Passion vs. Dedication: What’s More Important In A Relationship?

The dating site OKcupid asks members to answer a variety of questions and uses the answers to predict compatibility with other members. I can’t imagine there’s much validity to this method, but I still find it interesting to read peoples’ answers. There’s one question that particularly interests me: “What’s more important in a relationship? Passion or Dedication?” To me, the obvious answer is dedication – so much so that I figured anyone who responded “passion” must not take relationships seriously enough to qualify as dating material. To my chagrin I noticed an interesting phenomena…
Literally every guy I’ve seen answers “passion”.facepalm-over-animal-ags-stupidity

Really? Really??? This forced me to do some self-reflection – am I crazy for thinking dedication is so obviously more important than passion in a relationship? Am I alone in this?? Of course, seeing that so few agree with me, I have to consider the unlikely possibility that I might be wrong. On the other hand, my background in psychology has allowed me to take classes and conduct research on human relationships, so maybe the difference between my opinion and the general opinion of the Okcupid population reflects a difference in education. I have to remember that what seems like common sense to me now is really the product of being exposed to information that most people might not receive. It’s really a shame if this is the case, because I think the value you place on passion vs. dedication in your relationship can have very real consequences. I’d like to explain my reasoning, and then you can decide if I’m crazy, wrong, or well educated (or all of the above).

Passion is important. Passion is what draws you to another person. Passion is what gives you that “high” of falling in love, and inspires you to keep coming back for more. Without passion, you’re stuck in the friend zone. While passion is necessary to begin a romantic relationship, it is only one part of a successful long-term relationship (and in my opinion not the most important part). But don’t take my word for it; let’s see what the research has to say.

The Triangular Theory of Love, developed by relationship theorist Robert Sternberg, identifies 3 elements of relationships that combine in different ways for different types of relationships. The three elements Sternberg identifies are passion, intimacy, and commitment. Passion is associated with physical attraction and intense emotional arousal. Intimacy refers to a sense of emotional closeness, comfort, and support between two people. Finally, commitment is the choice to be dedicated to a relationship and make an effort to preserve it for the long-term.

lovetriIn Sternberg’s theory, the combination of all three of these elements is labeled “Consummate Love” and is basically the holy grail of relationships. While many relationships might start out with all three of these elements, Consummate Love unfortunately isn’t very sustainable. The reason? Over time passion simply tends to fizzle down. Don’t shoot the messenger, that’s just what the research says.

Why does passion fizzle down? Passion is associated with arousal and arousal is fueled by adrenaline. Think heart racing, palms sweating, and an intense sense of urgency. Sounds like falling in love, right? Also sounds like a high-speed car race or sky diving, right? According to research, your partner doesn’t even have to be the source of the heightened adrenaline in order for your attraction to them to increase. A classic experiment by Dutton and Aron (1974) showed that men who were stopped and interviewed by a female on a rickety, flimsy suspension bridge found the woman more attractive than men who encountered her on a more sturdy and stable bridge. Additional research has validated that heightened adrenaline can be misattributed to another person and increase our attraction to that person.

Do I make you randy baby???

Do I make you randy baby???

This is why passion peaks early in relationships, because the very nature of beginning a relationship is new and exciting. You’re continuously being surprised by learning new things and having new experiences with this person. Without putting any effort into it, the process of falling in love creates adrenaline and makes us feel passion. However it simply isn’t possible to remain in a heightened state of arousal indefinitely. Eventually as you become more familiar with a person, the novelty wears off. Instead of basking in an idealized fantasy of your partner and relationship, you have to face the reality of remaining committed to a real person with flaws and a relationship with ups and downs, or else go seek new passion elsewhere.

I realize this might seem like a very bleak and pessimistic view of love, but I don’t think it has to be. Sternberg’s theory labels love with high levels of intimacy and commitment, but lower levels of passion “Companionate Love”. This is the type of stable and comfortable love that is most typically experienced by partners in long satisfying marriages. Companionate love is not based on fiery passion, but on common interests, sharing, and deep friendship. Research shows that this tends to be the stuff happy marriages are made of. Lauer and Lauer (1985) surveyed hundreds of couples that had been married at least 15 years, asking them what made the marriage work. The most common responses were “I married my best friend” and “I like my spouse as a person”.

Now I’m not saying we should all accept the inevitable fate of a passionless long-term relationship. Research does show that there is a small percentage of couples that seem to be able to make passion last. I think that understanding the nature of passion, along with some dedication, gives you the best shot at being one of those lucky couples. Unfortunately, fairy tales, romantic comedies, etc. lead us to believe that when we find our “soul-mate” we will be madly in love for a lifetime and effortlessly live happily ever after. I think it’s this misunderstanding about the nature of relationships that might account for such a high divorce rate. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the height of passion in a relationship lasts about two years, and most divorces occur after about two years of marriage. If you are passive about your relationship, and expect to live passionately and happily ever after, you’re bound to be disappointed. Furthermore, when passion begins to dwindle you’re likely to conclude that the person you’re with isn’t right for you and seek someone else that gives you that sense of passion (which will be easy because the novelty of someone new will innately fosters arousal, as discussed).

