Love psychology today

Love psychology today DEFAULT
32 pixels/Shutterstock

Source: 32 pixels/Shutterstock

We think about love on Valentine’s Day more than other days, don’t we? Maybe not? Perhaps we think about cards with red hearts, and chocolates, and flowers to buy for our romantic partner. But is it love?

Year after year, one Valentine’s Day after another, it seems that we are all just as confused as ever about what this thing called love actually is.

The central theme of Greek tragedies is love; how love can be all-consuming, and how it can cause us the deepest pain, drive us to kill, and even to suicide. Shakespeare also writes about love as a force that can make us feel alive and kill us, too. Some more modern stories moved from tragedy to drama. Love is often represented as the most important thing to attain, and is equally the source of our greatest heartache and angst. And then we have romantic stories in which "true love" is the ultimate goal — hard to get, but once you have it you are happy ever after.

I talk about stories because it seems that our ideas of love live in all the stories we absorb, influencing the meaning of what we feel in our hearts. The topic of love has different associations depending on the culture we live in, the messages we get in childhood, our life experiences, and the stories we listen to. Some people who look at the stories of love from a tragic point of view might think it is dangerous. Those who are keen on fairy tales might be "hopelessly romantic."

In the U.K. and Europe, we have learned to associate love with romance and sexual satisfaction. Although we are lucky to be in a liberal and progressive society where same-sex love is accepted, there is still enough homophobia around for it to be seen as a "lesser" love than heterosexual love. However, with both heterosexual and same-sex love, the same singular narrative prevails: Monogamy is the Gold Standard; if you find the one, then you’ll be happy ever after. This narrative is problematic because it puts much pressure on all of us to be the perfect one. We have to be the best romantic partner — never run out of conversations at the dinner table; always get the gifts right; meet all the needs of our partners even if they don’t verbalise them (a mind-reading superpower is essential); and be the best lover, always up for sex, always desiring our partner sexually, always providing a great sex moment for our partner, always giving the best orgasms, not wanting solo-sex, and not ever being turned on by anyone else; and we have to be the best housemate, putting the dishes in the dishwasher just in the right way, happily cleaning the house, cooking dinner lovingly; and we have to be the best protector, always having our partner’s back even when they’re unreasonable, having a good job that earns enough money, putting the partner first before anyone else at all times, never being ill or vulnerable because we have to be a strong person. This thing called love puts a lot of unrealistic pressure on one person.

The other problem with our love narratives is that the image of "happily ever after" stops at the moment of what people call the "honeymoon period," so we don’t really have a sense of the effort that it takes to maintain a good relationship. Some people ask, "Why can’t my relationship be easy?" like the kind we see at the end of rom-com movies? Well, relationships are not easy, because love is not a thing we get; it is a delicate and fleeting emotion that comes and goes, develops over time, and feels different depending on the quality of human connections.

Although they made great tragedies, the Greeks think of love as a diversity of experiences, instead of our singular one. They identified seven types of love:

  • Eros is the passionate love wrapped in sexual desire. This passionate love concept is also the one closest to what we have adopted as our modern narrative of love. It is also the love of Greek tragedies; the passion can be all-consuming and uncontained.
  • Philia is the friendship love, the strong bond that we feel with people for whom we don’t have sexual desire, but those loyal ones who feel part of our "tribe."
  • Storge is the unique love of parent and child.
  • Agape is the universal love. The love for strangers, humanity, animals, and nature.
  • Ludus is the kind of love that is fun and uncommitted. It is when we can dance or flirt with each other, or have pleasurable no-strings-attached casual sex, the focus being on the fun of it.
  • Pragma is the practical love grounded in reason and interested in long-term advantages. Compatibility of personalities, shared values, and goals are more important than sexual attraction.
  • Philautia is self-love. The idea of this love has diluted in our modern society, replaced by what we call "self-esteem." However, "self-esteem" isn’t quite the same, as it primarily lives in our cognition, whereas Philautia lives in our heart: a deep sense of love for ourselves. Our society often mistakes it for narcissism, selfishness, or arrogance, which is why people tend to avoid it, but I think it is an important love to reclaim.

