, avoiding details like a subway map showing no street-level information, making it more useful.

The horizontal axis shows time. Sometimes this cycle grows and fades in days or even one night, sometimes over a lifetime. I don’t quantify the time axis in order that this plot could apply to all time frames.

The vertical axis shows the amount of passion and attraction one feels at a given time. Since I don’t have an objective unit to quantify feelings, I don’t quantify that axis. (The scientist in me prefers to deal with at least in principle measurable quantities so I’ll note that in principle one could record many people’s reported feelings toward someone to whom they feel passion and attraction on a numerical scale over time and plot averages. Perhaps researching this model could earn an enterprising student a doctorate.)

EDIT: While writing this series, I came across this plot of a man’s texting behavior with his now ex-girlfriend on Reddit’s Data Is Beautiful page in this thread. It looks like someone found an interesting way to create data to check the model against nature.

Texts by month from Reddit

The P-AM says the amount of passion and attraction a person feels for someone, not always but generally,

  • Grows,
  • Peaks,
  • Declines, and
  • Fades away over time.

Passion and attraction don’t always rise and fall just as illustrated. Sometimes those feelings die in a moment. Sometimes they plateau for a long time or even rise for one’s whole life, never declining. If you’ve experienced these four stages, though, or know others who have, this graph and those to follow, however schematic, will likely yield useful insight.

We’d like relationships where our passion stays high our whole lives. I haven’t witnessed relationships that worked that way, though I’m sure some exist. In any case, the Other Feelings like trust, understanding, intimacy, and so on tend to increase with time, so the sum of all your relationship emotions will often increases overall even if the passion and attraction alone decrease.

Likewise Other Events come into play too, like your job, your partner’s life events, biological clocks ticking, possibly marriage, possibly kids, possibly the economy, and so on. Their effects on your emotions may dwarf your passion for one person.

Also, passion doesn’t “just happen.” You feel passion in relationships in proportion to what you put into them. As I’ve written before, you don’t find passion, you create it with your behavior and beliefs. You also contribute to how high the peak gets.

As simple as the basic model appears, it has a lot of flexibility. Tomorrow we’ll look at variations on the basic model and what they show.

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Day 2:

The basic Passion-Attraction Model in one relationship

Yesterday covered the basic Passion-Attraction Model and some caveats. Today let’s look at how the P-AM models passion and attraction in a single relationship. (Tomorrow we’ll look at it multiple relationships).

I find that the better I can visualize many ideas, the more clearly I can think about them, so this model’s illustrations help me understand my feelings in a relationship. Then I can plan and act to improve myself and understand others in relationships.

The Passion-Attraction Model in one relationship

As we’ll see, the P-AM can explain a lot of about one’s feelings of passion and attraction in relationships.

Less passion and attraction

Some people evoke less passion and attraction in us. The P-AM represents less emotion with a lower peak, as illustrated by the red curve relative to the reference blue curve below.

Passion Attraction Half HeightShorter-term feelings

Some people excite our passions and attraction faster. Those feelings may fade faster too, as illustrated by the red curve relative to the reference blue curve below.

Feelings could rise at one rate and lower at a very different rate although I don’t illustrate that effect here.

Passion Attraction Half WidthOther Feelings

Recall yesterday we talked about Other Feelings like trust, companionship, intimacy, and so on relevant to relationships besides passion and attraction.

While the P-AM models passion and attraction rising and falling, Many Other Feelings  may increase your whole life. The graph below illustrates how Other Feelings contribute to your overall emotional reward.

These Other Feelings lie outside the P-AM. I illustrate them here to show how parts of your life outside passion and attraction can factor in. Even when passion and attraction have nearly faded from a relationship, the emotional reward from Other Feelings may have grown to make the relationship more rewarding than ever.

Passion_Attraction_OtherFeelingsIn the above graph, the Other Feelings increase your emotional reward monotonically, though sometimes faster and sometimes slower. There is no guarantee your Other Feelings will always improve. Even if they do, you may have to work hard for it.

Other Events

As with Other Feelings, Other Events affect your emotions, including passion and attraction. The graph below illustrates how Other Events affect your passion and attraction.

