To some extent, our society is afflicted by a Hollywood distortion about relationships. Don’t get me wrong—I’m (Dr. Townsend) not anti-Hollywood. I am a movie person, and my sons are in school studying film. But we need to free ourselves of a distortion embedded in the DNA of the movie culture: passion trumps everything. That is, if you deeply connect on a romantically passionate level, you have entered relational Nirvana, and your love conquers all. This is the stuff of lots of great entertainment, but it is not how real relationships actually go to the next level.
For example, Sharon was dating Alex, a man to whom she was extremely attracted. He had many of the qualities she looked for: the same spiritual values, warmth, ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼lots of friends, and ambition, and it didn’t hurt that he looked like a fashion model. Plus, he was an incurable romantic, and she loved that aspect of the relationship. Alex was the king of long nights, longing glances, flowers, endearing words, and great spots to have dinner. Sharon was smitten with this guy.
Then, reality reared its ugly head in the form of a tendency for Alex to be financially irresponsible. He was laid off from a job and wanted to crash at her place for a while. He borrowed money and didn’t repay it. Sharon thought she could solve the problem with a direct conversation. She told him that although she loved him, she really needed him to get his own place and pay her back or get on a regular payment plan. She needed to see some sign of fiscal responsibility.
Alex responded by evading the questions, telling her how attractive she was and how he wanted to take her to a great dinner and spend quality time with her. She was a little taken aback, because nothing he said corresponded to her statements. She tried again. This time he said he wanted to give her a massage! Finally, Sharon realized that Alex was not capable of dealing with reality and ended the conversation. It’s not surprising that she also ended the dating relationship shortly thereafter.
Though this sounds like an extreme example, it illustrates that some people can only relate to the opposite sex in the romantic or sexual arena. It’s as if they learned their entire repertoire on reality TV. An abundance of passion can certainly be attractive in the right context, but if there is nothing that goes beyond passion, such an individual is not ready for a relationship with you.￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼
Passion has its own special place and usefulness in the relationship; it helps a man and a woman feel extremely close to each other, as sexual attraction temporarily diminishes the boundaries that separate two people. In the sexual embrace, each person feels a deep oneness with the other. It is pleasurable in and of itself and brings a great deal of intensely positive feelings into the relationship. It is part of the process of having children and families. And it is a symbol of how strong God’s love is for us as well, since he sees us as his bride: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (see Hosea 2:14). We can then learn much about our relationship with God by understanding and experiencing passion.
The benefit of passion is that it provides a buffer when reality emerges, and the couple finally has to face up to each other’s flaws. They may be minor, moderate, or major, but they are imperfections, issues, and sins that will not go quickly away. They are hard to live with, and they cause relational problems. But the buildup of the relational equity, the goodwill, and the positive affection will help smooth over the rough spots while the couple wrestles with adapting to ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼and integrating the less pleasant realities. Mature love then develops, in which each person knows the good and bad of the other and loves the entire person anyway.
Couples who understand passion from a mature perspective get it all. They win the lottery. They are able to have great sexual experiences. And they are also able to move into great vulnerability and openness to each other that go deeper than passion. They don’t really give up anything. No couple with that sort of relationship would trade it for anything else. What can compare with an evening in which you share a fear or a need and receive deep empathy and understanding from your spouse as he safely explores who you really are at your core, followed by passion? These are some of the peak experiences shared by growing couples who do life right. And that’s the place of passion.
Learn how to discern when true change has occurred, develop mature passion that lasts, and restore relationships to a healthy dynamic in Beyond Boundaries.