The pluralistic lens of these seven types of love offers us a much broader way to think about love, helps us challenge some unhelpful ideas, and reframes the meaning of what we feel in our heart.

As love is a constant flow of diverse emotions and stories, and it changes over time. I think we would do better to think that all seven types of love are just as important, and that no one is better than another. For example, if we didn’t have Agape during the COVID-19 pandemic, our society could have broken beyond repair. We think Philia might be less important than Eros but in fact, it is a crucial love that keeps us connected and alive.

Many people struggling in their relationship are actually having difficulties adapting to the unavoidable flow of love. Some people see Eros disappearing and feel threatened that their "happy ever after" is fading away, when, in fact, they might be moving into Philia, not realising that Philia is compatible with Ludus: Having some light fun with a long-term partner like dancing, teasing and flirting with each other is great. Some couples move to Pragma, and that is just as great a place to be, because sharing goals and values and having the same long-term vision provides essential grounding for relationships. That love feels very different from Eros, yet, it is not lesser.

How about seeing love from a broader window? Shall we swap the tokenistic heart-shaped box of chocolate for celebrating all these different, equally important loves instead? How about embracing the love for our romantic and sexual partners, our friends, our communities, our planet and ourselves, on Valentine’s Day and every day.

Josep Suria/Shutterstock

Source: Josep Suria/Shutterstock

Dissecting the components of love, as research scientists like to do, seems a little unromantic perhaps. However, as humans, we are fundamentally sharing the same evolved brain in many respects, even if our experiences across our varying lives differ enormously. This means we can go far in the field of psychology in terms of understanding some universal experiences—one of which is love.

Can we really untangle the components of love?

Yes. Yes, we can.

New research reveals that there is considerable universality in our experiences of love, meaning that there appear to be some dimensions of love that are common across the world. Building upon a substantial body of research on love, a large survey across 25 countries reinforced evidence that there are three key components of love that typically characterize our romantic relationships (Sorokowski, 2021).

What are the three components of love?

These three components are (drumroll please): intimacy, passion, and commitment.

Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness and connection, warmth, caring, and sharing. Intimacy is not exclusive to romantic relationships of course, but it is a key “warm” component. Passion refers to intense feelings of attraction, and like a magnetic force, it feels very strongly like being drawn to someone emotionally and physically. Passion is the “hot” component. Commitment is more cerebral than intimacy and passion and is considered the “cold” component. It refers to the deliberate decision to invest in a relationship over the long term.

Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (Sternberg, 1988) is relevant here as it indicates that our relationships involve combinations of these components, and these combinations occur at varying intensities. One can have passion, even commitment, but no intimacy for instance (think of a Vegas wedding scenario). Or one can have commitment to a relationship, but no passion nor intimacy (picture your grandparents’ traditional relationship after many years of strain, perhaps).

What if you don't have high scores across intimacy, passion, and commitment?

Some people experience high levels of intimacy, passion, and commitment simultaneously throughout the entire course of their relationship; this is definitely an ideal scenario but certainly not one that is typical. Others only experience high levels of one, or low levels of two.

Passion tends to peak fairly quickly (within 6-12 months), whereas commitment is the slow burner—it generally increases steadily for long-term relationships. Intimacy increases steadily at first then typically decreases over the long run.

If you expect that love should always feel like a roller coaster (high passion), you might be upset and worry that you have fallen out of love when your relationship moves into a more companionate (lower passion but growing intimacy) phase—more like a riverboat cruise than a roller coaster.

However, that shift is typical of romantic relationships and occurs because of the gains in comfort and closeness overall, which doesn’t always work well with the high-stakes intensity that passion involves, including those emotional highs and lows. These trajectories are normal, but there are some variations for sure.

