How to have fulfilling relationships, love based on joy not pleasure

Fulfilling relationships and how we define love

Fulfilling relationships are something most of us aspire to have. All of us have our definitions of love and thus all of us make our ideas as to what relationships mean to us. Most of us romanticize love with the understanding that we get from movies, novels, and other forms of entertainment.

Lao Tzu in the book Tao Te Ching wrote

“love the whole world as if it were your self; Then you will truly care for all things.

-Lao Tzu

So much so that for some people finding a ‘soulmate’ has become one of, if not, the most important pursuits in their life. Without it, their life lacks meaning or is somehow incomplete. They keep looking for the partner that completes them and if fate wishes they might find them someday.

The idea of someone else completing us is not new. This idea has existed for a long time and first came into the public discourse by Plato. Plato said that humans were at first people with 4 arms,4 legs, and two faces that were completely alike.

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Referred to as Androgynous. He went on to say that when they angered God Zeus, he split all of them in half.

Now as a result of being incomplete they chase to find that other half.

This chain of thought, however, creates a dependence. Relationships formed with ideals like these will be ones where the people depend on their partner for happiness in their life. You might say, what is wrong with that? Is this not what ideas about relationships center around after all?

Co-Dependent love

Pia Mellody in her book Facing co-dependence explained to us the flaw with this approach to our relationships.

There is now much-documented evidence pointing to the fact that the physical stress of living with pent-up or explosive feelings may contribute to physical disorders such as high blood pressures, heart disease, arthritis, migraine headaches, cancer, and others. This emotional factor of co-dependence can sabotage our health as well as our relationships.

And yet these men and women operate as if they can “just do it better” or win the approval of certain important people in their lives. By this attitude, they unconsciously make those people important and their approval responsible for their own happiness.

When those they try to please “don’t appreciate what I’m doing for them” and will not give the crucial approval, the emotionally tyrannized individuals become furious. But since the would-be approval giver is so important, this rage must be repressed. And although this rage isn’t shown directly, the anger may come out “sideways”, in sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, or other passive-aggressive behaviors.

Often these men and women appear to be gentle and helpful. A closer examination, however, reveals in them a powerful need to control and manipulate those around them into giving the approval they need to subdue their overwhelming feelings. But all their efforts are of no use in the long run, because no one can take away the overwhelming part of their feelings.

Pia Mellody (Facing Co-dependence)

The Honeymoon phase

This co-dependence is not the case in the beginning though. In the beginning, we all go through a honeymoon phase. In it, we are completely present with our partners and we even overlook all their flaws. As the honeymoon phase subsides people feel cheated and betrayed as they no longer have the romantic highs they once used to.

Instead of working through their differences, people start to look for new people so they can again feel the emotional high of the honeymoon phase. This cycle repeats and ends in clinginess or aversion.

This is because co-dependent love is Self-serving. We don’t love the other person but instead, we love the way how they make us feel. As soon as the pleasure that they made us feel subsides we no longer feel the drive to continue working on those relationships.

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Thus we aren’t really loving the other person but only using them for our pleasure. Such a relationship can’t be fulfilling or satisfying in the long run. As Pia Mellody stated, it would eventually divulge into control and power games where each tries to have their way with the other.

Principle of what’s in our control

The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus was born a slave who then went on to become the most respected philosopher in Greece later on in life.

He who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched.


Often the aversion we feel is seen in the jealousy and possessiveness that we hold for our partner. It manifests itself in different forms of control triggers that we use to have our way in the relationship. This will never lead to a sustainable and happy relationship and can never bring us to inner peace.

Epictetus said that happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within our control and some things are not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion i.e. whatever are our actions.

Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command i.e. whatever are not our actions. The things in our control are by nature free and unrestrained, unhindered but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, and belonging to others.

True love according to Epictetus is, therefore, free, unrestrained, and unhindered contrary to the love based on dependence that is conditional, slavish, and weak.
The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains this further saying that if our love has its roots in the will to possess, it isn’t really love. Thus selfishness isn’t the path to fulfilling relationships.

We really have to understand the person we want to love. If our love is only the will to possess, it is not love. If we only think of ourselves, if we only know our own needs and ignore the needs of the other person we cannot love. “

Thich Nhat Hanh

So is Independence is the answer?

Yes and no. Independence in our lives is a step in the right direction. Although it is better than dependence on one another, it is not what life works on. Two Independent people may have relationships that are much more lasting than dependent people however they lack synergy to be truly fulfilling.

Independent people in a relationship are living in a way where they are too preoccupied with their goals. They are too invested in their own thing before anyone else. These relationships lack the empathy and co-operation that is needed for the fulfilling relationships Thich Nhat Hanh talks about.

Then what is true or authentic love?

In the book, Second Sex feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir writes-

Authentic love must be founded on reciprocal recognition of two freedoms; each lover would then experience himself as himself and as the other: neither would abdicate his transcendence, they would not mutilate themselves; together they would both reveal values and ends in the world.”

Simone de Beauvoir

This idea of authentic love is based on the ideals of being free and equal as well as striving to create meaning in the world together. When we are free and equal we devote our time to our projects as well as respect the quests of our lovers too. Such partnerships are essential if we hope to build fulfilling relationships.

The relationship is about freely choosing one another, not a matter of economic or emotional necessity.

