The New Marital Aspiration of Brazilian Companionate Love

Traditional gender roles in marriage, familism, and respectful relationships are the cultural values that Brazilian couples strive to live by in cooperation and trust. In many families, husband and wife coexist as partners bound together by their family responsibilities, fulfillment of marital duties, complementarity of gender roles, and reciprocal support. Yet, Brazilian companionate love is becoming the new aspiration of young men and women.

Obligations, duties, and devotion of obrigaço and consideration, respect, and sympathy of consideraço are the cultural norms of Brazilian marriages, which are often maintained in families. Husbands provide and maintain the home, while wives handle housekeeping and raise children. Their household work and chores reflect their implicit feelings of companionate love, like in the Brazilian proverb,

“Love and faith you see in actions.”

Brazilian proverb

The ways of marital and family life, however, may differ between young and older people and between couples living in rural and remote regions of Brazil, small towns, big cities, and metropolitan areas. The current views of men and women on their values and priorities in gender and family relationships reflect the rapid changes they have witnessed throughout their lives. Modern economic relationships influence this transformation. Couples and nuclear families, rather than extended families, are becoming the basic relationship units.

Despite these good cultural traditions of cooperative and companionate love in families, many couples encounter expected and unexpected challenges that they need to overcome. Some of them are expected due to customary Brazilian practices and cultural stereotypes, such as the rigid gender roles of “machismo” and “marianismo”. Other challenges are brought into their lives by the new opportunities of modern society (Karandashev, 2017).

Traditional Gender Roles as Barriers in Courtships and Marriages of Young Brazilians

A passionate Brazilian character may compete with a strict sexual morality code and old-fashioned cultural stereotypes. Marriages among young girls are still common, particularly in rural areas and remote regions of Brazil. Women’s chastity is a family’s honor of high cultural importance. Men marry when they have enough money to provide and furnish a home for a family. They have more freedom to express themselves sexually. They are generally forgiven for sexual indiscretions before marriage.

When it comes to marrying and starting a family, men and women often still follow their traditional gender roles. Gender stereotypes are still prevalent. Men in “macho” roles still have more relationship freedom than women. It is permissible for them to pursue their physical, sexual, and emotional desires. However, many women must uphold their “marianismo” roles and values. When it comes to courtship and relationships with men, they are more reserved and traditional.

Men and women have different economic, personal, and sexual interests. Their stereotypical gender roles are often stamped by their “machismo” and “marianistmo” culturally specific beliefs. So, they may have different expectations in their marriages. However, they rarely talk openly about their relationships and these emotional issues. Therefore, they may frequently encounter disappointment and misunderstand each other. Breakups of marriages occur quite often. It turns out to be easier to end less official, not registered, relationships. Consensual unions are still common among the lower socioeconomic classes in Brazil. Even without marriage licenses and certificates, men and women can live together as husbands and wives.

Surprising Gender Differences in Understanding Husband-Wife Relationships in Brazilian Companionate Love

The personal identities of women are often embedded in their families and social networks. They typically sustain the emotional bonds that hold networks and families together. To meet this need for close connections, they may try to build the same kinds of relationships with their husband.

However, many men think about relationships from different perspectives. They believe that financially supporting a wife is sufficient proof of a man’s love. This really fulfills their obrigaço as their husband’s obligations. They rarely think about developing the emotional intimacies of relationships with their wives.

Consideraço, in the meaning of consideration, can be interpreted differently by men and women in different senses. Many women desire emotional intimacy as a consideration in love. For example, women say that discussing problems together is a sign of affection, companionship, and consideraço. On the other hand, men believe that sparing their wives’ worries about personal problems is considerate. Therefore, they do not understand their wives’ discontent.

Marital Infidelity and Abuse in Relationships

Another problem that many Brazilian wives face is the infidelity of their husbands. Driven by their “macho” stereotypes and passion, men are generally forgiven for their sexual infidelity not only before but also after marriage. Many Brazilian men, as “machos”, may continue to womanize and entertain their extramarital affairs. Sometimes, a young married man may even pretend and brag in front of his male “macho” peers that he has an extramarital affair with another woman (even if he doesn’t) because it is an important cultural stereotype of a macho man.

