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Can Love and Lust Coexist in a Relationship?

I study emotional responses in relationships and write about them to help others with their well-being and improve their self-awareness.

Can love and respect get confused by lust?

Can love and respect get confused by lust?

The Perplexity of Love, Lust, and Respect

I have a theory: If you love someone and have great respect for your partner, then you may have trouble experiencing lust.

Love can keep two people together, and lust can keep the relationship alive. However, what happens when "respect" gets in the way? Somehow lust and respect don't always work well together.

What Is the Definition of Lust?

You might be thinking that lust is only the desire for sex without caring for your partner’s feelings. Maybe that's true, but before I go any further, let's examine the definition of lust. According to Webster's Dictionary, it is less appalling than you might have presumed.

  1. An overwhelming desire or craving: Not so bad, right? That could apply to anything you ever wanted in your life, such as a craving for chocolate. A lust for sweets. That could imply “enthusiasm,” such as a lust for life. It’s nice to be enthusiastic about something.
  2. An intense longing: That could be an intense longing for someone or anything at all. There’s nothing seriously wrong with this either.
  3. An unrestrained sexual desire: Okay, now we’re getting closer to the naughty side. We might say that lust is a physical need for someone.

What Is the Definition of Love?

Can we say that if we love someone, then we do not need lust? Maybe so. Many relationships function like that, two people loving each other and respecting each other.

Let's review some definitions of love from Webster's Dictionary. I'll include comments explaining how they compare with lust.

  1. Strong affection arising out of kinship or personal ties: The love of family members is unmistakably an example where we can love someone and never have feelings of lust.
  2. Warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion: That's an essential factor of love. When partners have all these feelings, they tend to be committed to the relationship for sharing a lifetime together.
  3. Unselfish concern for the good of another: It's terrific to be loyal and have an interest in the welfare of one's partner. But that can apply to many types of relationships, such as having concerns for business associates.

The Dilemma of Love, Lust, and Respect

Some people can only lust after another when they don't respect them. I found some agreement among men and women about this. I also found others who deny that lust has anything to do with a healthy relationship. You be the judge.

Many relationships start with lust, but others function fine with love and respect exclusively.

Oh, there’s that R-word! No, not relationship. I’m referring to respect. The premise of this discussion is to determine how respect can hinder the strong emotional feelings of lust that can help make a healthy relationship romantic.

Allow me to propose this idea to contemplate. When a man respects a woman, he can't love her with a strong sense of lust. That is a bold statement for me to make. It certainly does not apply to all men. However, from my observation, it does explain the mental attitude of some men.

In my opinion, those who function solely on lust can only love someone who they don't respect. Can this be a healthy relationship?

How do they interpret love? Are they confusing love with lust? I think so. A man will find it difficult to respect a woman who he lusts after if that is the only feeling he has towards her. (This can apply to women's feelings towards men too, but I'll focus on this from a man's point of view for the sake of this discussion.)

Thinking this way, a man will never have the satisfaction of lust in a healthy, loving relationship. Is it correct to say that a man can only feel lust for a woman when he has a lack of respect for her?

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That’s what I’m attempting to determine. And I’ll deduce that for you with the remaining points below.

The Confusion of Mixing Lust With Respect

If a man who is in an emotional affair starts to fall in love with a woman who he respects, then he may find himself confused with having the thoughts of love and lust at the same time.

He finds himself treating her with total respect. He treats her like a princess. He wants everything for her. He wants to make her happy. But with all this respect and caring, can he still lust after her?

Can he be transparent with her and share secret lustful joys with her? He might be sheltering her from his erotic thoughts, or he might be afraid to share them with her due to his respect for her.

Now, this brings me to an important consideration. Is it merely a normal sexual behavior that adds joy and entertainment to a relationship?

Erotic thoughts are not terrible, and every good and healthy relationship includes this kind of sharing. It opens the door for sexual expression between a man and a woman.

