Relationship risks in the Passion-Attraction Model, part 2

August 9, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog

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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