This kind of friendship, Aristotle says, is based on the good. Two people are attracted to each other because of the good they see in the other person. They value the other person’s character and want to help it continue to grow and develop in healthy directions. The good they see in the other person may also inspire them to want to become better themselves. This type of friendship, Aristotle argues, is not self-oriented or instrumental. Each person is focused not on him- or herself but on the other person. The partners love each other for who they are and not for what they can get out of the relationship.
Aristotle holds that this type of friendship will probably be much more enduring than the first two since it is likely to be brought to an end only if one of the persons involved becomes corrupt and stops being good. Aristotle contends that friendship based on goodness is the truest kind, superior to the other two. Additionally, he says, these kinds of friendships, although they are not motivated by the quest for profit or pleasure, often do turn out to be useful and pleasurable, as well as good.
After getting married, I asked James why Aristotle’s observations need to be limited to just friendships. "What if we apply his philosophy to romantic relationships, as well? What if we see ourselves not just as lovers but as Aristotelian lovers, focusing on appreciating the good in the other person and supporting each other’s growth and development?" James embraced this idea wholeheartedly. And that’s how Aristotle became part of the foundation of our marriage—and of the framework for applying positive psychology research to romantic relationships.
Think about your relationship from the standpoint of Aristotle’s analysis of friendship. To what degree have you and your partner been drawn together by utility, pleasure, or goodness? Relationships of utility focus on how each partner can profit (e.g., financially, socially, etc.) from the relationship. Relationships of pleasure focus on how each partner can find enjoyment (e.g., shared hobbies, interests, sexual relations, etc.) in the relationship. Relationships of goodness are focused on the other person. They are not motivated by what each person can get from the relationship but rather by the goodness each person sees in the other.
This piece is co-written by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James O. Pawleski.
Excerpted from Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James O. Pawelski with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018.