Why, then, is there an issue with opening up emotionally with a woman with whom the man has total respect?

Is respect creating a brick wall? Is it hindering any ability to make an emotionally united partnership out of it?

Is it correct to say that love and lust are mutually exclusive? That is to say, that we can have either one but not both?

I know many men who have chosen a life with a woman who is not right for them. They married out of lust, not love. In some cases that works, because love develops from it. Well, sometimes it does, but it's not my cup of tea. I want love and lust, as well as respect.

The Power of Lust

If you have lust with someone and you fall in love, the love will keep you together, and the lust will keep the relationship alive.

In my opinion, lust is essential for a relationship to flourish. We certainly need love, no question about it. But without lust, the romance in a relationship can dwindle over time.

It’s lust that keeps some types of people from seeking other partners. Other types of people have the desire to remain faithful simply because of the love they feel.

I believe that "lust" has a lot to do with having a deep-felt, loving relationship—as long as one can combine it with respect. In a healthy relationship, if you love each other, that love continues to feed on itself.

If you started with lust and discovered later that the person is someone you can respect, then love may follow, and you stay together. However, if you respect someone before developing lust or love, then when you do fall in love, lust is difficult to discover. Does that make sense?

The Science Behind Lust and Love

Understanding how chemical reactions in the brain are responsible for feelings of lust and love may help make sense of this.

Falling in Lust

Lust causes the prefrontal cortex—the section of the brain that manages rational behavior—to shut down. On the other hand, the hypothalamus starts pumping testosterone and estrogen, which triggers desire.1

Other chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine make a person feel excited and euphoric.2

Falling in Love

When a person goes beyond lust and falls in love, they experience a drop in serotonin. Serotonin provides a sense of being in control and helps prevent anxiety, so when they experience this drop, a person can become obsessed with things that can cause anxiety—aka, their love interest.

They also experience increased activity in the ventral pallidum, which encourages motivation for long-term companionships.3

So, Can Love and Lust Coexist in a Relationship?

The fact is that we want to spend our life with someone we truly love. Passion can be an enjoyable component of a relationship. But if it’s only for lust, then something is wrong.

A relationship built solely on lust will probably not last past the honeymoon phase. But it can open the door to mutual respect and love. You will eventually know the difference.

If you're in a loving and respectful relationship, but it's devoid of lust, that's fine if the love is strong enough. If lust is desired, then help one another create it with honest and thoughtful communication. Some people feel that it's part of romance.

The trick is to start with lust, then fall deeply in love, and let the respect develop later. However, there is no way to control the order of things. It's all part of life. There's no need to overanalyze. Just go with the flow and be happy with one another.

Reader Survey . . .


  1. Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph.D. (January 31, 2022). “Hypothalamus Overview” - Healthline
  2. Cathy Cassata. (December 11, 2015). “What Is Norepinephrine?” - Everyday Health
  3. Kyle S Smith, Amy J Tindell, J Wayne Aldridge, Kent C Berridge. (Oct 8, 2008). “Ventral pallidum roles in reward and motivation” - National Library of Medicine

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is it plausible for you to love and lust at the same time? My girlfriend asked me if it's lust or love that I have for her. I love her as much as I lust. I'm just not sure how to explain it to her.

Answer: These things are not always easy to explain. Let her read this article. My detailed explanation should help her understand.

Question: Is it possible to still have sexual feelings for someone who was your friend in school twenty years ago?

Answer: It's common for people to remember someone from their early school days and still have feelings for them based on memories.

Most people don't consider that they are obsessed with the memory of the relationship, but not the person. Their intense passion may dissolve once they meet the person who has aged twenty years since last seen during their youthful school days.

On the other hand, if they were together all that time, the changes that occur with aging are hardly noticed. Love and passion can last forever with a couple that remains together.

Question: How can I improve my sexual compatibility with my spouse?

Answer: It seems that you both have different values. It would be helpful to have a heart-to-heart discussion about it. Share your feelings, but also be open to hearing your spouse's rationale and mindset.