In the example below, some Other Event boosted the person’s passion and reward. That event could be

  • starting a new company
  • winning a sporting event
  • reading a great book or web page that changes one’s perspective on life (like this one)
  • or something like that.

You can imagine that the partner of this person would suddenly experience an exciting jolt of passion they hadn’t experienced for years.

Passion_Attraction_JumpUpIn the example below, some Other Event suddenly lowered the person’s passion and reward. That event could be

  • losing a job
  • the economy faltering
  • somebody close dying
  • a pet dying
  • or something like that.

You can imagine that the partner of this person would suddenly experience a loss of passion, deflating the relationship.

Passion_Attraction_Drop

Building to last

You don’t have to accept that your passion and attraction will forever decrease. As I wrote in earlier, you don’t find passion, you create it, meaning through your behavior and beliefs you can increase your feelings toward someone.

Since increasing passion and attraction takes time, especially when another person is involved, I refer to these contributions as long-term. They include things like

  • building trust
  • knowing little details your partner likes but rarely shares
  • overcoming anxieties together
  • sharing vulnerabilities
  • knowing each other’s preferences in more and more areas
  • and things like that.

As we will see when we look at the P-AM in more areas, we’ll see how such foundations that take a long time to develop can give long-term relationships advantages over short-term ones.

Passion_Attraction_SustainedNoise: relationships rarely stay smooth for long

The graphs so far smoothed out how relationships go. We know from experience that relationships and their feelings of passion and attraction have their ups and downs on smaller time scales and less predictably than the overall cycle illustrated in the basic model.

The graph below illustrates the random, short-term ups and downs you feel in your passion and attraction for someone. The ups and downs might come from

  • arguments
  • forgetting things important to the partner
  • daily life events
  • weather
  • spending a lot of time together
  • and so on

The time scales of these ups and downs could be hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or any time scale.

Passion_Attraction_NoiseOther Feelings also have short-term ups and downs

The ups and downs that affect passion and attraction also affect other feelings, as represented in the graph below. These ups and downs result from the same causes of the ups and downs to one’s passion and attraction.

Passion_Attraction_OtherFeelingsNoiseSmoothing out the ups and downs

I expect these ups and downs create much of the uncertainty and anxiety in a relationship. Smoothing them out with these methods would promote stability.

Getting to know a partner helps you smooth out the ups and downs you feel for them. The green line in the graph below illustrates how your ups and downs might decrease over time compared to the yellow line, whose ups and downs stay constant in amplitude.

Passion_Attraction_NoiseDecreasingHow might one smooth out those ups and downs? Probably things like

  • improving conflict resolution
  • trust
  • anticipating short-term problems through experience
  • patience
  • acceptance

Creating excitement

Alternatively, someone who wants the most excitement possible and is willing to risk a relationship’s stability might do the opposite of smoothing.

Since in the graph above the amplitude of the noise on the green line decreases in time, it’s highest on the left of the graph. Note the high green point at the far left. Chance alone led to a point of high passion and attraction.

What might lead to outlying points like that? You might expect them to arise from things like stormy fights, making up afterward, alcohol, and the like. The risk of getting such high points from avoiding smoothing things out is that you increase your chances of getting equally low points.

On the other hand, if you sense you are near the peak of a relationship’s passion and attraction, the lowest your passion and attraction will go below the peak, even for high amplitude noise, would still be well above average. But the noise peaks combined with the overall cycle peak might reach levels impossible to reach otherwise. In other words, purposefully doing risky and wild things near the best times of great relationships might give you rewarding once-in-a-lifetime experiences, risking only mediocre but still rewarding experiences in the process.

Again, neither the P-AM nor I recommend acting wild and crazy and risking you relationships. The model only suggests such strategies could work. Only you can decide whether you want to act on them or not.

Wrapping up the model in one-relationship: A reasonable goal

We can now combine several of the effects modeled so far to find a reasonable goal if we want a stable long-term relationship. Besides a high peak and long duration, we’d want the green line in the graph below:

  • Unlike the blue line, the green line doesn’t decay to zero
  • Unlike the yellow line, the green line has ups and downs, which one seem too inevitable to ignore
  • Unlike the red line, the green line’s ups and downs smooth out over time.

In other words, the green line has a long-term foundation to keep passion and attraction up later in life and it smooths out the rough edges over time.