Married men may even maintain long-term residential relationships with other women at the same time. Although officially married, Brazilian men can still be in unofficial polygamous relationships with other women, being visited by husbands and fathers. This family arrangement, in some regards, resembles the Nicaraguan “absentee patriarchy,” which I described elsewhere.

Secret infidelity relationships, away from prying eyes, can be acceptable for many women. The infidelity that is publicly known by neighbors and relatives is upsetting to them.

Sometimes, women may have to tolerate their husbands’ abuse and violence. They would rather be submissive and obedient; they may even prefer the adversity of being beaten to the risk of being abandoned (Karandashev, 2017).

Brazilian Companionate Love and Marriage

The courtship process for Brazilians is often full of exciting and romantic feelings, conversations, and events. Yet, due to the differences in gender roles, these experiences have different meanings and feelings for men and women. How do Brazilian companionate love and marriage look like?

The customs of Brazilian courtship vary in rural regions, small towns, and big cities.

Moving From a Romantic Courtship to a Companionate Marriage

In rural areas and small towns, families often prefer to maintain control over the premarital relationships of their sons and daughters. So, the traditional chaperoned courtships are practiced. Courting couples may go out in groups with their siblings and cousins. In such circumstances, the primary means of courtship are passing glances and smiles. Only couples who are officially engaged go out on dates alone in rural areas. Sexual relationships before marriage are prohibited. Honor and chastity are still significant cultural values.

In urban areas, however, men and women can engage in relatively free forms of courtship. The modernization of Brazilian society has changed the way people date now, especially in cities. Young people can date more easily and freely than they used to. Many young women and men get married because they are attracted to each other and love each other.

The way men and women marry varies between the upper-class and lower-class strata of Brazilian society (Karandashev, 2017). Some are more formal than others; some are registered, while others are not. In any kind of marriage, a man and a woman refer to one another as husband (marido) and wife (esposa).

What Does Companionate Love Look Like for Brazilian Men and Women?

Brazilians value traditional gender roles in marriages, familism, and respectful relations. Many couples live together with courtesy, trust, and cooperation. As one twenty-five-year-old housewife noted,

 “Love is trusting in that person, having refuge, being honest with that person, making a home together, working together, raising children together, supporting each other”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.249).

In many families, husband and wife are viewed as loving couples who are bound together by family values and support. Physical labor in the family is part of their gender roles, but it also represents their love. As the proverb says, “Love and faith you see in actions” (Rebhun, 1995, p.249).

This saying expresses the implicit assumption of companionate love. As a thirty-year-old housewife stated,

“Love is a form of keeping faith with the beloved. Cooking the husband’s food, washing his clothes, cleaning his house, having sex with him, bearing his children, are all love to him. He works in the factory, brings the money home, and he pays the costs of the household, and thus he shows his love for her”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.249-250).

This understanding of companionate love is common among young and older people, particularly in less populated areas, such as the relatively small city of Caruaru in Pernambuco State, in a remote region of north-east Brazil. In cosmopolitan and large cities, couples may view their relationships in marriage differently.

Responsible Marital Relationships for Brazilians

For many men and women in marriages, the terms “obrigaço” (obliga­tion) and “consideração” (consideration) characterize their companionate relationships (Robben, 1989; Rebhun, 1995).

Spouses have their gender-specific duties in their relationship, with the husband providing and supporting the home and the wife doing housework and raising children. They can carry out these obligations as “obrigaço” for the interest of the family—honestly, responsibly, and reliably. However, they can perform these duties with personal devotion, respect, and love of “consideração”, with thoughtfulness, sympathetic regard, and consideration for the marital partner. Even though this quality of relationship is not required, consideraço is culturally expected in rural Brazilian families. This is how one man put it:

“When a couple does not have consideração, they treat each other badly. What a man does bad to a woman is to not value her, not listen to her, he betrays her [sex­ually], he doesn’t let her take part in decisions, he only communicates them to her, he mistreats her even physically. What women do bad to men is to try to domi­nate him, to impede him from having her physically, to try to manipulate the man”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.250).