Expect some fluctuations across the duration of your relationship

Most people need to work at keeping passion in their relationships, and commitment can be undermined by a wide range of events that can shake the foundation of your relationship. For example, infidelity can shatter commitment, as I’ve discussed before in this blog. But even gradual changes in partner’s life plans can also challenge commitment if it draws the partners apart.

In sum, there are many paths to love, but three primary ingredients. Psychological research removes some of the mystery and drama that colors our romantic experiences. Of all the people across the world, there is likely just a handful at most in your lifetime with whom you will fall in love—maybe just one, maybe none. Despite all that we know, who a person will fall in love with and what keeps that love alive remain mysteries (for now).

Facebook image: Josep Suria/Shutterstock


Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Intimacy, passion, commitment. Basic Books.

Sorokowski, P., et al. (2021). Universality of the Triangular Theory of Love: Adaptation and psychometric properties of the Triangular Love Scale in 25 countries. Journal of Sex Research, 58(1), 106-115.

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You know "love at first sight"? Two strangers see each other, feel immediately connected, and this instant attraction begets a forever relationship. People who experience love at first sight seem to realize, right away, that they're in love. But what if that's not your story? What if your relationship has more a gradual unfolding? How then, do you know if you're in love?

Whether you believe in love at first sight or not, its emphasis is not actually on what scholars would define as love. Rather, the spark that defines a love-at-first-sight experience is better described as a strong attraction accompanied by an openness to a future relationship (Zsok, Haucke, De Wit, & Barelds, 2017). Romantic love is more involved, encompassing emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. It's also not something that generally happens instantly, but rather, it usually tends to emerge over time.

Why is it important to know if you're in love?

Questions about love are often, although not always, anchored to behaviors or choices. For instance, determining if you do (or do not) love someone could help you decide:

  • Do I want to start an exclusive relationship with this person?
  • Am I really unhappy in this relationship, and should I leave?
  • Should I say "I love you" to the person I am with?
  • Should I hold out for something else, or is this it?
  • Am I ready for a deeper commitment to this person?

How do you know if you love someone?

In order to figure out if you love someone, consider how researchers define romantic love. Many scholars see love as an emotional attachment (Hazan & Shaver, 1987), and as such, they consider the quality of a relationship rather than viewing love as a "yes/no" question. In other words, how would you characterize your relationship with this person? How secure and safe do you feel? Are you preoccupied with this person and anxiously concerned that he or she will leave you? Importantly, you can feel deeply attached to someone, even if it is an experience colored by anxiety or avoidance. The presence of romantic love does not depend on a secure experience.

Others view love as reflecting varying levels of passion, intimacy, and commitment (Sternberg, 1986). In this case, you might ask yourself these questions, which reflect the ideas central to Sternberg's model, but are merely samples to spark thought; they are not a validated measure of love:

1. How often do you think about this person?

2. Do you miss him/her when you're not near him/her?

3. Is it exciting, thrilling, or otherwise physiologically stimulating to see this person?

4. How connected do you feel to this person?

5. To what extent does this person know your emotions and feelings?

6. Do you have a strong level of mutual understanding?

7. Do you feel personally responsible for this person?

8. Are you "all-in" when it comes to being with this person?

The first three questions target the idea of passion, which is tied to sexual attraction. Mutual sexual desire might promote romantic love, but sexual interest can be found in other relationships (e.g., short-term flings, friends-with-benefits) in which someone would not say they love that person. In other words, sexual attraction is often viewed as necessary, but not sufficient, for defining romantic love.

The next three questions focus on intimacy. Intimacy is tied to liking. While most people agree that liking is a part of romantic love (Graham, 2011), it is also a critical component of close friendships and therefore, like passion, it is not exclusive to love. The final three questions target commitment, which is a decision (Sternberg, 1986). If passion is "hot," and intimacy is "warm," then commitment is the "cold" component of love, in which someone chooses to be with someone else. Sternberg (1986) argues that consummate love reflects all three aspects of his love triangle: passion, intimacy, and love.