I discuss methods of communication about relationship issues with a partner in more detail in the following article: "How to Know Your Relationship Can Be a Lifetime of Happiness." .

Question: Is it ok to have sexual feelings for the girl that I am completely, deeply, totally, and madly in love with?

Answer: Absolutely! It's normal behavior for human beings to have sexual feelings. That’s how the human race continues to evolve.

It's helpful to understand where these feelings are coming from. If it's only for pleasure-seeking, it may not be suitable for a relationship you expect to last a lifetime.

If you truly love her deeply, as you say, then the desire for intimacy may be related to those feelings of love. Only you can determine that. Give it some thought.

Once you get in touch with your feelings, you also need to consider her feelings. Do you know how she feels? Are the feelings mutual? Is romance involved? Or is it just lust? Do the two of you feel passion for each other when together?

Discuss all this with her. Find out what’s going on for her emotionally too. Then you can determine if you are both on the same page. If either of you is confused about your feelings, take it slow. Time will tell what’s right and wrong.

Question: Is it possible for a young guy to lust, fantasize, and love an older woman and be with her forever?

Answer: Age has no bounds. One can fall in love with anyone—older or younger.

The vital point in your question, however, is how you mentioned fantasizing. That makes me wonder how much in love you really are. That is something you need to consider. If you are focusing on fantasy and not looking forward to real-life events and relationship growth with another person, then you might end up very disappointed.

That’s not to say that it can’t happen. Of course, it’s a wish come true that our fantasies come to life. If the two of you are in a real emotional relationship, then you might share your mutual fantasies with one another. That could actually add to the enjoyment of the partnership. But if you have secret fantasies that you are hoping for and are not jointly shared, then it probably will never happen.

Question: The guy I had a relationship with had moved on to another, but occasionally we see each other. I’ve told him I love him, but I feel overwhelming lust for him. He said that he now knows what lust is. He dreamed about me and missed me. But he has a girlfriend now. What do I need to understand about all this?

Answer: He has a girlfriend now, so you need to forget about him. Move on. It’s simple as that! If he lusts after you, then he is not faithful to his girlfriend, and he will end up hurting both of you.

Question: My boyfriend and I started with lust, then love, followed by respect. But lust has diminished, and I wonder why? He says he’s not quite sure, but he’s certainly finding himself loving me more and more. Is this normal? What can we do about it?

Answer: Your experience with your boyfriend losing his feelings of lust is precisely the issue that I described in this article.

If you desire lust but find it missing, it's crucial to work on it together with mindful and honest communication. I would recommend you let your boyfriend read this article. Then discuss it with him. It will give you a lot to talk about with him.

His newfound respect for you may be deterring his lust. Since you said he developed respect for you after losing lustful feelings, pay particular attention to the section, “The Dilemma of Love, Lust, and Respect.” That’s where I describe people who can only lust after another when they don't respect them.

Question: My ex never had respect for me, he lied and cheated. Now he’s saying he loves me and appreciates the good I did in his life but he also expresses deep lust. Does he love me now?

Answer: You can determine if he loves you by paying attention to his actions, not his words. Since he lied and cheated in the past, I'd be cautious about accepting him back. But those were actions, and actions speak louder than words — as the saying goes.

In addition, it seems he is telling you what he thinks you want to hear. Once again, those are just words. Watch for his actions. Is he there for you in time of need? If you're sick at home, does he do food shopping for you to keep your refrigerator stocked? If you want to do something that he doesn't care for, is he willing to compromise? You get the picture.

Question: My girlfriend believes that lust is bad and destructive, what should I do to have love, lust, and respect coexist?

Answer: The problem is that the feeling is not mutual. The only solution, in that case, is intimate communication. You both need to share your innermost thoughts about your feelings without fear of rejection. If that doesn’t work, then it wasn’t meant to be. That could mean you are on opposite sides with no compromise.

© 2012 Glenn Stok

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