3 Kinds of Love in a Lasting Romantic Relationship

3 kinds of love

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

I want to talk about 3 kinds of love that are present in a lasting romantic relationship.I actually can’t take credit for coming up with what they are; I was recently at a beautiful Michigan wedding and I am stealing the 3 kinds of love from the officiant who married the couple.


The 3 kinds of love he talked about to the couple at the altar made so much sense to me so here they are, along with my interpretation of each.


“The 3 S’s in Love”


1. Spark
2. Substance
3. Sacrifice


1. Spark:


I think that spark is the easiest kind of love to find. That said, spark is the hardest kind of love to maintain in a long-term relationship or marriage. Spark is fun. It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s sexual. Spark is what leads you to want more of the person. Or, spark can mean you don’t want anything real with the person—that could mean a casual fling or even a one-night stand.


But here’s the thing about spark in a long-term relationship. I think you have to work to keep it. What do I mean by that? On a regular basis, you have to act like you acted when you were dating; plan romantic dates, take long-weekends away, have sex, hold hands, and snuggle together.


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That might be hard to do if you’ve been together for a long time, so let me tell you how to keep the spark despite your husband’s man-body or your wife’s muffin top, or wrinkles, or flab, or love handles. That actually means so little. The spark ignites from the non-physical: kindness, thoughtfulness, trust, respect and of course, commitment.


The spark disappears when someone is mean to you, or doesn’t show you respect or vice-versa. It’s also hard to find the spark when you feel like you can’t trust your spouse, or if he or she seems distant and not fully committed to the relationship any longer.


The spark is at its best when couples see that their spouse is there for them through thick and thin. Through cancer, or a job loss, or when something happens to their child. The spark is also wonderful when one spouse shows the other how proud he or she for getting promoted, or when he/she has lost 20 pounds. The spouse doesn’t get jealous or insecure, the spouse celebrates for the other one.



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In order for couples to be truly happy, the spark they have on their wedding day needs to be maintained throughout the marriage—even in year 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50. I’m not saying if you’ve been married for 50 years you are going to rip off each other’s clothes every night and have sex, but the spark means many things, and after 40 years, the spark can be the same, even if it’s two older people just snuggle under the covers and kiss.


2. Substance:


I remember when I was in my 20’s, I was dating a really hot guy, (the spark was definitely there) and one of my friends asked me, “If you learned you and So and So could never have sex again, would you still want to be in the relationship?” I can’t remember how I answered but he and I broke up a few weeks later, so obviously, spark was the only element we had.


Where spark is the appetizer of a relationship, substance is the meat. Substance is what happens when a couple lives together and starts going through life together. Substance is how your spouse reacts when there’s a gas leak in your home and you find yourselves homeless for a couple days.

Substance is when you have a baby and you see your spouse at his or her worst because he/she is sleep deprived and resentful that his/her freedom is somewhat gone. Substance is also when you have a baby and you see your spouse has this happiness you never even knew existed in him/her. Substance is when one of your parent’s dies and you see your spouse so devastated and you don’t even know what to do for them.


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Substance is everything except for spark and sacrifice. Substance is how you get along. It’s the trust in your relationship. It’s the commitment you have even if sometimes you feel trapped. It’s the willingness to go to therapy to work on the relationship. It’s the respect you show each other. It’s sticking with your spouse when he/she is at his/her worst. Substance is also the friendship in your relationship. If you have substance, it’s easy to maintain spark because you are vested. You believe in the relationship and you are fostering the attraction part to keep things fresh, exciting and enjoyable. And, you will do everything you can to keep your spouse happy, which is a good thing! Relationships take work; work on the spark and work on the substance.


3. Sacrifice:

“I’d do anything for So and So” is something I’ve heard couples say. But do they really mean it? This is sacrifice. Sacrifice is selflessness for someone. Sacrifice can be small or big. Sacrifice is going to 10 in-vitro sessions because you know how much your wife wants a child. Sacrifice is taking care of your spouse when he/she is sick. Sacrifice is telling your guy friends you can’t go watch the football game at a bar tonight because you want to take your wife out for dinner to celebrate her promotion. Sacrifice is moving to another state for your spouse’s job. It’s taking the dog out in a snowstorm because you won’t let your wife do it.


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Sacrifice is giving. It’s giving of yourself because you love your spouse so much you want to give. Sacrifice is the most beautiful kind of love I know. It’s putting your partner before your own needs. It’s loyalty. It’s true love. It’s standing by your spouse no matter what.


On a sidenote, I’m not saying you should stand by your spouse under any circumstances. For example, if your spouse has mental illness and you want so much to stand by him/her but it’s too toxic, abusive, and unbearable, that’s not your inability to sacrifice in love. But if the person is, for example, an alcoholic and he/she asks you to be by his/her side while in recovery and you say “absolutely,” that is sacrifice. By the way,  no judgment if you decide not to stay with someone who is an alcoholic.


In closing, when these 3 kinds of love: spark, substance and sacrifice are all intertwined, it makes for a happy, healthy, sustainable romantic relationship. If one of these is missing, the relationship will suffer. Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easier to walk away.


The spark, the substance and the sacrifice all take effort and a commitment to maintain, and they all have to be two-sided. Both people have to make the effort and want the same relationship. But I can say firsthand, if you are willing to nurture the spark, the substance and the sacrifice, the gift of the relationship is absolutely beautiful and wonderful.


I wish you all the best in finding the 3 S’s!

Like this article? Check out “9 Signs of a Healthy Romantic Relationship”

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    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at: DivorcedGirlSmiling.com

    One Response to “3 Kinds of Love in a Lasting Romantic Relationship”

    1. Dir

      The 3 ‘s are so important to maintain in a relationship and in a marriage. The spark being the hardest to maintain as other things in life happen. Yes, u have to work very hard at it. Substance and being friends with each other is great.
      Lastly, sacrifice and it’s usually 1 person does that should always be remembered in a marriage. I sacrificed my career and moved to France for my spouse and his career. 28 years later and divorced that was my biggest regret.


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