When people try to understand whether they are, or are not, in love with someone, clarity can sometimes be elusive. Instead of asking "yes" or "no," think about "how much" love you feel and to what extent the relationship fulfills the many different needs we try to meet in our romantic relationships.

Facebook image: kite studio/Shutterstock


Graham, J. M. (2011). Measuring love in romantic relationships: A meta-analysis. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28(6), 748-771.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of personality and social psychology, 52(3), 511-524.

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological review, 93(2), 119-135.

Zsok, F., Haucke, M., De Wit, C. Y., & Barelds, D. P. (2017). What kind of love is love at first sight? An empirical investigation. Personal Relationships, 24, 869-885.

10 Psychological Facts About Love

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Many of us have fallen madly in love, or what we thought was love. It’s sure to happen at least once in your life, if not many times. It’s that feeling like no other of being swept away on a magic carpet ride into the sunset with this one very special person. Your heart beats faster when you’re around them, or even just thinking about them. Life seems so exciting, so full of joy. Your beloved is like no other, and when you are with them, you are like no other. The world is a beautiful place. You know this feeling will go on forever.

But time goes by and life happens. Eventually, infatuation evolves into something else. That something could be love, or it could just stay infatuation for a while before it finally fizzles out and dies. To shed more light on the difference between love and infatuation, we turn to the research of Helen Fisher and her team who have found that romantic love exists as three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. A specific set of hormones is assigned to each of these categories. Lust has to do with sexual gratification and is governed by the sex hormones of testosterone and estrogen. Attraction, governed by dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, is tied to “reward” behavior, which explains why the beginning of a love relationship is so exciting and all-consuming.

Then, there is attachment, governed by oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”) and vasopressin, which is the major factor exclusive to long-term relationships. It’s about bonding, friendship, the desire for closeness beyond sex. Throw lust and attraction into the mix and you’ve got the whole package—love in the fullest.

Here are five ways to help you recognize and understand the huge difference between infatuation and authentic love. Understand that every relationship is unique and different so what happens in one relationship may not happen in another. Infatuation may be over in a flash or last for weeks and months. Feelings of love may emerge early on in the relationship or may take time to evolve.

1. Biology is a key factor

I know we might like to think that we’re in total control of our thoughts and emotions. But when we’re attracted to someone and begin to have intense feelings for them, it’s largely because biology is helping us. Neurotransmitters released by the brain pour into our systems and produce and sustain feelings of pleasure, happiness, and even euphoria.

These hormones make us feel amazing. We feel fulfilled with another, attractive and attracted, powerful in our beliefs that this person (and relationship) is the one to last forever. We’re actually experiencing a chemical high. These neurotransmitters are addicting us to the feelings of “love,” or what we think is love. But over time, this intensity lessens and, if it is just infatuation, what you once felt will lessen as well, and the reality of the situation will become much clearer.

If it’s love, these initial feelings may lessen, too. But the neurotransmitters tied to attachment will kick in and what will emerge is a desire to bond, to want to be close, and to share life experiences.

2. Fantasy versus reality

When we’re infatuated, everything looks wonderful and perfect. Even though we know life isn’t perfect and often not wonderful, when we’re in this state of heightened emotion it seems as if everything is right as it is and that nothing can go wrong. That’s how distorted our thinking is. Infatuation allows us to see what we want to see, what we want others to be rather than who they are. We imagine that something is there that we want/need but that’s only a projection of what we want and need, and not what’s there in reality. In infatuation attraction overrides everything. It’s the fairytale.

In reality, life is what it is with no sugar-coating—the good, bad, and ugly. Love accepts what is, rather than what you want it to be. In love, our partner not only becomes the object of our desire but a trusted, dear friend. In authentic love, there are shared values, hopes, and dreams.