Passion_Attraction_Goal1I hope today’s graphs and discussion help you visualize your passion and attraction emotional cycles in relationships and help you plan your behavior and understanding to improve your life and relationships.

Since few of us have only one intimate relationship in our lifetime, tomorrow we’ll look at your personal growth from the perspective of the Passion-Attraction Model.

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Day 3:

The Passion-Attraction Model as you gain experience

Yesterday covered how the Passion-Attraction Model described passion and attraction in a relationship. Today we’ll look at how you might grow as a person and parter. We’ll end today with a typical goal you might work toward (before moving on to challenges and risks tomorrow).

Despite the nice clean curves in the graphs, you don’t know what curve you’re on. If you feel like you’re at the peak of a relationship, you don’t know how long your feelings will last — that is, you don’t know if you’re on the red or blue curve below, or a different curve entirely. Is your relationship about to end or will it endure?

Passion Attraction Half WidthOr maybe what feels like a long-term peak is just noise that will soon fade.

You only know the general passion-attraction cycle from experience. Hopefully you’re learning to raise and extend the peaks, smooth out the ups and downs, and not letting them affect your judgment too much.

You also don’t know what life experiences will come your way. Some you have control over or at least can predict. Others you don’t. Are you on the verge of a big jump like this?

Passion Attraction Jump Upor a big drop like this?

Passion Attraction DropYou can’t know. About the best you can do is learn to understand and lead your situation from experience.

Your relationships as you gain experience

Experience will teach you the shape of the curves you’re on. That awareness will enable you to experiment and improve your relationships.

After some experience, your history of passion and attraction may look something like this graph, showing a series of five relationships starting with

  1. A short, low-intensity one (red)
  2. Followed by a slightly more intense one (maroon)
  3. Followed by a yet more intense one (green)
  4. Followed by a less intense, longer one (yellow)
  5. Followed by a more intense, yet longer one (blue)

Passion Attraction MultipleOf course, yours wouldn’t look like that graph exactly — just that type of variety.

You might say someone with this pattern of longer and more passionate relationships is maturing and improving their relationship skills.

Many of us have a goal of forming a relationship with a high peak, long duration, passion never fading to zero, and noise fading away with time, as in the green line in this graph from yesterday.

Passion Attraction Goal

Maturity and improving relationships

The Passion-Attraction Model helps us describe some of what maturing and improving relationship skills means. They mean learning things like to

  • Know the shape of the peak you’re on and where you are on it.
  • Avoid wasting time on low-peak relationships to make time for high-peak ones.
  • Make peaks higher than they would otherwise be
    • By knowing how to create passion and attraction in your partner.
    • By communicating to them what creates passion and attraction in you.
    • By learning to contribute more confidently.
  • Have more relationships. Even ones where you get hurt, if you learn from them and don’t create too many defenses, help you create stronger later relationships.
  • Keep a long-term perspective during ups and downs of noisy periods.
  • Build passion so it doesn’t fade to zero.
  • Keep growing Other Feelings like trust, intimacy, understanding, and so on.
  • Use helpful Other Events to improve the relationship and protect it from unhelpful Other Events.
  • Create useful Other Events — that is, find ways to renew the relationship and restart the cycle with the same partner.
  • Turn unrelated parts of life into useful Other Events — for example
    • A dramatic success at your job could bring new passion to a mature relationship below its peak.
    • You could learning new values, self-awareness or emotional intelligence one from a blog (like this one).
    • You could working with a coach (like me).
    • You could take classes in something new, retire, etc

On the flip side, you also get older, which will change your values. How you value or devalue passion relative to Other Feelings will determine how you apply what you learn to increase your passion or whatever else you value.

Other Events will affect you and your relationships too. As important as they are, I’m just talking about passion and attraction now, so I leave it to you to figure out for yourself how to combine them. I’m just trying to raise your awareness to inform your decisions.

A typical goal

We want all to understand ourselves and our emotions to improve our lives and relationships. While everybody’s goals are unique, I expect many people want a relationship with passion and attraction of the highest peak, longest duration, smoothest line, and so on with someone feeling the same way about you. (As I noted two posts ago, though I’m talking about intimate relationships, this analysis applies to other passions, like sports, hobbies, jobs, and so on.)

