Human Sexuality > Chapter 6

Chapter 6: All about Relationships

Relationships are a basic aspect of human interaction and as such, comprise many different types. Cultures around the world have different ideas, customs and beliefs regarding relationships, and different relationships also incorporate a wide variety of attitudes, traditions and expectations.

For example, in some cultures around the world, romantic love is discouraged within family relationships because it is believed that romance and love can actually damage a family unit. This damage is created when an individual places more importance on his or her own feelings within a relationship than on the needs of the family unit. Such an attitude regarding marriage and family may seem odd to individuals living in the Western Hemisphere.

In the West, romantic relationships are the reason for dating, marrying, and creating a family. They are encouraged and expected. While the search for love, companionship, and intimacy gradually develop within any relationship, the wide disparity of attitudes regarding romantic relationships just go to show that there are many different types of relationships sought after around the world.

Looking for Romance?

What do you look for in a romantic relationship? Ask ten different people, and you're likely to get ten different answers. Every individual may define romance in a different way. Men and women also look at romance from different perspectives.

In addition, men and women often exhibit different behaviors and expectations when it comes to developing relationships. Invariably, most women would like to see their male partners exhibit more emotion and expression, while many men would appreciate it if women took more initiative when it came to love making and experimentation.

This is not to imply such stereotypical attitudes to every man or woman, but merely to introduce the concept of totally different attitudes when it comes to romance, relationships, and expectations among young, middle-aged, and older individuals. Indeed, such expectations may become even broader in cross-cultural relationships. Thanks to the Internet, online dating has served to introduce the blending of Western and Eastern cultures when it comes to relationship expectations, traditions and customs.

Individuals in Western countries are only now truly beginning to appreciate the difference between cultural definitions of marriage as well as what is expected of each partner in such cross-cultural situations.


As individuals are unique, so too are relationships. However, common relationship patterns are often observable in any social community, and that goes for heterosexual relationships, as well as those among homosexual and bisexual individuals. Different types of relationships can be categorized as:

  • Romantic/courting/dating
  • Marriage
  • Relationships between adult family members
  • Relationships between parents and children
  • Friendship

Every individual’s attitudes or feelings regarding relationships will influence how he or she approaches each type of relationship. For example, gender roles and gender identity play a large role in how any given individual will approach dating, engagements, marriage, and parenting. Recent studies have shown that over 75% of Americans get married and enjoy heterosexual relationships, although nearly 50% of relationships belong to same-sex couples with a history of monogamous behavior.

The only difference between the attitudes of such couples is a legal one. In many states, it is still illegal for gay couples to marry, although the attitudes and behaviors of such couples closely mirror those of heterosexual relationships. While such couples often designate themselves as "domestic partners" many government entities still do not recognize permanency of such relationships when it comes to paying taxes, sharing property or raising children.

Attitudes regarding same-sex relationships and marriage differ around the world. For example, same-sex couples are allowed to legally marry in Denmark and Norway, and both Sweden and Iceland recognize civil weddings and ceremonies between same-sex couples. In Hungary, while same-sex marriages are not permitted, same-sex partners are allowed to inherit pensions or property from a deceased partner.

In most cultures, men have been seen as the major heads of family and "protectors" as well as main providers for thousands of years. In most cases, this definition and division of power is often seen more in heterosexual relationships than those among same-sex couples. As a matter of fact, the relationship between same-sex couples is often founded on what can be called a very close friendship, and is more equal than many found in heterosexual relationships.

While many heterosexual couples do equally divide expectations, responsibilities and financial obligations, the division of power is often one-sided or at least encourages the leading of “power” toward one partner over another within the relationship.

It can be said however, that heterosexual as well as same-sex couples often engage in the same type of progress of growth development and sharing. Well-adjusted couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, often go through the same "growing pains" typically found in most heterosexual relationships. Each partner must learn how to live together with another, to give and take, to compromise, and to grow in experience and expectations.

