Love is an essential component to enhancing the quality of one’s life. It can be derived from one’s faith or activities but most obviously from the bonds we have with others. Most of us have a need to be closely and lovingly connected to certain people. Relationships known to foster love among the parties are family, romantic partners, and close friendships. These meaningful affiliations contribute to our well-being in fundamental ways, such as improving our physical and mental health, having long-lasting connections, and experiencing relationships that foster such emotions as “fondness… attraction… liking… dependability…security… and trust” (Coffey et al., 2022, p. 3).
Theories about feeling loved and its effect on the individual include psychological conditions such as “attachment.” Bowlby (1973) explained that when parents attend to their children in a sensitive and consistent manner, it positively reinforces their attachment as well as improving the child’s feelings of security. These early experiences of trust and comfort significantly influence the child in their future relationships. Children who do not experience such comfort and attention may have difficulty throughout their lives in forming attachments or engaging in social isolation.
Feelings of love in relationships may be experienced when the parties express warmth, care, comfort, and support for one another. Physical expressions, such as kisses, hugs, and smiles, also communicate affection and compassion. These caring and tender emotions impact not only the well-being of the recipient but also the provider. Connecting in a true and emotionally laden way reminds both parties of the genuineness, importance, and concern there is in their relationship. This is evident in relationships such as marital partners, immediate family members, and trustworthy friends because they are typically the ones most likely to strongly influence our lives and play a significant role in our development.
Connection in Important Relationships
The psychological importance of these relationships is the nature of their connection. In each, there is a desire to interact. This may occur because they can truly relate. Each understands the other’s feelings and thoughts. By respecting this, an affinity for one another, as well as an honest portrayal of oneself, occurs. Consequently, the relationship becomes more genuine because the parties are being honest with and accepting of each other.
Even though one may not share the same perceptions as the other person, respecting each other’s views is the key to fostering a strong and genuine relationship. These differences are common in “loving” marriages, families, and friendships. This is not to imply that differences of opinion do not become “heated to some degree,” but if the relationship is to thrive, the differences should be respectful and possibly be something the parties accept as “we agree to disagree.”
Nevertheless, there are times when the parties are not accepting of their disagreements. The closeness and nature of these relationships sometimes propel them to experience and display emotions ranging from anger to hostility to possibly contempt or disgust (Karppinen et al., 2023). It could be that family members, married couples, and close friends are so emotionally connected that it is difficult for them to sometimes step back and rationally consider the reasons for their disagreement.
In some ways, these reactions can have positive effects. After the negative emotions have settled somewhat and the parties are less emotionally charged, they can talk to one another and consider how their disagreements can be positively addressed. Not surprisingly, if both parties are invested in maintaining the relationship, they can begin reparative work. In many ways, honest disclosure of problematic issues with the parties feeling safe in communicating their feelings and beliefs, as well as working together on how to address what is bothering them, may not only repair the problem but can also reinforce the importance of their relationship.
Age and Relationships
Relationships are formed as soon as one can understand the nature of people interacting with them. Consequently, their first relationship is with those who care for them (almost always family members). As children grow older, they establish relationships outside their immediate family (e.g., people in their neighborhood or at school).
This sphere becomes larger as their interpersonal activities increase. Many life-long relationships begin when the parties are young adults. According to the “socioemotional selectivity theory (SST),” young adults are focused on their future and thus motivated to obtain information and opportunities that will assist them (Nikitin & Freund, 2018). Consequently, they approach new and diverse social relationships. This is typically a time when people find romantic partners and get married, as well as build social networks and make new friends. It is also when the person is most socially outgoing with others so as to capitalize on the benefits these relationships offer.
On the other hand, middle-aged and older people are not as motivated to seek new relationships. At their stage of life, their goals are typically different than those of young adults (Nikitin & Freund, 2018). They usually have a mate as well as a group of long-lasting friends. Moreover, they are not necessarily seeking new connections to help them emotionally or professionally. It is likely that their goals are more congruent with “social avoidance” than “social approach.”
Research has found that for young adults, seeking new social relationships is important and developmentally expected. Older people, however, generally are not as inclined to seek new relationships because it takes energy and time and carries the risk of conflict and disappointment. Simply put, spending time seeking new relationships may not be as high a priority for older adults as it is for young adults.
Feelings of love, whether expressed or received, positively affect people of all ages. It does not wane as we grow older; in fact, it may be even more psychologically reinforcing. A study conducted by Kahana et al. (2021) found that older people who expressed love or received it had a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in positive ones. These findings reinforce the importance for older adults to remain engaged with people who foster positive emotions. The expression of these feelings need not be limited to family members, spouses, or friends. Moreover, it does not apply only to older individuals. We can all profit from more interpersonal relationships where kindness, concern, and compassion are genuinely expressed.