What does it take to make a bond in a romantic relationship? I’ve been seriously investigating that question for the past couple of weeks, and it seems there are as many answers to it as there are people answering it. So rather than just listening to opinions about what people think, I’ve spent some time analyzing many of the relationships I’ve observed, and I’ve noticed some interesting recurrences. I believe that bonds need to be mutual and that they need to have lasting substance that both partners value. But how are bonds made? What types are there? What do they look like?
Shared Emotional Experiences – we felt this
Shared emotional experiences can form powerful bonds, whether those experiences are positive, such as passion and sex, or negative, such as trauma and loss. I’ve seen shared emotional bonds that are so strong as to hold two people together for a lifetime, but unfortunately, that’s the exception rather than the rule. Most often, I’ve observed emotional bonding to be like burning paper – an intense, bright flame which quickly burns out. Why doesn’t it last?
While emotional bonds are usually mutual, they have very little with respect to substance. Sure, they make memories, and memories do have a sort of substance. But why isn’t that substance as strong or valuable as the experiences themselves? I believe that substance and value come from personal investment, and the more investment a person makes, the more substantial and valuable a thing becomes. Emotional bonding is a natural, almost automatic occurrence that usually requires little investment. In fact, it can be quite a challenge to keep it under control. This results in a bond that’s fast, fierce, and fragile. While most romantic relationships start out this way, it’s difficult to ‘keep the fire burning’ by emotional bonding alone.
Shared Interest Experiences – we did this
Experiencing a shared interest seems to be the meat and potatoes of most of the lasting relationships I’ve observed. ‘My spouse is my best friend, my partner in crime.’ It’s that thing of we’re walking the same path, so it’s great to have company! Falling into this category would be things that are experienced together, making memories. Hobbies, common interests, common goals, traveling, etc. that bring two people together on common ground frequently form bonds that are strong and lifelong. But what happens when they run out of ‘stuff’ to do? What happens when the ‘stuff’ they do together loses its appeal? I’ve observed in shared interest couples that especially later in life, they too often become bored with simply sharing interests, and the connection becomes more of a cherished memory than a living bond.
Shared interest bonds have mutuality at their core, and there can be a considerable amount of investment in these interests (hence the strength). But what I’ve observed is that while each individual is invested in the interest itself, there is often lacking a mutual investment, which causes the bond to form at a level of social partners rather than intimate partners. Again, this sort of bonding can and does work for lifelong partnerships, but it can become stagnant, impersonal, and distant.
Shared Creational Experiences – we made this
In different ways, sharing creational experiences is both one of the most common and one of the rarest of bonds. How can that be? At the heart of most marriage relationships is creating a home and having children. It’s engrained in our genes to reproduce, and creating a child is one of the most common creational bonds. But like the almost automatic connection formed by emotional bonds, babies usually come very naturally, even when unintended. There may be little or no deliberate investment, yet even then, children often hold two people together because of the strong bond formed.
So how is creational bonding one of the rarest? Intentionality. For some reason, deliberate experiences of creation are not often encountered in marriages. It’s the difference in creating a child and intentionally raising a child, and it involves a great deal of mutual investment from both partners. And while conceiving and raising a child may be the most fundamental example, that idea of deliberate, mutual investment can be applied to so much more. It can give a goal and a purpose (substance) to countless other experiences. Those emotional bonds which aren’t much more than short-lived stimuli can be built into something more lasting. Flirting, sex, and lovemaking can become more intentional and goal-oriented, becoming a dynamic work of art that is never quite finished but always presents a beautiful picture of the couple’s love and passion for one another. And it could be the same with interest bonds. Rather than two married musicians just sharing ideas and a love for music, they could write a song together. Two writers could write a story together. And mutual hobbies like running? They could run relay marathons together. Collecting? They could turn it into a home trading business together. Playing video games? Well, they might have to put some thought into that one.
I’ve always felt that creating something with someone forms one of the strongest bonds possible, and I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about ways I could be creational with my wife when I marry. Like a dance, creation demands mutual contribution and a coordinated effort to succeed, and it yields in return something of substance, something that two people can look at and say, ‘We made that together.’ Creational connections don’t have to be monumental tasks, either. They can be things as simple as trading lines back and forth, telling a random, unknown story while driving down the highway, or learning to sing harmony together, or learning a dance together, or building a collage from treasures found on walks together, or assembling a jigsaw puzzle together, or building a journal or a scrapbook of adventures together. The list goes on and on, each little creational element forming an enriched and ever stronger bond between husband and wife.
I’ve seen too many couples become bored and stagnant in their relationship with each other later in life because what they shared together either burned out, lost its appeal, or grew up and moved away. I don’t intend for my marriage to develop that way. I intend to approach it deliberately, investing in it, enriching it, and living it to its fullest.
Oh, and guys, be leaders. Creating and cultivating bonds in a relationship isn’t girly, weak, or something we should be passive about. Be active. Be deliberate. Be leaders.