Studies by a Canadian researcher have identified two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. According to Dr. Robert Vallerand, harmonious passion happens when we choose to do an activity we love and feel happy both during and after it. Harmonious passion with an activity leads to better engagement, higher levels of concentration, and greater well-being.
Obsessive passion is another matter. This type of passion occurs when an uncontrollable desire to engage in the activity causes pressure (like those who can’t stop playing video games.) You are doing something you love, but the activity controls you rather than you controlling it. You have to do it and find it difficult to step away from it. In general, being involved with something you are harmoniously passionate about predicts higher well-being and greater resilience. Engaging in obsessive passion activities predicts just the opposite.
In a recent study with his colleagues, Dr. Vallerand looked at another type of passion—the one between romantic partners. As it turns out, they found couples, too, can be harmoniously or obsessively passionate with one another. Couples who enjoy being harmoniously passionate revel in the process of being together and the aftereffects. The obsessively passionate couples neither appreciate the process nor the outcome. They see being together more of an obligation than a delight.
The researchers then asked an interesting question: what happens when partners who have harmonious passion engage in a mutually exciting activity. In other words—what happens when a harmoniously passionate couple loves the activity they are doing together? The short answer is that it strengthens the relationship.
This might not seem like such a significant finding—but it is. The standard recommendation for couples is to improve their relationship is to do more things together. But this new research shows that couples who are obsessively passionate (feeling obligated) engage in an activity they are not harmoniously passionate about the results can be detrimental. Just spending time together isn’t the answer.
Choosing to do something together each of you loves to do is what’s needed. There is a bonus if the activity you both love is exciting. The positive energy that comes from the shared excitement is also part of what will strengthen your connection. Sharing your harmoniously passionate activities with your partner may be one of the most direct ways to improve your relationship.
If you want to make certain you are going in the right direction with your partner here are three recommendations:
- Make a plan. While spontaneity is always welcome passionate partnering takes a plan. Pick a time you’ll be together do do something special together. The plan itself creates a positive expectation.
- Generate ideas together. Talk about what you’d like to do that both of you enjoy. Is it going antique hunting? Seeing your favorite band? Hanging by the beach?
- See if from time-to-time you can add the bonus of doing something physical together. Bike rides, a hike, a walk on the beach. Doing a physical activity together can boost the positivity.
“Honey, want to go bungee jumping again tonight?” Might not sound like the most romantic sentence you can whisper into your partner’s ear—but it just might be the most effective.
Dr. Dan Tomasulo is a core faculty member for the Spirituality Mind Body Institute (SMBI), Teachers College, Columbia University. Honored by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers on the issue of depression he authors the daily column, Ask the Therapist, for PsychCentral.com, and developed the Dare to be Happy experiential workshops for Kripalu. His next book, Learned Hopefulness, will be published in 2020. For more information visit www.DanTomasulo.com.