Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Love Triangle – the Three Pillars of Love in a Romantic Adult Loving Relationship: Intimacy, Passion and Commitment (Social and Personal)

Over my 33-years of work as a licensed psychologist, one of my areas of expertise was marriage and couples counseling. A therapeutic intervention technique that I frequently found to be helpful during my first session with a couple was to review with them what I called The Love Triangle. Basically, I drew a diagram for them – a triangle with words on each of the three sides. And while drawing the diagram I would say to them something like: “As a result of my years of working with couples, I have concluded that the three pillars of love are intimacy, passion and commitment.”

Starting on the left side of the diagram, I would continue. “I found that in ‘good’ adult loving relationships people tend to have a high level of social intimacylike holding hands when you are in a restaurant, gently touching the other person on his or her earlobe as you walk past them at a social gathering, or inviting her to sit on your lap for a few minutes while you are at a barbecue. Personal intimacy, is when you wake up at 7:00 o’clock on a Saturday morning and, even knowing that you do not have to get up because you have no where to go, you just lie there, watch each other breathe and cuddle and nuzzle simply for the pleasure of being together in that way.

Another pillar of an adult loving relationship is passion. Social passion is demonstrated, when, for example, you run up to me at the airport and throw your arms around me as soon as you see me coming down the gateway, or when I sneak up behind you in the kitchen and throw my arms around you and give you a big hug. Most people tend to think of personal passion as being associated with love making.

Last, but not least, is commitment. An example of how social commitment can be demonstrated is when I get a call from you telling me that your car has broken down and I immediately drive to meet you and help you out of the situation. Personal commitment includes the connotation ‘There is only room for one person in my heart, and that is you!’ Do you have an understanding and appreciation for these six critical aspects of love in an adult loving relationship? If not, I would be more than happy to discuss any of them further with you.” Then, after I concluded that both individuals understood and appreciated these six critical considerations, I would say to them, “For the moment, I am going to assume that if the two of you had high levels of these six aspects of your relationship, you wouldn’t be here. And, if this assumption is accurate, then I would like for each of you to tell me, from your own individual points of view, where are the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship? Or, said another way, where is the good news and where is the bad news – or simply, ‘what needs fixin’?”

When I first met with Audry and Doug, who “came to see me because they were having serious marital problems,” I asked them, “Are there any other people involved?” Audry immediately began to cry.

Doug looked at me and with a saddened voice and said, “I had an affair.” When I reviewed the love triangle with Audry and Doug and asked them “Where are the strengths and weaknesses – what needs fixin’?” their responses were readily understandable.

Doug, for example, replied with, “I think, Dr. Emener, that my sense of personal intimacy and personal passion was missing so much from my relationship with Audry that I unfortunately lost control of myself and had an affair. I am not saying that it was Audry’s fault – I totally hold myself responsible for what I did. And I definitely feel terrible about it. The truth of the matter, however, is that prior to my having the affair I was definitely not feeling any sense of personal intimacy or personal passion in my relationship with Audry.”

While wiping her eyes and pointing to the Figure, Audry said, “Now part of the problem that we have is that I do not feel any sense of personal commitment from Doug whatsoever. And what really scares me is that I do not feel that I may ever again be able to feel any personal commitment from him since he had the affair.”

As he reached for Audry’s hand, Doug said to me, “I only wish that we had come to see you back when I was not feeling any personal intimacy or personal passion, before I had my affair!”

As Audry’s hand immediately recoiled from the mere touch of Doug’s hand, she said, “But for me, Doug, now the trust is gone – don’t talk to me about personal commitment!”

Needless to say, attending to Audry’s feelings of betrayal and Doug’s feelings of guilt was only the beginning. It was clear that if the two of them wanted to again experience the type of love that they felt toward and from each other when they were first married, they had a lot of work to do.

The one thing that I vividly do recall from my session with Audry and Doug, nonetheless, was my renewed conviction regarding the importance of intimacy, passion and commitment in an adult loving relationship. I do not know what ever happened with Audry and Doug. They cancelled our next scheduled session, never rescheduled another session, and never responded to the message I left on their answering machine asking them how things were going for them.
The only things I would bet on are that for quite some time Doug probably continued to struggle with his guilt and fear, and that Audry most likely continued to anguish in her pain and struggle with her inability to trust Doug.

After having had the opportunity to work with Richard and Janice for approximately four months, I did not see them again until five years later when I met them in a nearby shopping mall. Janice immediately ran up to me in her typical excited kind of way and, after requesting my permission, threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug. Richard’s long and hearty hand shake clearly indicated to me that he was glad to see me as well. And even though I sensed that I didn't have to ask, I did ask, “How are the two of you doing?”

Janice immediately responded with, “Ever since the last time we saw you – and that was a long time ago – the intimacy, passion and commitment that we give and receive from each other has just been wonderful!”

With some light laughter and a warm smile of happiness on my face, I responded with a tongue-in-cheek, “Oh, so you remember all that stuff we talked about?”

Richard looking deeply into my eyes, said, “Bill, we live it everyday! I can’t begin to tell you how happy we are!” After we parted, about fifteen minutes later, I glanced back over my shoulder for one last look at them as they began to blend into the crowd. In my last glimpse of them, I saw not only two very happy adults, but also two people who looked like two little kids in early summer, frolicking along on a country road, on their way home from their last day of school.

Indeed there are many important attributes, characteristics and aspects of a “good” adult loving relationship. Nonetheless, the meaningful differences between an adult relationship and an adult loving relationship are primarily vested in three important relationship attributes – intimacy, passion and commitment.

Question: How important are these three phenomena in your romantic adult loving relationship?


P.S. With the permission and assistance of my publisher, the first three chapters of my latest contemporary romance novel, Fear of Feeling Loved, are available, free for your reading pleasure. To access them, start from my Website or go to the book’s site and Click on Sample Chapters. Should you have time to read them, please let me know what you think. Thanks!


Cole Reising said...

Hi Bill!

Everything always needs to be a circle doesn't it? If one element in that circle is missing... things go out of whack...

Great post!


Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Cole,
Thanks for the compliment and extensional consideration. If I understand you correctly, you are referring to a Gestalt Philosophy of, in my words, "not only is the whole greater than the sum of its parts, but everything involved is dynamically interrelated." Actually, nonetheless, I like the way you say it, more simplistically. And, of course, there's the philosophy of, "Balance, Grasshopper... balance."
May peace and balance be with you,

Anonymous said...

There's a blog out there called The Writers' Five (http://community. where five questions are posted to ask your protagonist to get to know them better. Applying your techniques and advice is another great way for writers to get to know their characters!
Great post, as usual, Bill!
Oh, btw, check out my April 30 post!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Nienke,
I just visited your blog (and herewith encourage others to do so as well: Truly a neat idea! And as I said in my Comment to you, I am touched by your graciousness regarding my blog and Posts.
Be well, and thanks again for the Comment!