Taboo relationships & forbidden love (the psychology)

Taboo relationships

In this blog post, we will talk about taboo relationships, what we consider taboo relationships and forbidden love.

We’ll help you understand why we are attracted to “forbidden” people, and what you should do about it.

What do we consider taboo relationships?

Historically, taboo relationships can be seen as a love that simply violates culturally dependent behavioural rules by turning into a secret love “that the world should not know about.” 

Obviously, as Western civilization continues to progress along a socially libertine trajectory, many of the taboo relationships yesterday are no longer taboo today, and others, such as interracial dating in America, are not explicitly forbidden but can be tacitly censored further (except for a few from the cultural margins).

No matter how libertine we are, we cannot omit the fact that romantic love evokes a forbidden intrinsic element.

Cases such as that of the teacher who goes out with a student appear periodically in the media, or of the married politician who dates the secretary or who has a mistress.

In all cases, taboo relationships clearly surpass some of the other patterns we have discussed, such as triangular love.

However, the forbidden aspect of love and the special role it plays in many relationships is important enough to deserve its own discussion.

Taboo relationships & forbidden love (the psychology)

A story of taboo relationships and forbidden love

For a psychotherapist, psychologist or psychoanalyst, the concept that love could be intrinsically forbidden is not new.

If you are a follower of Freud, everything comes from your first object of erotic love (the parent of the opposite sex) which is dangerous outside its borders, but you do not have to be a Freudian to see that love can actually be dangerous in the life of a family. 

There is little doubt that parents and their children fall in love with each other, with the almost universal warning that in this context, love is separated from sexuality, but aren’t these two inherently close by nature? 

For example, no matter how absurd it sounds, isn’t it at least theoretically natural for a brother and sister to be attracted to each other when they reach puberty?

And, in general, is it not expected that the intimate life of the family will lead to sexual feelings between its members?

Well, the truth is that incest exists, which is exactly why it is such a taboo.

Indeed, without regard to sex education and the progressive family environment in which sexuality is mentioned as a “beautiful and healthy” part of an adult’s life, in most families, nudity, sexual stimulation and sex are nowhere to be seen, heard or spoken.

At the same time, sexual allusions are ubiquitous in our culture, further stimulating children’s curiosity and imagination. 

In other words, you don’t have to be a psychologist to see that in our society, children grow up with the notion that sexual love is interesting and wonderful and at the same time forbidden (at least for them).

Thus, the child will want that wonderful and interesting thing by rebelling and keeping it a secret because it is forbidden.

Taboo relationships & forbidden love (the psychology)

So if you are in a forbidden love relationship because your partner is older or you are gay or your partner is married and your parents, friends, grandparents, God … say it’s not good, you will have to admit that your rebellion against them and not your connection with your partner is what fuels your passion and leads you to sustain this relationship.

Now, rebellion against social conventions is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are gay, should you accept cultural or religious prohibitions against obtaining the object of your love? Obviously not. 

If you are a woman who is dating an older man, should you consider this a forbidden love if, say, your family or other people in society do not approve of it?

Once again, I would say no, although, in all these cases, your intellectual and emotional attitude towards these social conventions depends. 

If, as an independent thinker, you embrace your rebellion and make a commitment to your love, it is clear that it is no longer forbidden.

On the other hand, if you pretend to be free, but behave like a rebellious teenager, who secretly or subversively likes to break the rules, you are probably under the influence of forbidden love.

It can be difficult to take the first step in becoming aware of this pattern because the depth and scope of the feelings brought into such a relationship are often extraordinary. 

This is not typically acknowledged by someone on the outside, far too busy condemning the relationship because it violates the social rule.

However, as any lover of literature will confirm, when we are invited into the inner world of a novelist, we are often tempted to identify with the protagonists and sympathize with them.

We don’t read or watch “Romeo and Juliet” saying, “Oh, they’re teenagers like that.”

Taboo relationships & forbidden love (the psychology)

When we are engaged in a taboo relationship the emotional depth is much greater and in addition to the need to resist this type of emotional depth we choose to see the reality of the obstacle (ie wrong religion, sex, age, marital status, etc.) rather than being entirely external and objective than that it is partially created by our own perception and hesitation to legitimize our love.

So how do you know if you are guided by the “rebellious teenager inside” or true love you should embrace?

Well, as with other types of failed love, sometimes you just have to be inside to win.

In other words, the only way to find out is to eliminate all other external obstacles and let yourself be completely embraced in your love. If then love dies, you know it was fueled only by rebellion. 

If you choose not to test it and thus continue the relationship that you know remains ultimately unacceptable to you or your partner, then by definition you are engaged in the pattern of forbidden love.

It is also true that you will continue the relationship in secret to avoid family or social disapproval.

This logic implies, at least in theory, clarification on the dates you should avoid if you want to stay away from forbidden love. Avoid going out on dates with people you consider forbidden.

Obviously, this rule requires that you “know” that you would never do such a thing, but can anyone really know that?

However, the better you know yourself, the more likely you are to avoid meeting someone you consider forbidden.

Taboo relationships & forbidden love (the psychology)

When you are not sure if a certain person is forbidden to you, you can do the following exercise: Imagine that you are married to this person, that you have a family with her, and what your relationship with your family of origin would be like ( mother, father, siblings …) with his / her family of origin, with friends.

You can do the same exercise regardless of age, financial and professional status, and even if you never want to get married. 

The idea is to create the image of a public commitment with which you can live.

So, in this scenario, regardless of the positive or negative reaction of the other important people in your life, would you choose the same thing?

If your answer is yes, then considering the inner values ​​that a person may not be forbidden to you.

Taboo relationships & forbidden love (the psychology)

Conclusions

In this blog post, we talked about taboo relationships, what we consider taboo relationships and forbidden love.

We helped you understand why we are attracted to “forbidden” people, and what you should do about it.

No matter how libertine we are, we cannot omit the fact that romantic love evokes a forbidden intrinsic element.

Cases such as that of the teacher who goes out with a student appear periodically in the media, or of the married politician who dates the secretary or who has a mistress.

In all cases, taboo relationships clearly surpass some of the other patterns we have discussed, such as triangular love.

However, the forbidden aspect of love and the special role it plays in many relationships is important enough to deserve its own discussion.

If you have questions, comments or recommendations, please let us know!

Further reading

Silently Seduced, Revised & Updated: When Parents Make Their Children Partners, by Kenneth M. Adams  

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, by Judith Herman

Alon Gratch, If love could think. How to use your mind to guide your heart

Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to Do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life, by Patricia Love 

References

Alon Gratch, If love could think. How to use your mind to guide your heart

DeYoung, M., & Lowry, J. A. (1992). Traumatic bonding: Clinical implications in incest. Child Welfare: Journal of Policy, Practice, and Program, 71(2), 165–175.

Pendergrast, M. (1995). Victims of memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives. 

Taboo relationships & forbidden love (the psychology)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.