Humans form many types of connections — so what makes loving relationships special?

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We experience many relationships throughout our lives, with a partner, family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. There are different connections within these, too — from platonic and sexual to emotional and spiritual.

So, where do loving relationships fit into the puzzle?

Essentially, “a loving relationship is any relationship — friendship, romance, or family connection — where kindness, compassion, and genuine affection are at work,” explains Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California.

This type of relationship comes with well-being benefits, too. “Studies [like this one from 2016] have shown that when you’re in a healthy, loving relationship, you may live longer and heal quicker,” reveals Dr. Tanisha M Ranger, a licensed clinical psychologist in Las Vegas.

Furthermore, loving relationships can provide an emotional support system. Ranger notes, “having someone you know is on your team can mitigate the negative impact that stress has on you.”

Despite what the term insinuates, the answer is a definite ‘no.’ “They shouldn’t be limited to romantic relationships!” emphasizes Veronica Vadía Morgenstern, a licensed clinical social worker in New York.

Loving relationships can take all shapes and forms and “will be classified differently depending on every individual’s needs, desires, and lived experience,” Morgenstern explains.

For example, platonic love can be loving without being romantic and romantic relationships can be amorous without sex or physical intimacy.

A 2020 study found that women in long-term relationships maintained loving affection for their partner even when their sexual desire waned. Indeed, the women “described their intimate connection as based on much more than sex.”

Essentially, Morgenstern notes, the basic human desire for these types of relationships is largely instilled in early childhood, but the dynamics can evolve as we get older.

If loving relationships take various forms and shift according to personalities and contexts, how can you tell if yours falls into this category?

According to Manly, Morgenstern, and Ranger, signs and attributes to look for include:

  • mutual respect
  • consideration
  • compassion
  • honesty
  • trust
  • commitment
  • putting in effort
  • being attuned to emotions
  • fully listening
  • enjoyment of the other’s company
  • respecting boundaries

A loving connection doesn’t have to comprise all of these elements to be classed as such.

Whether starting from scratch or enhancing existing relationships, various approaches can aid the development of loving connections.

1. Focus on yourself

As the adage goes, you can’t love someone if you don’t love yourself first. So look to “build a toolkit of skills that help you feel grounded in who you are, emotionally regulated, and at peace,” Morgenstern says.

Starters might include:

2. Recognize your needs

“It’s extremely important to have an individualized blueprint for a loving relationship,” states Morgenstern.

Manly agrees and adds you might find important elements to be:

  • honesty
  • kindness
  • reciprocity
  • humor
  • creativity

“The more you are aware of what you want in your relationships, the more likely you are to give and receive authentic love,” Manly says.

3. Set your boundaries

“Many people think that people-pleasing or giving in to others will create love,” Manly goes on to explain. “However, authentically loving relationships are those that honor boundaries.”

Compromise is OK, but consider not losing sight of your wants and needs. A person deserving of your time and affection will respect your boundaries.

4. Quality over quantity

You might want to maintain focus and try not to get carried away. “With truly loving and healthy relationships, the depth of the connection far outweighs the number of connections,” shares Morgenstern.

5. Seek professional assistance

Especially for those with a traumatic history or attachment issues, working with a therapist can help identify stumbling blocks and develop mechanisms to overcome these. Doing so will also aid in establishing self-awareness, which Manly notes as crucial in building connections.

6. Build on what you have

For those already in a romantic loving relationship, there are things you can do to help maintain and strengthen it. Ranger reveals these include:

  • Making time for each other
  • Keeping up date nights
  • Talking about life, goals, and the future
  • Being on each other’s team
  • Recognizing when your partner does something right
  • Showing love, fondness, appreciation, and care daily

As appealing as loving relationships may be, it’s harder for some to develop or maintain them. For instance, folks who have faced trauma or experience attachment issues may find it more challenging. But why?

Trauma

“When you experience trauma, you can start believing the world is inherently dangerous,” reveals Ranger.

“With relational trauma — [which] can include any kind of assault, betrayal, or any harm that’s done to you in the context of a relationship with another human — it becomes very, very difficult to experience a loving relationship because you don’t believe that you can have that,” she continues.

You can develop mistrust — not only of others but also of your judgment — Ranger continues, along with:

  • fear
  • dismissiveness
  • avoidance behaviors

Yet it’s vital to know, she adds, “it can be healed [and] you can get better.”

Attachment issues

These can stem from adulthood trauma but also arise from early life experiences. “For example, a child whose parents are highly critical, emotionally distant, or abusive will develop an insecure attachment style,” explains Manly.

Not having a safe and solid foundation in your earliest and most fundamental relationships can dramatically influence how you view and approach connections later on.

That said, most individuals with attachment issues want a loving relationship — but “there will be a conscious or unconscious avoidance of truly intimate connection,” without a therapeutic intervention Manly notes.

Loving relationships are an essential part of our lives and can even aid in boosting overall well-being.

This type of relationship varies between folks, but its foundational elements remain the same:

  • honesty
  • compassion
  • respect
  • setting boundaries

Those who have experienced trauma or with attachment issues will likely want to form loving relationships but may find doing so more challenging. Still, with a bit of self-love, awareness, and therapy, there’s no reason you can’t relish in this form of connection.