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She describes that such love is where lovers exist together as great friends. They support each other in evolving by empathy and co-operation. By being friends they avoid being an object of love and are instead loved for themselves.

She believed that by working on their own goals as well as co-operating they achieve things much greater than what they could achieve on their own or even independently. Working towards a common goal seals their bonds and strengthens relationships.

Interdependent Relationships are fulfilling relationships

This is elegantly described by writer Stephen R. Covey in his book Seven habits of highly effective people. He describes such relationships as Interdependent relationships. Only by interdependence can we hope to achieve fulfilling relationships.

“Life is by nature highly interdependent. To try to achieve maximum effectiveness through independence is like trying to play tennis with a golf club- the tool is not suited to reality.

Interdependence is a far more mature, more advanced concept. If I am physically interdependent I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realize that you and I working together can accomplish far more than even at my best, I could accomplish alone. If I am emotionally interdependent, I derive a great sense of worth within myself, but I also recognize the need for love, for giving and for receiving love from others. If I am intellectually interdependent, I realize that I need the best thinking of other people to join with my own.

As an interdependent person, I have the opportunity to share myself deeply, meaningfully, with others, and I have access to the vast resources and potential of other human beings.
Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make. Dependent people cannot choose to become interdependent. They don’t have the character to do it; they don’t own enough of themselves. ”

Stephen R. Covey

Completeness for fulfilling relationships

This completeness that Mr. Covey talks about can’t be found in external things. It can only be found within ourselves. Only when we are complete as individuals can we can love without conditions. Love then becomes not a path to completeness but instead a way of self-expression. It becomes a way to share our completeness with others.

Those that come from a place of lack can never have that completeness within themselves. This feeling of completeness comes from a mindset of abundance. Epictetus said that we shouldn’t cling to the things we love and to stop our thinking in terms of possessions.

Never in any case say I have lost such a thing, but I have returned it. Is your child dead? It is a return. Is your wife dead? It is a return. Are you deprived of your estate? Is not this also a return?


Thus, the one that truly loves as per Epictetus does not think in terms of possessing someone or something but instead in terms of nurturing them for the time they share with us. As Mr. Covey further explains in his book that Love is a verb.

“Love is a verb. Love – the feeling is a fruit of love-the verb. So you love her. Sacrifice, Listen to her, Empathize, Appreciate, Affirm her. Are you willing to do that? Reactive people make it a feeling. They’re driven by feelings. Hollywood has scripted us to believe that we are not responsible, that we are a product of our feelings. But the Hollywood script does not describe the reality. If our feelings control our actions, it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so. Proactive people make love a verb.”

Stephen R Covey

Fulfilling relationships are not based on Pleasure

Philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard similarly also called for love that was not based on pleasure.

Most men chase pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard

He argued for a love that was not based on pleasure calling it the love that is non-preferential. Love that is not fuelled by self-serving tendencies, that is not erotic and not selfish.

He, like Simone, believed that such love comes from a place of equanimity and can be given away endlessly. It is thus an abundant source we all have access to just like the love we have for our neighbor. This non-preferential love Kierkegaard said was more about sharing and evolution of one’s own self rather than influencing our partner to change.

Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself.

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard

Difference between Pleasure and Joy

I might never be able to illustrate it better than the American Philosopher and political activist, Mr. Cornel West, who in his interview with Joe Rogan articulated this eloquently. I would recommend you watch the entire interview here.

Talking about the musician John Coltrane Mr. West discusses how can we become a force for good based on Love supreme. Explaining to us that love supreme is not a love for the abstract but it is a love for beauty, goodness, and truth in its concrete form.

He talks about the love that allows us to persist in a world in which cruelty, envy, contempt, and dishonesty exist. Later in the interview, he talks about how the world is obsessed with pleasure and why it needs to get back to joy. The joy that is essential for fulfilling relationships.

“You can’t downplay the role of joy don’t brother, this is so very important. The role of joy in struggle, the joy in organizing, the joy in fighting for justice, the joy in the nightclubs, the joy in the churches and mosques and temples of synagogues. Joy is something that we need to come back to.

That’s one of the great secrets of the human conditions. What are the sources of joy What are the conditions for the possibility of joy? We have been obsessed with pleasure for the last 100 years or so.

There is nothing wrong with pleasure but pleasure is not the same thing as joy. When you look at the sparkling eyes of your precious daughter. That’s not pleasure, that’s joy. You and your wife, That’s deep deep joy you see that’s what endures. You could be broke as the ten commandments financially but that memory will bring you joy”

-Cornel West
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In Conclusion

This week try to be more conscious of the way you treat people around you. Are you looking for the approval of someone else to feel happy? If you do feel this way start observing the thoughts you have at that moment.

Are those thoughts based on a mindset of lack and if they are is what you say to yourself really the truth? When you do feel the need to control someone else’s behavior, step back and reassess if that is the right call.

These few things will be the first few steps from the reactive mindset towards a proactive mindset. We urge you to explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them? We provide a free ebook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.

We post every week and if you like what you read, you may follow us on our social handles on Facebook, Instagram as well as Pinterest to be up to date on our posts. In the end, I’d leave you with a simple and beautiful quote.

“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free

Thich Nhat Hanh

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you have a good day and a good life.