^ Married once, engaged 5 times, currently single. Thanks for the advice Johnny but I'm all set.

^ Married once, engaged 5 times, currently single. Thanks for the advice Johnny, but I’m all set.

On the other hand, if you are very dedicated to your relationship, you can take a proactive approach to keeping passion alive within your relationship. For example, since we know any experience that increases adrenaline can heighten your attraction to a person, doing exciting things with your partner can keep the passion alive. The Self-Expansion Model theorized by Aron and Aron (1997) posits that individuals have an innate inclination towards growth and expanding our self-concept. One of the main ways we do this is through our relationships, and so it’s no surprise that satisfaction in relationships has been correlated with high levels of self-expansion. In other words, satisfying relationships are ones where the partners help each other grow as individuals.

Getting to know someone new naturally expands our self-concept, and so no effort is needed to reap the benefits of self-expansion in a new relationship. As time passes, a relationship is no longer inherently self-expanding; the novelty wears off and you’ve already learned most of what you can learn from simply getting to know your partner. Thus relationship satisfaction can also decrease, but there’s a silver lining. Researchers have been able to increase couples’ views of the quality of their relationship by getting them to engage in new and exciting activities together. So you can improve your relationship by putting a conscious effort into planning  new and exciting activities with your partner that help you both grow as individuals.

Take home message: Passion is important, but not likely to be maintained over time without dedication. Furthermore, placing too much emphasis on passion in your relationship is dangerous, because it sets you up for failure. When the passion in your relationship dwindles (as it almost inevitably will) you will doubt your relationship, be tempted to give up and start over with someone new, and eventually repeat the same pattern. Rather than looking for someone who fills you with endless undying passion, look for someone you enjoy and respect as a person. Take the advice of most happily married couples, and marry your best friend. Then put some effort into making that relationship as exciting as possible.

954786_390046057770738_1093487704_n*side note: I haven’t looked at women’s answers to the OKcupid question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a gender difference. Research shows that men have more romanticized ideas about relationships, whereas women are more practical. Hence men are more likely to emphasize passion over intimacy or commitment. Knowing this, I shouldn’t have been surprised by all the “passion” responses from men. This means that men generally place the most value on the least sustainable aspect of a relationship. Wake the ef up dudes!

Interested in more? Here’s some articles that talk about the same stuff much more eloquently:
Nytimes.com: New Love: A Short Shelf Life?
Scienceofrelationships.com: Is Long-term Love Possible?
Scienceofrelationships.com: Hot and Heavy or Slow-and Steady?
Scienceofrelationships.com: Rekindle the Romance in Your Relationship with Self-Expansion

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33 thoughts on “Passion vs. Dedication: What’s More Important In A Relationship?

    • Thank you so much! I literally just had this discussion with a male friend the other day. Im so glad Im not the only one who was thinking this. You are right on.

  1. Pingback: Maybe… Don’t Follow Your Passion? | The Fishy Bowl

  2. Pingback: Common Relationships?? 100th POST! | The Weird, The Wonderful and The Awful

  3. After about 3 months on OK Cupid I can confirm that women are guilty of the same thing as the men. Everybody is looking for passion while totally ignoring the fact that passion is a bridge made of ice.

  4. Finally I’ve met someone with the same opinion as me! I hope that on okCupid writing down why choosing Dedication over Passion will make potential partner think what to expect

  5. wow you had made my day and you made me realise my husband is a love,… I know maybe our sexual life is not great and big but at the end of the day he is there for me with all and my mistakes, with all the messy person i am,,…. I mean i cant even cook xD but he is there always for me… Like the day he did decide not to have pets anymore but he knew i would not want to live without pets and he end up buying me 2 guinea pigs xD.. Or like he knows very well i love the corners of every food!! i know i am crazy but he knows he most let me the corners of the cake, pizza, bread, sweets.. etc…
    He changed his life so much for me and i realize that i havent been thankful as i should be,…
    Is so easy just to get angry when everybody is telling .. U should leave him cos at least you should havesex 3 times a week,… But at the end thats not all!! Maybe another man would give me tons of sex but he would hate the way i am cos i am just to messy in everyyyy way.. But my love, my friend he is always there for me… 🙂
    thank u :* Im going out now and kiss him 😀

    • Your comment made a tear drop down my face…I’m with this girl which I’m soo in love with..sounds like you too…however the end of the tale is not like yours…she’s aware of the person she is and acknowledges the fact that no matter what I accept her for who she is and encourage her to do good in life but she doesn’t seem to want it rather I get told off by how softly I deal with her and the gentle and respectful approach I offer…as a man it has cause me to break down,lose my dignity and be hypersensitive, and insicure about myself,when all I wish for is for this beautiful gift of nature to realize what I am offering and how I feel about her…I can’t get encourage sincerely anymore,unless it’s something she really likes or want…when she says she loves me and calls me babe, my heart just weeps as I know and I can tell it doesn’t sound right and sweet as it used t…we used to be a beautiful couple and we still are(as everyone one has up and downs) but now I feel like I am losing the grip and it makes me so sad…she’s unsure and and doubtful about our future and it breaks my heart…I’m sorry for the long comment but maybe I just needed to pour out…thanks in advance for spending time in reading this.

