1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Theories of Love

5 Ways Psychologists Describe and Explain Love

By

There are several different theories to explain why people fall in love.

Psychologists have proposed a number of different theories to describe love and explain why it happens.

Image: MorgueFile
Psychologists and researchers have proposed a number of different theories of love. Love is a basic human emotion, but understanding how and why it happens is not necessarily easy. In fact, for a long time, many people suggested that love was simply something that science couldn't understand.

The following are four of the major theories proposed to explain love and other emotional attachments.

Liking vs. Loving

Psychologist Zick Rubin proposed that romantic love is made up of three elements: attachment, caring and intimacy. Attachment is the need to receive care, approval, and physical contact with the other person. Caring involves valuing the other persons needs and happiness as much as your own. Intimacy refers to the sharing of thoughts, desires, and feelings with the other person.

Based upon this definition, Rubin devised a questionnaire to assess attitudes about others and found that these scales of liking and loving provided support for his conception of love.

Compassionate vs. Passionate Love

According to psychologist Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues, there are two basic types of love: compassionate love and passionate love. Compassionate love is characterized by mutual respect, attachment, affection and trust. Compassionate love usually develops out of feelings of mutual understanding and shared respect for one another.

Passionate love is characterized by intense emotions, sexual attraction, anxiety, and affection. When these intense emotions are reciprocated, people feel elated and fulfilled. Unreciprocated love leads to feelings of despondence and despair. Hatfield suggests that passionate love is transitory, usually lasting between 6 and 30 months.

Hatfield also suggests that passionate love arises when cultural expectations encourage falling in love, when the person meets your preconceived ideas of an ideal love, and when you experience heightened physiological arousal in the presence of the other person.

Ideally, passionate love then leads to compassionate love, which is far more enduring. While most people desire relationships that combine the security and stability of compassionate with the intensity of passionate love, Hatfield believes that this is rare.

The Color Wheel Model of Love

In his 1973 book The Colors of Love, John Lee compared styles of love to the color wheel. Just as there are three primary colors, Lee suggested that there are three primary styles of love. These three styles of love are: (1) Eros, (2) Ludos and (3) Storge.

Continuing the color wheel analogy, Lee proposed that just as the primary colors can be combined to create complementary colors, these three primary styles of love could be combined to create nine different secondary love styles. For example, a combination of Eros and Ludos results in Mania, or obsessive love.

Lee’s 6 Styles of Loving

  • Three primary styles:
    1. Eros – Loving an ideal person
    2. Ludos – Love as a game
    3. Storge – Love as friendship

  • Three secondary styles:
    1. Mania (Eros + Ludos) – Obsessive love
    2. Pragma (Ludos + Storge) – Realistic and practical love
    3. Agape (Eros + Storge) – Selfless love

Triangular Theory of Love

Psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed a triangular theory suggesting that there are three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Different combinations of these three components result in different types of love. For example, a combination of intimacy and commitment results in compassionate love, while a combination of passion and intimacy leads to passionate love.

According to Sternberg, relationships built on two or more elements are more enduring that those based upon a single component. Sternberg uses the term consummate love to describe a combination of intimacy, passion and commitment. While this type of love is the strongest and most enduring, Sternberg suggests that this type of love is rare.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.