3. Superficial versus deep

When we’re infatuated, the emphasis is on what we think makes us most attractive—the way we look, dress, behave. We may be holding back for fear that if we showed parts of ourselves we don’t care for, our partner might be turned off. As with any fairytale, looks and outward appearances are everything. When infatuation starts to fade and the veil of so-called perfection is stripped away, who we thought we loved so much may not be the person who is really there.

Love accepts everything about the one we love including all their faults and flaws. Love knows that none of us is perfect, that we are all works in progress. Love supports, encourages, and nurtures the one we love. Authentic love encompasses honesty and trust.

4. Obsession versus "let it be”

Infatuation is another way of saying we are in love with an idea/ideal versus the real thing. One may become so infatuated that they think about the other person all day, totally consumed by them or thoughts of them when they’re not there. Infatuation can foster insecurity. The obsession with another can go as far as needing to control a partner’s every action—needing them around all the time, keeping tabs on them, tracking their actions, controlling their behavior. Infatuation can cause one to put their life on hold, neglecting family and friends, and the responsibilities of their own life.

Love allows for feeling completely at ease to be who you are at your core and accepts who you are without judgment or condition. Love is not just about how you feel for another but just as importantly, if not maybe more so, love in a relationship supports you to express your love in everything you do. A loving relationship is the fertile ground for becoming a fully loving person.

5. "Addicted" to love versus finding peace in love

Then there are those relationships in a class all their own. They may start off the same way as other relationships but their evolution is quite different. And here it helps to know about a person’s past as well as their past relationships. There are those who feel they are "addicted" to romantic love, believing that that is what true love is. They fall in “love” hard and fast, so sure that this one is the real one. They know right away that they have found their soulmate. They look for the high of romance.

However, when real life imposes itself, as it must, they’re sure they got it wrong and go on to the next romantic relationship where the inevitable high happens and then fades. If infatuation is all they really experience, they may never get to the love part with its ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments, difficulties and rewards. If you’re looking for love at its best and fullest, then buyer beware in situations like this. While romance is beautiful, that alone won’t sustain a relationship over time.

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Psychology today love

Every relationship represents a leap of faith for at least one partner, and even in the happiest couples, the very traits that once attracted them to each other can eventually become annoyances that drive them apart. Acquiring the skills to make a connection last is hard work, and threats may spring up without notice. In short-term, casual relationships, neither partner may see a truly viable long-term future together, but often only one takes action, in some cases ghosting the other, walking out of their lives with no communication, not even a text.

For some couples, infidelity is both the first and last straw, but a surprising number of relationships survive betrayal, some only to have their connection upended by everyday threats such as a loss of interest in physical intimacy, or a waning of positive feeling in the wake of constant criticism, contempt, or defensiveness. Even staying together for decades is no guarantee that a couple will remain connected: The divorce rate for couples over 50 has doubled since 1990.

Some people can walk away from years of marriage and instantly feel unburdened. For others, the end of a relationship that lasted just a few dates can trigger emotional trauma that lingers for years. However a breakup plays out, it can be a major stressor with an effect on ego and self-esteem that cannot be ignored.

To learn more, see Relationship Challenges and The End of Relationships.

The Science of Love - John Gottman - TEDxVeniceBeach

Looking at human affairs, many of us are saddened by the fact that there is a lot of misery in the world: suffering, deception, and destruction. Some feel that things are getting worse, the world is more divided than ever. On the other hand, we are encouraged by the many acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and love that also goes around.

Indeed, almost everybody wants to live happily and peacefully, and almost everybody wants loving relationships—even those folks we perceive as hostile. The natural question then is, why do we so often fail?

It’s not news to anybody that the answer to happy living is love. Love is the key to any life and the key to happiness. During the holiday season, we suffer with George Baily in “It’s a Wonderful Life” until he realizes that it is love that matters more than anything in the world. The movie is among the most popular because it rings true—love indeed is the universal answer to any misery or divisiveness. The very next moment, however, we turn our attention again to pursuits of short-term gratification and/or other self-directed matters.