  6. Pingback: OKCupid – do we want passion or dedication? | Jeneration Why?

  7. First of all I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!

    • Thank you for the positive feedback! I’m sure every one has a different method of writing that works for them. Personally, I like to start writing as soon as I have an idea, and just write everything that pops into my head, very stream-of-consciousness style. I don’t worry about how it sounds, or grammar, or organization. Then when I’ve got everything out of my head, I go back and clean it up. I organize it, add to it, subtract from it, re-word it. Sometimes I don’t write the beginning until the very end. Hope that’s helpful!

  8. Excellent read! I just stumbled upon your blog because I was questioning why so many of my [female] matches were choosing Passion. Looks like it’s time to paste this page in the explanation field! 🙂

  9. Great essay Ms. Higgins!

    I was a little confuse with my “dedication” response on Okcupid since at this point in life I am more logical than impulsive so in my mind dedication in a relationship should help keep passion up; simple as if I am happy with you, you listen to what I have to say, you care and nurture the relationship and vice-versa then I will want you more and more physically, whereas if we have a nasty relationship, where we fight etc. then, why do I want to be with you physically or sexually? that as one of the most important reasons why people cheat on each other and # 1 cause of divorce but that is another topic.

    Based on my experience if couples know each other better and nurture non-physical love more, then physical encounters will reach a different and better level … I support Sternberg’s theory.

    Regardless, a few women I liked and my ex!!! who is in the site went for passion… so not sure about your theory of women falling for dedication. It will be my recommendation for you to do further research on this topic and share an another awesome paper like this. I am in grad school and you should be my writing mentor!! lol, I am a typical ESL student and you write like a Pro!

    These types of questions are tricky and compulsion for something that might be ideal for men and women could affect how people chose to answer. (many Harvard online test about racism and other topics use the same criteria to see what is really behind your mind preferences and believes) It is simply “ideal” for many people who do not think about the long term aspects of a relationship to respond passion, at least that is what I found myself thinking when answering the question.

    In my mind someone who have experience a LTR should know by now that passion either goes down or goes up depending on how good your overall relationship is with your partner and you just need to look around and talk to your friends to see the reality about passion (50% of my friends are divorce and 30% not happy in their LTR) maybe because people get married based on passion and not based on values, believes and other important things we need to take in consideration when getting involved with someone; sadly… it is not design… let’s see how Okcupid works since there is more science involved here.

    I was thinking about my ex and the fact that my communications regarding fulfilling those important needs (non sexual) were taken briefly in consideration (the reason we are not together) and although we still have high sexual passion for each other after 3 years of a harsh relationship those important personal things won over sex…

    What to say? sometimes we will never get it and this includes both genders…. Another great topic to explore to better understand.

    Thanks

    Manuel

  10. The question is asking which the person wants more. It is not asking you to choose between passion or dedication. People would like to have both. The majority of people want to be in a relationship. So, dedication is a given in most cases. Passion is what most people lack, so you are going to be drawn to what you are lacking. In the end, people would like both.

  11. some people can’t live without passion because true romantics cannot be in a loving relationship that lacks passion as they see it as a lack of love and they end up leaving their partner to be with a passionate partner. Others are happy to co-exist in a marriage that is dedicated but they always miss the passion so will try and find the passion somewhere else by having an affair. I think it really depends on the type of person you are.

  12. Both dedication AND passion may both be inferior to intimacy. Loads of people talk about “marrying their best friend”, but very few actually do. Consumate love may not be sustainable, but what about companionate love? What brings about intimacy? I’d wager having common interests and a deep friendship would be more than enough for most men and women, and those are the two things a lot of relationships don’t have.

    The problem with here is, while everyone is more or less on the same page when the word ‘passion’ is brought up (they understand what the word means, or think they do), intimacy is different; the criteria for friendship varies wildly in general, most definitely between the genders.

    Passion is easier to find than common interests and a deep friendship, I think. Furthermore, I’d go further and say intimacy must then be the non-physical (non-‘exciting’) manifestation of passion. Dedication on it’s own, like the image above shows, is empty. It’s obligation. It’s pseudo morality. And I can not believe for one second that dedication can turn a pair of strangers – or acquaintances – into best friends. My point is that, yes, while sexual passion (probably) never lasts and couples need a stronger foundation for their unions than physical stuff, the idea that good ‘ole grit/will power/ contractual obligations can – and should – keep a relationship strong, as opposed to having a somewhat ‘fluffier’ foundation such as happiness through shared values and social intercourse compatibility (things that are probably closer to passion than dedication) sounds very dangerous to me.

    And if I were to continue with the gender stereotyping you started, then I’d say – based on the amount of “we have nothing in common” threads I’ve read – that if stereotypical men say passion is the most important factor in a relationship, then stereotypical women say dedication. And both groups are wrong (imo).

    • I don’t disagree with you Tom. My aim was never to suggest dedication alone is sufficient for a successful relationship. And I would also agree that intimacy would probably trump both dedication and passion. My only objective here was to make a specific case for prioritizing dedication over passion for the long haul.

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