Ways to Develop Companionate Love

So, we've all heard the fairy tale endings at some point in our childhood, right?  But what really happens after the prince kisses Sleeping Beauty and brings her back to life?  Does she really wake up and pick up right where she left off years before, riding happily ever after into the sunset with the prince (who has never even met her before he presents his powerful, awakening kiss that saves her life!)?  Or do they ride off in the sunset, spend 6 to 8 months getting to know each other, then after they are already married, realize they have nothing in common, dislike each other's personalities and constantly try to change each other--  all the while having recurring fights over Sleeping Beauty's need to sleep in late on the weekends because she is a night owl and the prince is an early bird?  What if the Prince, who at the time of his life-saving kiss, thought Sleeping Beauty was the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on, only to now look at her with contempt and disdain, struggling to find anything about her he finds attractive in the least?  Do you think this couple's marriage would last?  Maybe they didn't take the time getting to know each other that is necessary for their relationship to have a solid foundation.  In Neil Clark Warren's book "Finding the Love of Your Life", he introduces the concept of companionate love. This week, Imagine Hope is exploring the different characteristics of this type of love and different ways you can work on developing companionate love in your relationship.  As we illustrated above and in our earlier blogs this week, companionate love takes time to develop.  But it requires more than just time.  It takes a lot of work and investment in the relationship.  Companionate love is a type of love (a verb), but it's also a mindset and a way of life.  When the Prince rescues Sleeping Beauty in the fairy tale, they are relating to one another from passionate love, which is fleeting.  Unfortunately, our society reinforces that this passionate love is what will sustain a relationship, which is misleading.  It's the deeper, more authentic form of a loving relationship that good marriages are based on.  So, how do we begin to develop this? 

  • Find commonalities and common purposes with each other and the relationship every day.  Remember that it's most likely the things you have in common that brought you together.  Over time, we allow those commonalities be replaced by the differences, which are often experienced in a negative light.  Activities and interests that we share with each other can keep us connected to each others "internal world". 
  • Take time to recognize the things you were attracted to in your partner to begin with, and point them out.  Take time to notice them-- as a person.  Notice the small things about them and just take them in-- look at your partner through the eyes of your early dating years.  Maybe it's the endearing way he smiles with his eyes, or the way she laughs in that adorable way-- the things you appreciated early on, but forget to notice from day to day.  It's these early glances of longing and desire that help build chemistry and connection in early dating, but we stop noticing our partner once this passionate time has faded, unless we make it a priority to remember.  When we stop noticing the other person, we open our relationships up for unhealthy things, such as affairs-- or addictions.
  • Communicate open and honestly.  Make it a priority in the relationship to show your authentic self, positive and the vulnerable side, as well.  Companionate love is a type of friendship (but deeper and more intimate)-- and who do we turn to when we want the truth?  Our friends!  Sometimes it's uncomfortable to hear, but it helps us trust them because they speak the truth in love and we know they have our best interests in mind.  With our romantic partner, sometimes we ask for the truth, but aren't prepared to hear it, because it feels too wounding and personal (even when it's not intended to be).  Being open to hearing the truth when spoken with love and for the benefit of the relationship is so important-- even if it might sting a little.
  • Turn off the cell phones, TV's, computers and other distractions-- and LISTEN.  Since the invention of Smart Phones, we tend to hear a great deal of hurt feelings in sessions with couples surrounding the constant use of cell phones.  It's hard to listen to someone when you are having a conversation via text with your BFF, or your in the middle of watching the game.  We don't do this early in the relationship (hopefully), so make it a priority to set boundaries with each other as it relates to distractions.   
  • Take risks to share your feelings on a deeper level-- let your partner really get to know you.  Let them see your authentic self.  This can feel scary and vulnerable, but it's hard to feel connected to someone on a deep level if you don't really know who they are.
  • Provide trust that allows your partner to be their authentic self.  Love them for who they are, not who you want them to be.  This doesn't mean that you always like them and everything they do, but providing trust means giving appropriate freedom to allow them to be their own person apart from you and the relationship. Recognize those needs that you should be meeting for yourself as an individual (and an adult) and don't depend exclusively on your partner for your happiness.
  • Make your partner's happiness as important as your own.  This doesn't mean that you foster codependency or become a doormat, it means that you make your partner's happiness a priority instead of only focusing on your own needs.  In Teri's example of Jack and Jane-- Jack helped out taking care of the kids/house so Jane could go running because he knew she valued that time and it made her happy.  Jane didn't like golfing, but went to hit golf balls with her husband because it was important to him that she participated with him in this interest.
  •  Have realistic expectations of your partner and your relationship.  Know that you will go through difficult times.  Be realistic about your partner in their entirety-- strengths and weaknesses.  Recognize that we can't change another person, all we can do is accept and love them for who they are.  This doesn't mean accepting unacceptable behavior, it just means stop trying to change the other person. 
  • Share your hopes, dreams, and plans for the future with your partner.  This helps you to build the relationship together, while also allowing them to see your internal world.  Dreaming about the future together can be very bonding and helps couples feel more connected and hopeful. 

 While there are many more ways to work on developing companionate love, these are a good start.  Did you recognize any that you currently do in your relationship?  What areas can you begin incorporating into your marriage?  If you haven't already read the book "Finding the Love of Your Life" by Neil Clark Warren, we highly recommend it.  It has great information for singles who are dating, as well as couples who have been married and would like to reconnect.

As always... thank you for reading!

Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.