- Gender and Relationships
Is Love or Lust More Powerful?
Every breath you take, every move you make...
From a popular love song by the Police, these words ring true for anyone who has ever experienced feelings of love or lust. There is a fine line, but what are the differences?
Not one thing influences people more than this topic in general. Love and lust literally influence every move we make and every breath we take- where we live, if we marry, if we have kids, how long we live, where we work, how much money we make, how much money we spend, whether we are happy or not- it's always on our minds.
For me, not one thing is more intriguing. I've spent personal and professional time studying this topic. The first study I assisted with in college got me hooked. It demonstrated love is indeed powerful. The study found that people performed various tasks, both mental and physical, substantially better when they received praise (before the tasks) from someone they loved (and were in a relationship with) compared to someone random in general.
I've often wondered whether love or lust is more powerful. When lust between a couple dissipates, does love become more powerful? Does lust make us fall in love? Why do some people cheat? You might be surprised by the information I've gathered.
I Want to Know What Love Is...
(Another great love song)
Romantic love, a combination of love and lust, is said to be more powerful than love or lust by themselves. One of Helen Fisher's (a biological anthropologist) central ideas is that romantic love is a drive stronger than the sex drive (lust). She says, “After all, if you causally ask someone to go to bed with you and they refuse, you don’t slip into a depression, or commit suicide or homicide like you could for the sake of new love." Romantic love involves both strong mental and physical desires. But eventually, we know, it stops sizzling and starts fizzling, which means we are left with feelings of love and perhaps lust (for our partner and/or others). So which dominates a relationship?
The lines between love and lust are blurred. Sexologist John Money draws the line between love and lust in this way: "Love exists above the belt, lust below. Love is lyrical. Lust is lewd." One difference is, love considers both the other person and yourself, while lust is purely a selfish motivation. However, lust is a component of the physical chemistry that attracts one person to another, which can result in love. The puzzle seems to be more entangled than before, but we are getting the idea that the two work together.
The brain chemistry of lust is physically more powerful than love, hands down. Some studies suggest if we are in love, we are more likely to be lustful for our partners AND other people in general. Being in love and in a relationship is a catch 22. For example, when a man has purely general thoughts of his wife, he will increasingly think of sex with her, AND other women as well. Desire, in general, aso increases for women who are in relationships, but not always desire for their partner.
However, being in love makes a person think twice about acting on their lust with someone besides their partner. Lust for one's partner can strengthen the attraction and love for them. Lust may be the ingredient that makes love stronger, and of course, weaker in the cases of cheating.
Being in a relationship and in love signifies having access to sex when we want- or at least that's the theory. If we know we are capable of fulfilling our lustful needs with our partner or spouse then we are more likely to have lust on the brain. One study demonstrated this by showing various images of the opposite sex to people/participants who were in relationships and to people not in relationships- both men and women who were in relationships rated more images to be attractive than those not in relationships. Interesting.
Your Cheatin' Heart
The statistics for extramarital affairs have remained pretty steady for several decades now- about 20-25% of couples have experienced a cheating spouse. However, the ones that actually get caught is a much lower statistic. The steady rate can mean that lust hasn't changed over decades and is within our body a consistent, natural physical reaction.
In one study: "It is surprising the wives and husbands and girlfriends aren't more suspicious," says Lever. "Even when they know something's amiss — a sex life that's fizzled or intimacy waning — they count on their partner's love to keep them from straying." This comment alludes to the fact that lust is more powerful when the relationship is in trouble.
What I derive from various studies is there exists a perfect cocktail for cheating: relationship issues and a highly lustful partner. Truth is, love is not always powerful enough to be the sole ingredient for a healthy relationship. And some people experience lust more powerfully than others, making it harder for them to deny it.
Some would think that the statistic above states only 20% of people cheat so love must make the other 80% stay faithful, therefore love is more powerful. I thought this too, but upon further researching and reasoning, I came to the conclusion that the other 80% mostly falls into two other categories; 1. those that lust for their partner and don't cheat and 2. those that are dutifully in love, meaning the kind of love that maintains for a while because the partners feel it is their duty to stay. In the first scenario, lust is still a major factor and in the second scenario, it is out of duty, which will not last forever in most cases.
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The power lies in lust because it is based on natural, physically driven forces of survival (think, caveman). It's not necessary to be in love to reproduce, but lust is certainly a main factor in reproduction- lust is the motivation. In society today, loving relationships are formed for numerous other scenarios besides reproduction, but it doesn't mean feelings of lust go away- they are that much more powerful, having survived our evolution and civilization.
Think of creative works such as music and books. How many of those were sparked by love or lust? You may think love, but I bet they were driven by lust; wanting to get someone to love them, notice them, make love to them, or not leave them. Whenever we have our more intense feelings of love toward our partners, they are almost always tinged with feelings of lust, yearning, and wanting. Lust has driven us before love was involved.
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