Family Relationships

Family relationships are difficult to fit into one specific concept. Every family is different and diverse. In most cultures, the term family relates to blood relatives or legal relatives. In other cultures, as well as sexual orientation, a family may be a group of two or more individuals who are committed to each other, a family unit, or a community.

The relationship between couples in a marriage and that produced within a family unit are different. For example, the concept of love within a family unit incorporates the love we feel for a spouse or partner, and the love we feel for sons and daughters. In many cases, the relationships between parents and children are often strained, as are relationships among extended family members. Each relationship brings with it the attitudes and expectations of each individual.

Homosexuals, bisexuals, and heterosexuals approach relationships, sexual behavior, and gender identity differently. Heterosexual relationships most often structure themselves following traditional and expected general roles, and these rules are often displayed and expected within the overall family unit. It's easy to see how upbringing, experience, and the environment can heavily influenced attitudes and beliefs when it comes to defining a relationship or a family unit.

Love and Relationships

Many of us might find it extremely difficult to envision a relationship without love and intimacy. However, keep in mind that every individual may see love as something different than yourself. Love has been written about, talked about, and expressed since the dawn of man, and fills our books, our music, and our philosophy. Love is an aspect of humanity and human sexuality that plays a very important role in our growth and development.

Have you ever met anyone who doesn't have a desire to be loved? Have you ever met anyone who claims to be perfectly content without the love or interest of another individual? Many of us automatically assume that every individual has an inborn desire to be loved, an issue that is as important as sleep, water, and sustenance.

But what, exactly is love? Again, ask ten different people and you may receive ten different answers. Even the terms “loving someone” and “being in love” may mean different things to different individuals. Love can change over time and develop from lustful infatuation to a deep and endearing companionship with another human being.

As mentioned earlier, are expressions or beliefs regarding love for our parents are different than the love we feel for a partner or spouse. According to detailed psychologist Robert Sternberg, love involves several values or considerations that include:

  • Intimacy
  • Commitment
  • Passion
  • "Empty love"

Intimacy is defined as the greatest emotional aspect of love, which creates feelings of closeness and emotional connections and sharing. Passion is often equated with sexual arousal, while commitment is defined as in individual’s conscious decision to stay within a relationship. An empty love relationship is defined as one that exists despite a lack of both passion and intimacy.

[QN.No.#31.According to psychologist Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love,the greatest emotional aspect of love is:]

Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love

In the mid-1980s, a psychologist by the name of Robert Sternberg introduced his Triangular Theory of Love. Sternberg proposed that love develops when three similar yet distinct components are present in any relationship. According to him, the strength of each of those values will determine the type of love a person will experience. If all three components are present and strong, "ideal love" will be achieved.

Sternberg believed that when a person feels intimate with someone, they share an emotional connection and an automatic desire to express feelings with one another. Passion is the force that drives one person to another and brings with it not only intense emotional feelings, but strong sexual urges as well. Basically, passion is the driving force of sexual energy found within such a relationship.

Commitment, according to Sternberg, is the mental aspect of a love relationship that is conscious and aware of choices as well as motivations. When combined, Sternberg believed that intimacy, commitment, and passion create specific types of love.

For example, according to Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love, intimacy plus passion equals romantic love. Romantic love is defined by Sternberg as emotional and physical attraction to another individual without a long-term commitment. However, intimacy plus commitment equals companionate love. Companionate love is defined as a long-term relationship, almost a friendship that develops in a marriage after passion ebbs. On the other hand, passion plus commitment equals fatuous love. Fatuous love is defined as a relationship that is initially quite passionate, but lacks the intimacy that creates a long-lasting relationship. It is only when intimacy, commitment and passion joined together in equal relationships bit the ultimate, or consummate love is achieved. This type of love is exceedingly difficult to reach.