The Selfless Companionate Love in Brazilian Families

Many women believe that true love entails putting one’s own interests aside in favor of the interests of the beloved. As an eighteen-year-old woman said,

“For me, love is the renunciation of I. When you like another person, when you love, understand, you give yourself totally to that person, you forget yourself and remember to love the other person”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.250).

In this sense, companionate love between a woman and a man resembles motherly love, with its characteristics of generosity, self-abnegating, and suffering. Brazilian women in love frequently talk of their love as an obligation to self-abnegation. However, men typically do not think of self-abnegation as something they must do for love. This is why women believe that men are incapable of true love.

What Is Special About Brazilian Love and Courtship?

What is love for Brazilians? A wide range of mental associations may come to the mind of a Brazilian woman or man when they hear the word “amor.”

These can be various feelings, emotions, images, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions in which they experience “amor.” These can be in multiple family relationships, social connections, sexual encounters, and emotional relations.

Generally, love is a topic of great value for Brazilians in various sorts and forms of social relationships. Brazilian love begins with the vital importance of family love. Love for them is a bunch of various interpersonal connections in the extended family that is implied in Portuguese “parentela”, which means “relations” and can also mean “family.” Their sense of self-identity is in a familial group. Affective bonds and emotional support permeate their close family connection.

Brazilian Romantic Live Intertwine with Marital Relationships

As for heterosexual relationships, romances, and marriages, the distinction between “paixao” and “amor” arises as of special importance. The personal experiences of paixao and amor can be related and overlap. The Portuguese word “paixo” characterizes the key feelings associated with passionate love, such as obsessive infatuation, strong sexual attraction, and joyous passionate emotions. The Portuguese word “amor” characterizes the key feelings associated with companionate love, such as a calmer, more stable, and deeper experience of love. They frequently can’t tell which of those emotional complexes represents their true love.

The two sorts of love emotions somewhat interweave in the beginning and early stages of an evolving relationship. The joyful rhythms of Brazilian carnivals, music beats, songs, dances, and cheerful erotic outfits seem to predispose men and women to love. The passionate romantic love they feel embraces their lives.

Passionate Brazilians

Brazilians are widely known as cheerful, passionate, erotic, and expressive Latin Americans. Their warm climate and the fact that they evolved as a mixture of Native Americans, Iberians (especially those of Portuguese descent), Italians, and Africans could have made them more extraverted and outgoing people. This may be why Brazilian love emotions are passionate, erotic, and openly expressive. From their behavioral appearance, Brazilians may look like classical Latin lovers, in contrast with reserved Nordic lovers. This cultural image of Brazilians resembles the old-fashioned anthropological stereotypes of South Americans and Polynesians, as expressed in the frequent quote:

“There is no sin below the equator.”

The Brazilian Way of Courtship

This cultural stereotype, however, can be misleading for an understanding of Brazilian love. The Catholic beliefs of Brazilians may have a counterbalancing effect on the real nature of true love in society. For many people in Brazil, like other countries in Latin America, Catholic religious values shape their culture, relationships, and emotions. So, moral conservatism and religious marriage traditions have an influence on the real relationships between men and women.

These gender relations, however, vary in big cities, rural areas, and small towns. In urban regions of the country, men and women can participate in relatively free forms of courtship. Families in rural areas, on the other hand, can still have control over traditional chaperoned courtship. For example, the courting couples go out in groups with their siblings and cousins. Occasional glances and smiles are the major means of courtship. In rural settings, only couples who are officially engaged go out on dates alone. Premarital sexual relationships are restricted. Honor and chastity remain important cultural values.

Nowadays, the modernization of Brazilian society transforms the ways of courtship, especially in urban settings. Dating for young people is easier and freer than before. For many young women and men, their interpersonal attraction and love feelings guide them on their way to marriage.

Nevertheless, men and women continue to take into account practical considerations, family interests, and traditional gender roles when they decide to marry and create their own family. Traditional gender stereotypes persist. Men in their “macho” roles still have more freedom in their relationships than women. Men are frequently able to pursue their physical, sexual, and emotional desires. Women need to adhere to their “marianismo” roles and values.