To get that result you’ll probably have something like this graph in your life — a series of relationships improving on each other, leading to the highest, longest peak you’ve had or ever expect in your life.

Passion Attraction Goal2In a situation like the blue one, informed by the previous experiences, with a partner who feels the same way toward you, you might choose to commit to each other for the long term, balancing high but decreasing passion and attraction with all the increasing Other Feelings and hopefully helpful Other Events that affect your relationship.

Risks

I don’t know of any relationships where people just ride into the sunset and live happily ever after just because they chose to commit.

My observations tell me choosing to commit switches from one set of challenges to another. The old challenges were of growing into a person someone else would want to commit to and finding someone similar. The new ones are of making the relationship work — no less challenging, nor any less rewarding.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the challenges of passion and attraction in a relationship.

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Day 4:

Relationship risks in the Passion-Attraction Model, part 1

Yesterday’s post ended by describing a typical goal — what you hope to get if you want to commit to a relationship, at least concerning passion and attraction: an enduring relationship with lots of passion and attraction, smooth edges, and never fading away.

When you and a partner both reach that goal, many people choose to commit to each other.

Passion_Attraction_Goal2In my experience, choosing to commit doesn’t mean living happily ever after with no more relationship work. It means the beginning of a new type of work — potentially deeply rewarding work, but work nonetheless. After all, you don’t find passion, you create it with your behavior and beliefs.

Committing to someone like the blue curve above means you get the high levels of emotional rewards of all the passion, attraction, and Other Feelings you wouldn’t otherwise. But there are risks to committing too, and I’ll describe them through the model.

The three risks I’ll describe I call

  • The Gamble
  • One Alternative
  • Many Alternatives

I’ll write a section on each; two today, one tomorrow. First, a few caveats.

Caveats

First, I’ll remind you I’m not evaluating any behavior or lifestyle choice, just describing. Since the P-AM plots feelings, not behavior, I’m using it to increase self-awareness to help prepare and choose behaviors and beliefs more effectively, at least to the extent one agrees with the model.

I’m pointing out properties of the system people might otherwise ascribe to their partners and take personally. By system, I mean that the P-AM says the risks below don’t occur because your partner doesn’t love you or doesn’t care. It says they occur because whether we want it to or not, the human emotional system creates some passion and attraction for others and those feelings rise and fall. Likewise, it says you don’t feel more passion or attraction for someone other than a partner because you don’t love your partner or don’t care. It happens because you’re human.

I’ll also note that I’m trying to avoid judging while considering the feelings and actions people might respond with. Many people looking at the situations below might indignantly say “How could anyone think of leaving someone they committed to?!?”

But I’m not endorsing any actions. I’m suggesting being aware of your emotions, especially in complicated yet predictable situations. Emotions motivate. You don’t choose what emotions or motivations you feel. Your emotional system creates them automatically. My goal is to understand and create awareness without judgment getting in the way of understanding because acting without awareness often leads to counterproductive results while awareness often makes strategy obvious.

In any case, I’m only presenting a hypothetical case here anyway. We could just as well apply this analysis to your passion for a hobby or a sport.

The Gamble

The graph below illustrates a major risk in committing to a partner — that after you do, you risk finding another who excites more passion and attraction that you expect to endure longer.

Passion_Attraction_GambleThis risk increases the better your relationship skills since they attract other people to you, in particular people with great relationship skills, exactly those most likely to spark passion and attraction.

You gamble when you choose to commit that the peak feelings for the person you commit to are as high as you’ll find. It’s like choosing a wave when surfing — you don’t know how a wave will turn out until you’ve either gotten on it or let it pass. By then you can’t change to a later one or get off this one. I wrote about using this model for choosing, but the stakes are higher here.

The gamble is a great challenge for exclusivity, since the greater attraction motivates (but doesn’t necessitate) moving closer to another person. That’s what attraction means.

A marriage contract or public vows could stabilize the committed relationship by making switching difficult, but might also promote resentment. The high and growing divorce rate in the U.S. suggests this strategy is weakening, though. Having children together, sharing finances, living together, developing trust, sharing rewarding experiences, and so on also create stability in the committed relationship beyond what the Passion-Attraction Model shows. Note none of these things decrease the passion or attraction for the new interest nor increase it for the committed partner. They only increase the switching costs.