[QN.No.#32.Consummate love equals:]

Love Colors

Sternberg isn't the only one to introduce a love theory. In the early 1970s, psychologist John Allen Lee broached his theories on love that involved six different types of love, but while similar to Sternberg's, divided love into categories, much like primary colors. Lee’s theory was introduced in an earlier lesson and included the terms Eros, Ludus, Storge, Pragma, Mania, and Agape type love.

According to Lee, the term Eros was used to define passionate love based on strong physical attraction or arousal toward another individual. Ludus is defined characteristics of individuals enjoy "the chase" of love, as well as being "in love" and "falling in love" with another. In this relationship, we believed that sexual attraction and bonds of love began as close friendships, but did not enjoy long-term results.

This theory of Lee’s also proposed secondary love types; among which Pragma, Mania, and Agape were numbered. As mentioned earlier, Pragma type love suggested a practical love relationship that was based on logic and the advantages of being engaged in a specific relationship. Manic love, known as mania, is one of the processes of types of a love relationship, which often results in possessiveness or obsession with another individual and often leads people in trouble. Agape type love, as defined by Lee, is the display of selfless love traits and characteristics that enable one person to place the needs of a partner consistently ahead of his or her own.

The Two-Component Theory of Love

Burscheid and Walster broached another theory on love in the early 1970s. Their theory followed that the concept of love was based on companionship and passion. For example, companionate love is a type of relationship that enjoys security and trust, and is similar to that introduced by Sternberg that involves commitment and intimacy. This companionate love is also similar to the storge type of love that is described by Lee’s theory.

Passionate love, according to Burscheid and Walster, defines a relationship that is built on physical and sexual arousal as well as extreme emotion.According to this theory, the feeling of needing to be "in love" is the main component of passionate love.

Burscheid and Walster were not the first to introduce the two-component theory of love. Back in the early 1960s, Schachter’s Two Factor Theory of Emotion defined companionate love as the direct result of equal communication within a relationship, as well as mutual liking and respect.

Regardless of who broaches theories regarding love, one thing is often agreed upon by all individuals, and that is that in order for any type of relationship or love to last, couples must be able to trust and respect each other, as well as engage in complete honesty with one another. Concepts of loyalty and support and care or concern for partners are also essential to a successful and loving relationship.

Why Do We Love?

Why are some of us attracted to certain individuals? Why do we feel such a strong desire to love and be loved? Research into human dynamics has realized the need to belong is a fundamental human desire. Humans are social, and on some level, each and every one of us want to feel included in relationships, groups, and society. In many situations, our self-esteem and confidence in ourselves is enhanced or limited by our ability to feel connected to others in a variety of situations and relationships.

But why do we love a specific person? How is it that we ultimately choose a specific individual with which to develop a loving and hopefully lasting bond? What is it that we look for in a companion, partner, or spouse? Of course, every individual is going to desire, want, or need different things in his or her life, but what are the characteristics and traits involved in finding satisfying and loving relationship the same in all humans?

Because of the growth of the Internet and the growing popularity of online dating, choosing sexual partners and potential lifelong partners is no longer limited to their proximity. While most of us frequently become attracted to and fall in love with individuals we see every day at school, at church, or at work, this is not necessarily the case for everyone.

Of course, constant social interaction with specific groups or people often encourages individuals within such groups to date. Studies have shown that the chances of meeting "your one and only" are quite good that he or she may live within walking distance of your home, school or workplace.

Similarity or "sameness" is also an important factor in engaging in potentially romantic relationships. We naturally gravitate toward people who share values, cultural interests and traditions, and attitudes. As a matter of fact, the more we have in common with a potential mate, the more chances of developing a strong relationship with that individual. While there is a common saying that opposites attract, there is no conclusive research that has determined that those with dissimilar attitudes evolve into a closer relationships than those with similar attitudes.

Another important factor in deciding or choosing romantic partners is reciprocity. If we know someone likes us, studies have shown that we more likely to gravitate toward that person whose feelings we are in certain about. Knowing that another person likes or respects you helps generate an initial sense of belonging as well as helping boost self-esteem and confidence to pursue such a relationship.