New Ideals of Brazilian Love

The new ideals of romantic love, however, come to life more and more often than before. Young women and men understand that their love marriages can be idealistic dreams, vulnerable to mistakes because of inequities in social arrangements, the psychological shortcomings of partners, and faulty behaviors. They understand that they can still make the wrong choices and mistakes. They can underestimate the repercussions of their actions. They may “lament their failures in love, nursing their hurts and snarling their angers, in the end they still strive for love. In their own way they achieve it” (Rebhun, 1995, p.260).

Many young men and women are disillusioned by their experiences, while others believe that one day they will find real love and ideal unity. Therefore, they try to talk openly about their thoughts, emotions, difficult interpersonal relations, challenging situations, and various circumstances. They strive to figure out how they feel, what they should do, and what the effects of their actions will be.

The Extraverted Character of Brazilian Love

Brazilian society has had an intriguing history of multiple social factors that have shaped its modern culture. Among those were the European conquests and immigration of the past centuries. Social life, interpersonal relationships, and love have experienced cultural evolution through those times. As a former Portuguese colony, Brazil has been substantially influenced by Portuguese culture. Therefore, the cultures of interpersonal relationships and love in both Portugal and Brazil have a lot in common.

How Does Brazilian Culture Differ from West European and European American Cultures?

The Brazilian culture of social and interpersonal relationships substantially differs from the European and North American cultures of west-European descent. While Europeans and European Americans focus on the values of individualism, independence, autonomy, self-reliance, and solitude in relationships, Brazilians prefer collectivism, interdependence, cooperation, and connectedness.

The favorite Brazilian motto is Life is only worth living in community. They strive to arrange their personal lives around and about others. They tend to maintain a high level of social involvement in group activities. They regard interpersonal relations and interactions as of primary importance in personal life.

Brazilians Appreciate Life and Love as Interpersonal Connections

Brazilians commonly appear as gregarious people. They tend to love company. They are eager to mingle in groups and try to avoid loneliness. They prefer to live in a crowded style. They enjoy physical and social contact with others. They prefer shared meals and living spaces (Vincent, 2003; Rebhun, 1995).

Brazilians like to quote their favorite proverb that Amor ‘ta na convivência” which literarily means “Love is living together.” They believe that connection with and the presence of others means love.

For Brazilians, being together with others is very natural and vital. Therefore, they believe that wanting to be alone is a sign of unhappiness and depression (Vincent, 2003; Rebhun, 1995).

The Ubiquitous Connections of Brazilian Love

Love is a very important topic in Brazilian culture. They are in love relationships across many kinds of relationships and contexts. Family love is vital for their economic and emotional sustainability. Passionate romantic love is embodied in their lives. Love is in the rhythms of their music, poetry, dance, and carnivals.

The Portuguese word parentela”, meaning “relations” and, in some sense, “family,” implies a vital network of interpersonal connections with members of the extended family. They acquire a sense of self within a familial group from an early age. For Brazilians, such close connections in an extended family bring them feelings of interpersonal affection and emotional support.

Passionate Love of Brazilians

Many Brazilians consider themselves passionate and hot-blooded Latin Americans. This may be related to their warm climate as well as their ethnic and cultural origins. The modern Brazilian population is a mixture of diverse cultural influences and people of different ancestry, such as Native Indians, Africans, and Europeans, who are mostly of Portuguese descent but also include some Italians and Jews.

Since the early years of cultural research, Europeans and North Americans have believed that love emotions in Brazil are passionately and erotically open and expressive. Brazilians seem to fit pretty well into the classical image of Latin lovers. The widely known stereotype of Brazilian folk, as well as of some other societies in South America and Polynesia, is expressed in the saying, “There is no sin below the equator.”

The expression might have its origins in the early Dutch occupation of northern Brazil in the 17th century. Nevertheless, it is still commonly referenced, occasionally by Brazilians themselves (Parker, 2009). This stereotype of Brazilian culture is reinforced for many people by the internationally famous and vividly colorful images of Brazilian carnivals.