Even those who don’t believe in exclusivity can have problems with this situation since the more passionate and attractive newcomer could overwhelm and inadvertently extinguish the committed relationship (note I distinguish between commitment and exclusivity, which I consider different. I commit to being the best friend I can to my friends, but we don’t require exclusivity).

Having fights, poorly resolving conflicts, and other problems would decrease the resistance to switch partners.

As I wrote above, I didn’t write this section to give answers or endorse behavior, just to describe consequences of this model and, if you agree with the model, of being human.

One Alternative

The graph below illustrates the risk of a single alternative. It happens when you meet someone after your passion and attraction to the person you committed to decreased a lot. When you meet someone who excites passion and attraction, even someone for whom you feel less than at your peak with your committed partner, at the time you may feel more for them.

Passion_Attraction_Alternative1One person I showed this graph to immediately said “Oh, that’s a fling.” Remember, though, the graph only shows feelings, not behavior. It may show motivation for a fling, but it doesn’t show a fling. The P-AM says feeling the motivation is automatic and involuntary. Acting on the feelings is another story.

This graph doesn’t show noise. Meeting the new person while, say, fighting with your committed partner, would make the difference between the attraction to the new person and temporary lack of attraction to your committed partner even larger.

This graph also doesn’t show any Other Feelings, which could more than make up the difference in passion and attraction. If the red curve happens, say, five or ten years into a committed relationship, a couple’s love, trust, intimacy, understanding, and so on would likely count for a lot. On the other hand, short-term passion can be intense and briefly overwhelm subtle long-term feelings. Other Events like children and public vows will also increase switching costs.

Note how quickly the red curve drops below the long-term blue one. Relatively small passions tend to decrease below larger ones, especially of higher duration, especially when you’ve built solid foundations so it fades to something more than zero. This effect suggests a strategy to counter the attraction of a later alternative: build foundations that create long-term passion and attraction.

Passion_Attraction_Alternative2As the yellow line in the plot above illustrates, short-term passions and attractions like in the red line don’t have time to create such foundations. Nor can lower-strength emotions ones build them as high.

Choosing the smaller peak, if it meant losing one with a foundation for long-term passion and attraction, would sacrifice a lot from your long-term partner, to say nothing of the pain you might cause your partner and the losses to your Other Feelings and Other Events.

Building long-term confidence in your relationships

In other words, the more long-term passion and attraction you build into your relationship, the more confident you can be in it. Building long-term passion and attraction takes work. We already know that the more you put into a relationship the more you get out of it. This helps focus where to work so you don’t just work aimlessly, you build constructively.

Looking at this risk from the point of view of the model suggests unexpected benefits to thinking long-term about your relationships — more loyalty from others and less distraction for yourself and the confidence that comes with it. As I so often write, it comes down to emotional intelligence and self-awareness over merely acting in the moment. When you know how your passions and attractions evolve, you’ll know what you gain and lose with your life choices. As attractive as red option feels in the moment, if you know it will fade to below the yellow one soon enough, you can choose to improve your life most, not just enjoy the moment.

Keeping in mind other factors, knowing how your emotions evolve, thinking about other people, and building long-term value are all major parts of what I call maturity in relationships.

A bigger challenge comes in the form of a big passion that comes later in a relationship, if you haven’t built up much Other Feelings and Other Events, at least if you feel you have to give up the committed relationship to indulge in the new one. The graph below illustrates this case.

Passion_Attraction_Alternative3In this situation, the passion and attraction for the new person (the green line), though below the committed person’s now-long-ago peak (the blue line), dwarf what you feel for your committed partner and don’t drop that much below it later.

If you sense early on how high the green peak might grow and don’t have much Other Feelings or Other Events, it might make rational sense to switch. This situation underscores the importance to stability and endurance of a relationship of creating long-term passion and attraction and promoting Other Feelings and Other Events. I also believe it helps to remember situations like this happen because we are human, even among people who don’t want them to happen.