What about "love at first sight?" Many people consider such a concept to be a fairy tale or a cliché. However, studies have shown that in many individuals are attracted to people we find exceedingly handsome or beautiful, and while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, today's society expresses prevalence for those who are attractive; people who have the perfect body, perfect weight, and features that cultures deem physically appealing.

[QN.No.#33.Important factors in engaging in potentially romantic relationships are:]

Our concepts of desirability differ around the world. Regardless of culture, most men and women around the world who seek partners want to be "in love". Nearly 90% of cultures around the world follow some concept of romantic love, but that is not the only criteria for successful and long-lasting relationships. In most cultures around the world, other factors that lead to successful relationships include:

  • Stability
  • Dependability
  • Sincerity
  • Kindness
  • Financial stability
  • Social status
  • Age

As you can see, relationships comprise a wide variety of considerations that are not limited to merely overwhelming passion or emotions. As every individual may feel different aspects such as those listed above are important in the development of any relationship, so too do cultures that express different standards of what is considered beautiful.

Preferences and physical attributes and build are often varied in different cultures and areas around the globe. For example, Western cultures such as that in the United States prefer thin women to plump women, while in Australia, aboriginal tribesmen find plump partners more attractive. Some cultures prefer women with sagging breasts, as opposed to those with firm breasts. In cultures such as India, Indonesia, and China, a bride's virginity is not only highly valued, but expected by men. However, men from Nordic countries such as Norway and the Netherlands and Sweden find virginity irrelevant.

It can be said that most cultures around the world view love as one of the most basic requirements for entering into the state of marriage. However, in some cultures such as those found in Pakistan and India, love is not an automatic prerequisite to entering into this state. In many other cultures, including those found in Thailand and Mexico, the concept of romantic love is considered to be "icing on the cake".

Some of the most desirable characteristics and traits among cultures around the world place a high importance on are dependability and emotional stability, and while most people would love to have in a physically attractive partner, standards of beauty and attractiveness differ and should be accepted and understood by anyone entering into a relationship that crosses cultural boundaries and traditions.

The Concept of Love Schemas

Many of us continue to look for love while others seem to care less. What causes such a difference in individuals? In the mid-1990s, Hatfield and Rapson theorized that love schemas (different views or expectations regarding individuals in partners in a love relationship) are most often based or determined on comfort levels, as well as independence and degrees of closeness and desire within any given relationship.

Researchers Hatfield and Rapson defined a person who seemed uninterested in any type of a romantic relationship as being totally uninterested, or only interested in casual relationships that require low maintenance. However, they described any person interested in a love relationship as being categorized into one of four groups:

  • Clingy
  • Skittish
  • Fickle
  • Secure

Secure individuals personify characteristics such as self-confidence as well as a comfort level that involves independence and intimacy. Skittish individuals are seen to be uncomfortable with intimacy, although comfortable with their “State of Independence”. A fickle individual wants a loving relationship, but is uncomfortable with independence and intimacy. However, the secure individual is comfortable and self-confident.

Regardless of scientific methodologies that purport to define relationships into certain categories, most of us consider love to be an emotional and intensely personal journey of self-discovery that involves physical attraction, proximity, similarity, reciprocity and communication.

Behavior, Relationships, And Intimacy

Personal attitudes and behavior offer all of us clues as to how someone else might be feeling. There are times when many of us just want to be left alone to think, to relax, or to rest. However, voicing such requests or demands when someone is angry with you or vice versa carries with it completely different connotations. Why is that?

Many of us attribute our own perceptions and beliefs into seemingly innocuous comments or requests within social groups or relationships. In some cases, many of us tend to feel hurt or offended if a partner in some way, shape or form says or does something that seems to imply a lack of concern, feelings, or attitudes toward our own feelings or behavior.