The Mysterious “Saudade” of Brazilian Love

The Brazilians’ relations within the family, among kin and friends, fluctuate between pleasant feelings of “convivência” (living together) and the sad experience of “saudade” (longing for connection). They are used in the presence of significant others. So they feel saudade in the absence of their loved ones.

The culturally specific Portuguese word “saudade” means the mixed emotions of sadness and pleasure that Brazilians experience when they remember the people and events that they loved but that are no longer present. They miss them during their absence.

When Brazilians live through the saudade episodes of their lives, they experience the blended feelings of missing a loved one, longing for connection, and nostalgia. (Neto & Mullet, 2014; Rebhun, 1995, p. 249). Most Brazilians have never been alone in their lives. Therefore, they feel intense saudade when those they love are not present now.

What Is the Brazilian Lexicon of Love?

Love and marriage in Brazil have a fascinating history that has been influenced by conquest and slavery during the early European settlements. Following European connections had a substantial impact on the development of Brazilian society, communities, and families. Being a former Portuguese colony, Brazil has had a significant influence of Portuguese culture and language.

Brazilian Portuguese is a Portuguese language that has a substantial regionally and culturally specific lexicon. The vocabulary of love is also interesting to know from a cultural perspective. It has a rich and multifaceted lexicon with multiple meanings and connotations.

What Is Love in the Minds of Brazilians?

In Brazil, the concept of “love” (in Portuguese, “amor”) encompasses a wide range of beliefs, feelings, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors characterizing gender relations, sexual encounters, and emotional connections. The meanings and emotions associated with the word “amor” are ephemeral, ambiguous, variable, and transient.

Brazilians are frequently unaware of their own feelings. When they try to understand and explain what they and others feel in relationships, they are often unclear, elusive, and figurative in their verbal expressions.

As a popular Brazilian saying states, “o coração é terra desconhecida”, that literally means “the heart is an unknown land.

Varieties of Brazilian Love Words

Brazilians utilize various words when they refer to different kinds of love, relationships, and emotions. Among those are, for example, amor (love), paixão (passion, infatuation), amor verdadeira (true love), amor da mãe (mother love), and consideração (consideration). In recent decades, the Brazilian love lexicon has been enriched by new love words, such as “lόvi,” in the meaning of modern love, and “amor da novela,” in the meaning of “soap opera love.”

The Modern Lexicon of Brazilian Romantic love

Nowadays, the social life of Brazil, North American mass media, and Brazilian soap operas (telenovelas in Portuguese) have introduced people to the new realities and vocabulary of love. Due to the popularity of the Brazilian amorous telenovelas, the language of love today is more romantic than it used to be.

The romantic telenovelas portray the beautiful situations when loving couples look passionately and deeply into each other’s eyes, sentimentally declaring, “Ai lόvi iú.” This English saying is now everywhere in Brazil. This way, the new term “lόvi” came into the lives of Brazilians, enriching their emotional experiences. In other words, this kind of love is called “amor da novela”, whichin English means “soap opera love.”

The lόvi kind of love describes a mixture of Brazilian amor and paixão that is characterized by emotional interdependence, the verbal declaration of affection and tenderness. The lόvi embodies the magnificent images of the merging souls and bodies of lovers (Botas, 1987).

The lόvi, as a mixture of amor and paixão, brings together several love feelings. This kind of love includes the romantic emotional experiences of paixao with its passion and infatuation. It also embodies the wonderful fusion of two hearts. It represents the selfless devotion and self-abnegation of lovers and the adoration of marriage.

The Brazilian Lexicon of Romantic and Companionate Love

This lόvi kind of Brazilian love focuses on the primary significance of passionate attraction, emotional intimacy between lovers, and expressive facets of love. Both the infatuated passion of paixão and the deep, true feelings of amor are mixed together in this romantic love.

The lόvi also admires the loving man and woman as a wonderful couple. Lόvi is also viewed as a vital affective basis for marriage. This romantic love of lόvi paves the way to the essential features of companionate marital love that are based on “obrigaço”, meaning “obliga­tion”, and “consideração,” meaning “consideration.”