Not everyone believes in or practices exclusivity. As far as I know, science finds it nowhere in nature, and not nearly as much practiced by humans as mainstream American society suggests. Those who don’t might look at a situation like this with no problem or even excitement. They might point at my clause a few paragraphs ago, “at least if you feel you have to give up the committed relationship to indulge in the new one” and say “That’s a pretty big and dumb ‘if’ considering how often situations like this occur.”

They might further ask, “if you have enough trust, communication, and a few other ingredients, why would you and your committed partner deprive each other of acting on passion and attraction that would bring you emotional reward, happiness, joy, and so on? … If you loved your partner and knew they loved you and knew neither would leave the other, wouldn’t you want them to be happy, not to prevent it? … If you felt jealous, wouldn’t you do better to increase your trust and faith in each other over limiting your loved one’s emotional reward, joy, and happiness?”

Again, My goal in writing is only to discuss the model and its consequences, not to evaluate the morality of acting on it. Mainstream America’s puritanical heritage makes productively discussing non-exclusivity in this country challenging for many. Other cultures seem to view non-exclusivity more liberally though I haven’t lived elsewhere enough to know other cultures nearly as well.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the third risk.

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Day 5:

Relationship risks in the Passion-Attraction Model, part 2

Yesterday’s post considered a single alternative to a committed partner. If you plan to commit to someone for ten, twenty, thirty, or more years, you can expect you and your partner will meet people who, in the moment, attract you and excite passion more than each other.

Review and discussion about One Alternative

Recall, the Passion-Attraction Model doesn’t tell you how to behave, though if you feel it represents your experience it may help you respond. Nor am I evaluating possible responses. I’m only using the model to understand how people will feel in relationships.

The last section, “One Alternative,” for example, predicted that people late in long-term relationships are susceptible to a third person exciting more passion and attraction than the long-term committed partner. You could complain about that potential outcome or attack the model, but to the extent the model works, complaining and attacking won’t change things.

Alternatively, you could use the awareness to figure out how to handle such situations now that you can predict them, as I did. Potential strategies included creating long-term sources of passion and attraction with your committed partner that short-term relationships couldn’t compete with; decreasing uncertainty and noise by improving your conflict-resolution skills, and not requiring exclusivity.

Again, I’m not evaluating these strategies. Nor do I consider the list comprehensive. Just now it occurs to me you could decide not to commit to a long-term relationship to avoid risking getting hurt. I’m sure you can think of other strategies. The point of the model is to help create solutions.

On to the third risk.

Multiple alternatives

The graph below illustrates that over many years you’ll likely meet many people who might excite more passion and attraction than your long-term partner.

Passion Attraction AlternativesThis graph illustrates how after committing to someone, you can feel passion and attraction for many others for the rest of your life, often feeling more in the moment to the new person than to your committed partner. Like yesterday’s single alternative, the model doesn’t say you’ll have flings with them, only that you feel emotions for them.

Now consider these feelings arising for decades. Declining to act on your passion once might bring you closer to your long-term partner. Maybe even more so a second time. So far so good. But this model suggests you’ll have to decline acting on passions your whole life after the passion and attraction to your committed partner declines — all the more so the greater your social skills.

Many people might come to wonder if they’ve denied themselves too much, even if they love their partners. You can imagine all this self-denial, however sincere, could breed resentment.

Even people who don’t practice exclusivity, whose views made sense in the case of a single alternative might face problems with a lifetime of forming relationships with alternative partners.

We all have boundaries and we can’t list them all

Passion and attraction to those other than committed partners, exclusive or not, can strain relationships, acted on or not, especially in cases of poor communication and understanding.

Or even in cases of great communication. Consider if one person said to a partner “If you ever get involved physically with someone else I will never be able to trust you again and we will have to end the relationship.” Different people might reasonably interpret “involved physically” differently.

If no one can perfectly communicate their thoughts to another, partners will always have uncertainty about other’s boundaries. Does “involved physically” put the boundary at sex? Flirting of any sort? Prolonged eye contact? This uncertainty leads partners to consider withholding information, sharing information they prefer not to, risking crossing boundaries, living a life below their potential for passion and attraction, and so on. Who wants that? Partners (really both partners since each has their own boundaries) will feel at least some resentment, motivation to deceive, and so on.

That these effects come from a system — our having the emotional systems we do — at least helps us not take these problems so personally, which makes life easier.