The curious thing about love is that despite its indisputable importance to our lives, we spend comparatively little time trying to understand it. We all have a certain concept of love—but do we question or probe it? Instead, we spend most of our lives acquiring skills and knowledge which we believe facilitates us navigating to a “successful” life but have nothing to do with love.

If we come to understand why love is so essential to us—and conversely, why neglecting to focus our attention on love is detrimental—maybe we will be more motivated to re-center our priorities. We may ask ourselves: What is love anyway? Do we have any influence on love? Is it part of our biology? Is it part of spirituality? Is it both? What is it that makes us love somebody? What makes us not love somebody?

Armin Zadeh

Source: Armin Zadeh

In his 1956 book “The Art of Loving”, psychologist Erich Fromm challenged the notion that love is this phenomenon which serendipitously occurs without our control. Fromm believed it is a common mistake to confuse the intense feelings we experience when we fall in love at the beginning of romantic relationships with actual love. The passionate, obsessive period which we so crave because of all its excitement may be part of a romantic relationship but not of love itself –it is just a phase and it won’t last.

Recent studies in neuroscience allow us to clearly differentiate between the early “falling-in-love” phase compared to the long-term “in love” period by detecting distinct activities in our blood and brain. Researchers studied people who just fell in love compared to those in long term relationships. They could show the pattern of blood levels changing over time. MRI studies of the brain corroborate these findings; revealing activities in distinct brain areas during each phase.

The “falling-in-love” phase invariably ends after 2-4 years, it is just nature’s way to jump start a relationship. If we think this is love we will inevitably be disappointed. Indeed, there is a peak in the incidence of relationship break ups after 2-4 years.

In contrast, love is a lasting, committed state, which requires our active involvement. In “The Forgotten Art of Love”, I define love as the urge and the continuous effort for the happiness and wellbeing of somebody which expresses that, while love involves powerful feelings, a critical component of it is commitment.

This active commitment aspect in the process of loving is actually the key to success. Unfortunately, however, it is the facet most often neglected, probably because it takes ongoing effort. It would be much easier if reality was such that love is this beautiful emotion that we just to have to be lucky to get to be passive recipients of. The inconvenient truth, however, is that love is no exception to any other great achievement in life, we have to work for it. At the same time, there is a silver—even golden—lining: We actually have a lot of control on how much love we have in our lives—an empowering concept.

Armin Zadeh

Source: Armin Zadeh

If we recognize the nature of “falling in love” as being a distinct passing phase, we won’t be disappointed once the obsessive feelings fade a after a while. Instead, we will be prepared to move to the next phase in the relationship, which can be equally or even more powerful but, in contrast to the falling in love phase, requires our effort to sustain it. This is why I agree with characterizing love as an art—requiring skills and devotion.


Zadeh, A. (2017). The Forgotten Art of Love. Novato, CA: New World Library.


Similar news:

Every relationship represents a leap of faith for at least one partner, and even in the happiest couples, the very traits that once attracted them to each other can eventually become annoyances that drive them apart. Acquiring the skills to make a connection last is hard work, and threats may spring up without notice. In short-term, casual relationships, neither partner may see a truly viable long-term future together, but often only one takes action, in some cases ghosting the other, walking out of their lives with no communication, not even a text.

For some couples, infidelity is both the first and last straw, but a surprising number of relationships survive betrayal, some only to have their connection upended by everyday threats such as a loss of interest in physical intimacy, or a waning of positive feeling in the wake of constant criticism, contempt, or defensiveness. Even staying together for decades is no guarantee that a couple will remain connected: The divorce rate for couples over 50 has doubled since 1990.

Some people can walk away from years of marriage and instantly feel unburdened. For others, the end of a relationship that lasted just a few dates can trigger emotional trauma that lingers for years. However a breakup plays out, it can be a major stressor with an effect on ego and self-esteem that cannot be ignored.

To learn more, see Relationship Challenges and The End of Relationships.


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