We are attracted to others at some level even when we are just friends. Some people have many platonic relationships with the opposite sex. Others find that they lose interest in such friendships unless they become sexual. They have the expectation that eventually someone should be attracted to them. This depends on a person’s personality and emotional makeup. Those who have few friends may depend on a lover for companionship more than others. They may have a higher than average expectation for the quality of their relationship with a lover.
Sexual or romantic attraction is different and can involve strong emotions. When we are attracted to someone we talk about the ‘sexual chemistry’. Speed-dating works because we assess people within a few seconds of meeting them. Many of the attributes that cause us to be attracted to another person are instinctively assessed on first meeting. We identify with the way someone expresses themselves: the sound of their voice, their body language and their facial expressions.
Especially in the early days of the relationship we can feel an electric thrill from touching, hearing or seeing the other person. Infatuations are strong emotional attachments where the feelings are not reciprocated and are common among younger people. Infatuations do fade but they can be highly emotional while they last. When we are young the novelty of the emotions can give rise to tremendous emotional highs and lows. If we feel overwhelmed by feelings or despondent, confiding in someone we trust and getting their support, can help keep things in perspective.
Some couples decide to make a serious commitment to each other and this may involve deciding to have a family. Some couples want to document their relationship through a legal marriage in a civic office.
Others prefer a religious ceremony. A core concept within marriage, whether a couple has religious beliefs or not, is that once married the couple have a high degree of commitment to each other. A wedding can be a way of communicating the new relationship to the wider family. A big celebration (as well as being fun) can help emphasise the responsibility involved in making a long-term commitment to another person.
Some couples don’t want to have children. Marriage is also simply a commitment between two people to spend their lives together. Every marriage is different and depends on the personalities and beliefs of the two people involved. Not everyone wants to get married. Some couples decide to have children without getting married. In the past and in some societies today there can be shame and embarrassment associated with having unmarried parents. Today it is accepted in many parts of the world. There is still a taboo over a child being the result of an illicit affair.
Initially when we fall in love or we are attracted to someone there is some pleasure to be had in romantic fantasies and spending time with them. But once we have confirmed that our feelings are not reciprocated then the situation becomes more negative. If a relationship is causing us to be unhappy then it is a negative one. We should end it as soon as we can without causing unnecessary offence to the other person. Children should be able to recognize caring behaviours and exploitive behaviours. Children should understand that healthy relationships make both people happy.
Unhealthy relationships are where people use intimacy, sex or a show of affection to get what they want: to manipulate, to exploit or to dominate. Arguing is normal but disputes should be constructive and aimed at improving understanding so that the same situation does not arise again. Both parties must communicate their feelings and justify their actions.
Community-living involves individuals diversifying (being different to those around them) but also being dependent on others for their daily needs. The stresses of everyday life (made worse by any drug or alcohol addiction) cause individuals to have difficulties coping. This sometimes results in couples having domestic arguments or fights.
Sometimes adults continue in unhealthy relationships. They may want security and continuity. They may believe the other person doesn’t intend to be the way they are or that they can’t help being how they are. They hope the situation will improve. They are afraid of change or of being alone. They can’t easily find alternative affordable accommodation. Splitting up a family home is extremely upsetting and inconvenient.
Many couples, especially if they have children, try to stay together in the belief that a marriage should be continued at whatever cost. If a couple is always arguing, fighting or unhappy it may be better to end a bad marriage. A couple may separate initially and then divorce, which legally ends their marriage. Couples divorce for many reasons. The key reasons are sexual differences and financial problems as well as general incompatibility.
… there seems to be no single factor which is more important for the maintenance of a marriage than the determination, the will that that marriage shall be maintained. (Alfred Kinsey 1953)