Can Love and Lust Coexist in a Relationship?
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? Can someone truly lust after someone they respect? With the correct balance of these three elements, maybe. It's all about the dynamic that works best for the individual.
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, I think the definitions of lust and love are necessary. You may be surprised to see that the definition of lust is less appalling than you might have presumed.
Simply stated, lust is the excessive desire for one's own sexual pleasure.— Michael W. Austin, PhD; professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University
What Is Lust?
Let’s examine some definitions of lust found in the Merriam-Webster's dictionary, along with my comments on each:
- To have an intense desire or need: 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.
- An intense longing: That could be an intense longing for someone or anything at all. There’s nothing seriously wrong with this either.
- Usually intense 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 Love?
Next, let's review some definitions of love, with my comments explaining how they compare with lust.
- Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties: There are circumstances where we can love someone and never have feelings of lust. The love of family members is unmistakably an example of this.
- 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.
- Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: It's terrific to be loyal, faithful, and have an interest in the welfare of one's partner. It's not always a matter of love. People could have concerns for business associates, for example, without love in the equation. But this confuses some people involved in a romance. They feel they are a terrible person if having lustful thoughts for someone with whom they are concerned.
The Science Behind Lust and Love
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, conducted a study with her colleagues to see what happens in the brain when people are in love. They took a sample of 17 people who were happily in love and 15 who were just dumped. Subjects were shown photos of their sweetheart (or ex-sweetheart) and then a distraction photo. By using an MRI to scan the brain, they found activity in a very small pocket at the base of the brain—the ventral tegmental area—when the subjects were looking at photos of their sweetheart (or ex-sweetheart). This area of the brain contains dopamine neurons. It is often associated with drug use, which produces a similar dopamine rush as the feelings of lust and love—particularly in newer relationships.
They also found heightened activity of A10 cells, which are cells that make dopamine and spray it across different sections in the brain. So then what other sections and chemicals are involved with falling in lust or love? Glad you asked.
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. Other chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine make a person feel excited and euphoric.
Falling in Love
When a person goes beyond lust and falls in love, they experience a drop in serotonin. Seratonin provides a sense of being in control and helps prevents 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 facilitates long-term companionships.
It's Complicated . . .
These are only a few of the many chemical reactions that take place in the brain when feelings of love and lust are triggered. Knowing this, it's understandable that we often don't know how to distinguish one from the other. But when it comes to relationships, there's another key element that comes into play.
I've come to think that romantic love is a drive—a basic mating drive, not the sex drive. The sex drive gets you out there for a whole range of partners. Romantic love enables you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time, conserve your mating energy and start the mating process with a single individual.— Helen Fisher, PhD; biological anthropologist and scientific advisor to Chemistry.com
The "R" Word
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.
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.
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. Women readers who can relate to this discussion are welcome to share their comments below.)
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?
Now that we understand the concept, I'll elaborate on this dilemma.
Why Respect and Lust Is Confusing
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 conflicting thoughts of love and lust.
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 if it?
Are love and lust 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.
How Lust Transforms Into Love
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. And with proper communication, lust can continue to prosper.
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.
Is lust important in a relationship?
Yes! Lust is the foundation of almost any relationship. A relationship built solely on lust will probably not last past the honeymoon phase. But lust opens the door to mutual respect and love. You will know if it's love by considering the next question.
How do I know if it's love or lust?
If you are confused as to whether it's love or lust, here are some questions drawn from Abigail Brenner via Psychology Today to ask yourself. It's important to remember that love can be romantic or strictly platonic. It's possible to answer "yes" to all of these questions while thinking about a friend.
- Do you make an effort to stay connected?
- Do you focus on the positives?
- Are you interested in each other's lives?
- Are you able to share core values?
Aside from asking yourself these questions, researcher and therapist Terri Orbuch shares four signs that it's love, deduced after three decades of studying couples.
- You want your partner to connect with all the people in your life.
- You use "we" language rather than "I" language.
- You are able to share on an extremely personal level.
- You are able to influence each other in meaningful and strong ways.
How long does lust last in a relationship?
Lust always exists in a relationship. It's what keeps an intimate connection thriving. But the "the honeymoon phase," a phase of intense infatuation, can last between 12 to 24 months. Does that mean that there's no way to have a deeper connection during that period? Absolutely not! Lust is one of the first things that you may feel going into a relationship, but as long as there is mutual respect and understanding, it can blossom into a wonderful relationship.
Certified counselor Jonathan Bennett, founder of Double Trust Dating, even says that the ending of the honeymoon phase can be a good thing:
"Although it sounds negative, the ending of the honeymoon phase can be positive. It allows you to both see each other openly and honestly and decide if the relationship is worth continuing. In addition, you can prolong the passion and happiness; it just takes more work. If you’re dating a great person, [they] should be more than willing to put in that effort!"
The good news is that lust and love, as different as they are, can exist together in a relationship. Just remember: moments of passion are some of the highlights of our lives, and you can never have too many.— Terri Orbuch, PhD; The Love Doctor
So, Can Love and Lust Coexist in a Relationship?
The answer is yes! 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.
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 . . .
What best describes your situation?
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
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.
Just let her read my article. My detailed explanation will help her understand. If you read it, you’d see that I answered your question.Helpful 60
Is it ok to have sexual feelings for the girl that I am completely, deeply, totally, and madly in love with?
Not only is it normal, but also it’s natural for human beings to have sexual feelings. That’s how the human race continues to evolve.
The thing to understand is where these feelings are coming from. If it’s only for pleasure-seeking, then it may not be right for a relationship that 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 too. Then you can determine if you are both emotionally on the same page. If either of you is confused about your feelings, take it slow. Time will tell what’s right and wrong.Helpful 27
Is it possible to still have sexual feelings for someone who was your friend in school twenty years ago?
It's common for people to remember someone from their early school days and still have feelings for them based on memories.
The thing that most people don't consider is 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, and that's a good thing.Helpful 21
My boyfriend respects me a lot and he loves me too. He already told me most of the stuff from this article couple of times. Our problem is that he dosen't have any lust for me. So my question is, what do I have to do in this situation?Helpful 1
I began with love and respect, followed with lust. So far, I know a sprinkle of lust can fire things up, but my spouse is rigid on the lust side of things. How can I improve my sexual compatibility with my spouse?
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 reasoning.
I discuss methods of communication with your partner when you have relationship setbacks in more detail in the following article: "How to Change Your Perception of an Imperfect Relationship" https://pairedlife.com/advice/relationship-setback... .Helpful 20
© 2012 Glenn Stok