How Brazilians Distinguish Between Passionate Love and True Love

The Brazilian Portuguese word “amor,” which means “love,” refers to a wide range of beliefs, feelings, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that characterize gender relationships, sexual encounters, and emotional connections. The challenges, however, arise when people distinguish between the “paixao” and the “amor” kinds of love. When they try to explains what these notions mean and how they differ, they are often uncertain, vague, and offer inconsistent explanations.

As a popular Brazilian saying states, “o coração é terra desconhecida”, that literally means “the heart is an unknown land.

Brazilian distinction between paixao and amor love

The Brazilian lexicon of love distinguishes between paixo as passion and infatuation, associated with the tumultuous emotions of sexual attraction, and amor, as stable and deeper feelings of love. Nevertheless, for many, it is difficult to tell the subtle differences between paixao and amor. They are not always sure which one is true love. People may find it especially challenging to identify these feelings in the context of their personal emotional experience. As they say, the subjective experiences of paixao and amor are very similar. It is especially challenging to distinguish between these love emotions when a relationship is just in the beginning. At these early stages of encounters, the two feelings are intertwined together.

As American Professor of Anthropology Linda-Anne Rebhun noted from her study in Northern Brazil, when people tried to differentiate their descriptions of amor and paixao, they often used similar wording. For instance, as a twenty-five-year-old man said,

Amor is when you feel a desire to always be with her, you breathe her, eat her, drink her, you are always thinking of her, you don’t manage to live without her. There are moments when you will adore staying with her, and there will be moments when you will hate to stay with her. And about paixão, you feel an attraction as if it were a rocket: I want to hug you, to squeeze you, to kiss you. But this is not love, it’s horniness, a very strong sexual attraction for a person”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.254).

This Is How Brazilians Explain What Love Is

For many Brazilians, it is challenging to say whether what they are feeling is true love or merely paixão. They say that they can’t always tell what they’re feeling when they’re in love. Sometimes they realize that they love someone only later, when their relationship ends. They recognize that they thought they hated him or her. Actually, it turned out they loved them but didn’t know it or didn’t want to acknowledge it.

As a twenty-six-year-old man put it,

“Generally, paixão is shorted-lived while amor is more enduring and lasts much longer. Now, amor and paixão, they walk together, but before the end of the road, paixão, it stops walking. But amor goes the whole distance, no matter how difficult the road, amor walks with you, and if you fall, amor carries you.”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

Brazilians characterize paixão as prone to more idealization than amor. Therefore, being in paixão, a lover is at great risk of disappointment and disenchantment. As a twenty-eight-year-old man said,

Paixão is that fantasy, that you see the person and start to imagine how they are. But with time the impression changes and one becomes disillusioned, and goes looking for another person to idealize, always thinking, “This is her! This is the only one!” But it never is, because it is imaginary”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

Or, as another man of nineteen-years old commented,

Paixão is a temporary sentiment. It doesn’t last forever. It is only something that we beautify about someone. We idealize them, but that is temporary. At times paixão is the deceiver because it seems like amor. But paixão is quick, it is also very greedy; it only wants for itself. Paixão is where jealousy exists. Amor does not have jealousy, it lasts forever. It is certain. But paixão is unsure, and uncertainty is what breeds jealousy”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

How Do Brazilian Men and Women Differ in Their Understanding of Love?

Both Brazilian men and women discern between the words paixao and amor, although men appear to be more confused and puzzled when they need to distinguish between the meanings of these feelings of love. Many men acknowledge that true love can exist for more than one woman at a time, although women strongly deny this possibility. They believe that amor is only monogamous and committed feelings. In the same vein, some married men believe that their affairs will not endanger their marriages because their feelings for the “other woman” are “paixo”, whereas their feelings for their wives are “amor“.

Concerning this point, many women see this male mentality as a sign that they are incapable of experiencing true love. Women believe that paixão is youthful, immature feelings, while amor is a mature and committed emotional experience. Many women say that their feelings for their spouses evolve with time in their relationship and marriage. Some women believe this transition occurred due to their own personal maturation rather than because of the change in their paixão.

In recent years, the modern Brazilian understanding of the relationship between paixão and amor has evolved. People believe that these two kinds of love can merge together when sexual passion fuses with true love in marital relationships.