“I was at a party, feeling very shy, because there were a lot of celebrities around, and I was sitting in a corner, alone, and a very beautiful young man came up to me and offered me some salted peanuts, and he said, ‘I wish they were emeralds’ as he handed me the nuts, and that was the end of my heart. I never got it back.”
The above quote by actressHelen Hayes attempts to express how extraordinary, nevertheless recognizable, and deeply visceral love can feel. Hayes’s personal anecdote delivers her own take on a universal human experience, which has managed to evade a clear-cut definition.
To arrive at a well-rounded, and even evidence-based, understanding of the psychology of love, it is necessary to examine what love is in psychological terms, the different factors that go into it, and the different types of love known to exist. So read on, to find out what’s love got to do with it.
It is this mix of emotions that make up the multi-layered and, at times, life-altering experience that is love.
The Triangle of Love
The APA further mentions the“triangle of love” theory, put forth by psychologist Robert Sterberg. According to Sternberg, all forms of love are composed of varying levels of the following essential elements:
Intimacy: This aspect of love causes individuals to feel close to one another, and involves feelings of warmth, and connectedness.
Passion: Both raw and tender, passion involves both romance, sexual attraction, and sexual relations.
Commitment: Describing the considered wish to stay together, commitment involves feelings of perseverance, maintaining a relationship, and weathering its storms.
According to Sterberg, these three components are able to createseven distinct forms of love:
Liking: “True friendship,” whose main attribute is a greater sense of intimacy.
Infatuation: Characterizing instances of love at first sight, this form of love is prone to be short-lived, as it prioritizes only passion.
Empty Love: This form of love emphasizes commitment and describes either relationships that begin through a more cerebral understanding of its benefits (such as arranged marriages), or a relationship whose passion and intimacy have since run out.
Romantic Love: A combination of heightened intimacy and passion, romantic love refers to feelings of mutual appreciation, desire, and excitement, together with a wish for physical proximity. Romantic love has been exalted in many a song, and its loss has just as often been mourned. It has also been the catalyst in a large number ofrelationship OCD cases, when an individual finds themselves constantly doubting whether someone is really their “one true love,” or if they indeed are satisfied with their relationship.
Companionate Love: Relationships where both intimacy and commitment are their defining features. These can be older romantic relationships, where there is no longer a great deal of passion, but still a fondness and an appreciation between partners.
Fatuous Love: Often characterized by impulsivity and drama, fatuous love describes a connection where the partners’ strong commitment to the relationship is based largely on their attraction to one another, without necessarily getting to know their partner, or finding common ground with them.
Consummate Love: Stable, satisfying, but not easily achieved, consummate love holds a beneficial, though not necessarily long-lasting, balance between intimacy, passion, and commitment. With all three elements acknowledged and tended to, this form of love includes real admiration for one another through deep familiarity, a vital sense of attraction, and the mutual agreement that this relationship is worthwhile. Sternberg emphasizes that even with all these elements at play, it is crucial for partners to work at maintaining their love, by regularly expressing its different facets.
On Love and Aggression
Focusing specifically onromantic love via a psychological definition, psychologistZick Rubin wished to pinpoint certain, psychology-based “facts” of love. He therefore put forth his own, empirically-based theory, positing that romantic love is made up of the following three elements:
Attachment: Describes the individual’s need to depend on their partner, and to be taken care of by them.
Caring: Viewing their partner’s happiness as important as their own, together with being prepared to work toward improving their partner’s well-being.
Intimacy: The need to share private thoughts, feelings, and secrets with one’s partner, together with a need for exclusivity, through the belief that they are the only individual with whom their partner has such an open and vulnerable relationship.
Rubin created two questionnaires to measure the levels of these components. His research found a distinction between liking and loving: liking someone is normally associated with calmer feelings, such as pleasantness, respect, and warmth.
Romantically loving someone, on the other hand, tends to arise stronger, and evenaggressive, feelings, as well as a willingness to fight for their partner and relationship.
Rubin’s research has found correlations between romantic love and passion, desire, possessiveness, and devotion. More specifically, those who scored higher on the loving scale were found togaze into each other’s eyes more, and that partners were more likely to marry if they rated higher on the more passionate “loving” scale, then on the calmer “liking” scale. Put differently, those who feel a fire for their partner are likelier to decide to wed them, compared to couples whose defining feature is an appreciation of each other’s values or opinions.
A Love of Many Colors
Love can grow in different contexts and includes the love for individuals other than one’s romantic partner. As one goes through life, the significance they place on different forms of love is likely to change. It is important to be open to these emotional shifts, and to allow their evolving perspective to contribute to the actualization of uplifting, supportive, and loving relationships.