Many of us are looking for validation with our partners, and are overly sensitive to criticism. Many of us respond to such criticism with defensiveness. However, when it comes to developing an open and well-developed physical or sexual relationship with another individual, we must always remember to improve and enhance communication.

Think of it this way. Your partner or spouse may have done ten considerate or thoughtful things for you in the past week, but one slip of the tongue, misstep, or action can literally erase all those gestures in the blink of an eye. Because of this, couples need to learn how to control emotions in such situations in order to prevent a breakdown of communication.

Also consider that throughout any developing relationship, people can change their minds, attitudes, and behaviors. When met with disagreements between couples, many are compelled to try to fix the problem, feeling that not doing so will irreparably damage the relationship. However, couples that invariably agree to disagree often find themselves growing closer because each is able to retain their beliefs, attitudes and identity without endangering the relationship.

Men and women argue and fight differently. However, it can be said that both men and women are ultimately seeking support, affection, and acceptance. While the strategies to reach their goals may be different, both understand the end result. It's generally understood in social circles that men strive to avoid conflict, while women have a hard time accepting and understanding emotional distance from their male partners. In many cases, women perceive such emotional distance as lack of interest, care, or concern. Men generally don't tend to like to discuss problems within relationships, while women strive to discuss problems in order to repair relationships.

So how do problems get resolved? Basically, by following this five-step approach to improving communication, couples with differing attitudes regarding avenues of discussion or dialog to discuss problems may prove beneficial:

  • Choose a time and place for discussions
  • Focus on a specific problem and don't stray onto other subjects or disagreements
  • Give each other equal time to speak. (Some Native American tribes utilized on what was called a "talking stick". Whoever held the stick spoke without interruption. When he or she finished, the stick was passed on to the next individual). Common respect for each participant in any discussion encourages open communication.
  • Refrain from blame or attacks and focus on solving problems
  • Agree to disagree. Agree to take breaks if necessary before a solution has been reached. Lay the ground rules prior to such discussions and stick to them.

Sexual problems within relationships can be resolved in the same manner. Effective communication regarding sex and sexual behavior within any relationship enhances the foundation upon which successful relationships are built. Sexual self-disclosure is defined as the extent to which the partners in a love relationship are comfortable with and willing to reveal their sexual desires, backgrounds, fears, fantasies, and preferences.

Sexual self disclosure enables both partners to express or discuss their sexual needs and desires, their fears and concerns, their questions were fears regarding sexually transmitted diseases or infections, as well as what each individual may like or dislike when it comes to sex or sexual behavior. Couples who enjoy open communication should also be able to safely express both positive and negative sexual experiences of their past, as well as sharing sexual morals and values.

While many individuals may feel uncomfortable about exposing their deepest most personal feelings, thoughts and desires regarding sexual behavior, attitudes or beliefs in relationships, doing so enhances communication and helps build the bonds that create strong and lasting relationships.

Why Relationships End

Many types of relationships encourage and stimulate both verbal, physical as well as sexual communication, but in many cases, relationships end and communication either breaks down or falters. Some of the most common reasons why relationships fail include but are not limited to:

  • Low self-confidence, self-esteem, or insecurity
  • Excessive jealousy
  • Lying or cheating
  • Isolation
  • Faulty or ineffective communication
  • Decision-making imbalances or power imbalances
  • Violence

Our next lesson will focus on the sexual aspects of relationships and balances of power, and will explore the reasons that initiate or propagate a failing relationship as well as different types of abusive relationship, and the aspect of physical, emotional, or sexual assault and its aftermath in a variety of social or sexual relationships.

Understanding what a healthy and non-abusive relationship is, is often based on your sexual philosophy, as well as your ability to recognize cycles of abuse or violence. There are many different types of relationship abuse, and understanding your own sexual health and the signs of a potentially abusive relationship will be explored in detail.

Human Sexuality > Chapter 6
Page Last Modified On: February 17, 2015, 11:42 AM