Overcoming these risks

I’ll write tomorrow about strategies the P-AM suggests for the three risks I presented.

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Day 6:

Review and conclusions from the Passion-Attraction Model

What can we learn from the Passion-Attraction Model?

Passion Attraction Basic Model with NotesWhile the model can apply to everyone, we each have different values and circumstances, so we each have to choose for ourselves how to live our lives and act in relationships.

Understanding the Passion-Attraction Model and its consequences can help you understand yourself and your partners, on your own and in relationships if you feel it describes you well. (If you don’t, it may not help you, though it may help you understand your partners if they feel it describes them.) It can help you navigate your emotions and relationships and choose your behavior and partners.

You don’t have to adopt it verbatim. Like all models, it has flaws and oversimplifications, but so does any other model you would use to understand your emotions in relationships. Understanding this model may help you create a better one for your purposes.

Some lessons

The Passion-Attraction Model suggests strategies for your life and relationships. Here are some of the more effective things it suggests you can do to make your relationships enduring and stable. You probably know most of them as effective guidelines. Now you know them in the context of a visual model.

Know yourself and your partners. Understanding your emotional system helps you understand many parts of your life. This model helps you visualize how your emotions evolve, clarifying understanding and reducing confusion.

Create long-term sources of passion and attraction to keep the tail from decaying to zero, especially things that short-term relationships can’t do, like knowing small, subtle things that make your partner happy, knowing what excites your partner, giving, dressing how your partner likes, and so on.

The tail, by the way, is the passion and attraction that remains after the peak is over that decreases if you don’t work at it, but rarely fades away to zero. I should have put it earlier, but this graph illustrates tails:

Passion Attraction TailsIncrease the tail by creating other internal sources of stability and comfort, especially Other Feelings that short-term relationships can’t create, like understanding, support, trust, intimacy, vulnerability, etc.

Increase the tail by creating other external sources of stability and comfort, especially Other Events that short-term relationships can’t create, like sharing resources, having children, living together, public vows, etc.

Be aware of how external things beyond your control can affect your relationships, like the economy, aging, your jobs, your friends and families, etc. Their effects may dwarf the effects of passion and attraction.

Reduce uncertainty in your future with a partner by reducing the noise. Relationships have short-term ups and downs. Things like knowing how to resolve conflict more effectively, anticipating predictable problems, etc.

Communicate — both to understand and to be understood. You can never communicate or understand perfectly so you have to do the best you can. Sometimes that means listening more, sometimes talking more.

Be aware of the system. Being human means having an emotional system that feels passion and attraction to others whether you want to or not. Feeling attraction means feeling motivation to move toward someone even if you committed to someone else.

Understand your partner, even when you disagree. Understanding doesn’t mean agreement or support. The model applies to you as well as someone else. You know how passion and attraction feel so, no matter how much you don’t like something your partner did, you can still understand their motivation and communicate that understanding. You will influence them better if they know you understand them.

Avoid creating unrealistic expectations. If you choose to commit or become exclusive, be wary of setting expectations that you or your partner won’t still feel passion or attraction. Unrealistic expectations can ruin a relationship that could otherwise handle unforeseen events.

Be personally prepared for loss. If your commitment or exclusivity gamble doesn’t pay off and you or your partner finds someone exciting more passion and attraction, you or your partner may have to learn to accept the loss. If the losing person loves the other, they might take comfort in knowing the other will be happier. Painful as it sounds, doesn’t love mean wanting happiness for your partner?

You may not want what others do.

  • The model suggests exclusivity creates more stability at some times, non-exclusivity at others.
  • You may not want stability. Someone who can successfully create new relationships might go from one to the next and experience peak after peak of passion and attraction. Or maybe you want to experiment, try new things, and learn.
  • You may not want intimacy. Others may find greater joy in other parts of life — jobs, sports, hobbies, travel, etc — than from intimate relationships. Only you know what creates what emotional reward in you and your ability to create it.

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Bonus: Link to Day 7: How and why I made the Passion-Attraction Model graphs, which shows how I made the graphs and why I put so much time into it.

Learn to make Meaningful Connections

with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.

Including

  • Step by step instructions
  • Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
  • An excerpt from my book

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2 responses on “A visual model to understand passion and attraction: The Passion-Attraction Model

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