Types & Components of Love

Love Photo courtesy of ABCOpens in new window

Love has interested thinkers from diverse disciplines since the beginning of writing (or before).

The word love can mean many things, including feelings one has about people, animals, one’s country, activities, foods, books, and much more.

Scholars and researchers have tended to focus on love in the context of relationshipOpens in new window.

Love experts Reis and Aron (2008) have defined love as “a desire to enter, maintain, or expand a close, connected, and ongoing relationship with another person or other entity” (p. 80).

Early love researchers created love taxonomies. A widely known distinction between types of love, first proposed by Berscheild and Walster (1978), is between:

  • passionate love (“a state of intense longing for union with another,” p. 9) and
  • companionate love (“the affection we feel for those with whom our lives are deeply entwined,” p. 9).

The usefulness of this categorization has been supported by research at various levels, including laypeople’s conceptions of love, behavioral studies, and biological research.

Another expedient theory has been Sternberg’s (1986), which identified components of love:

  • passion (an arousal state and longing for another person),
  • intimacy (closeness to and emotional investment in another person), and
  • commitment (attachment to a person and decision to be with her).

In general, passion tends to be associated with passionate love, and intimacy and commitment tend to be associated with companionate love, although any of the three love features can be associated with either type of love (e.g., an individual can feel a sort of passion for a platonic friend—the passion is nonsexual and occurs primarily in a companionate relationship).

Leading figures in the history of science have explored concepts related to or processes involving love. John Bowlby and Harry HarlowOpens in new window, studying infant attachmentOpens in new window, argued and provided evidence that the bond between infant and mother may set the stage for future love relationships for the child.

Sigmund FreudOpens in new window (“the love doctor”) proposed that our childhood experiences create our love templates. For him, an individual’s first romantic relationship occurs around ages four to six, when the child develops an attachment to the opposite-sexed parent.

The attachment is sensual and includes a passionate desire to possess the parent exclusively. The particular dynamic between child and opposite-sexed parent and child and same-sexed parent (who is the child’s rival) will to some extent play out again in future romances.

Charles DarwinOpens in new window asserted that sexual attraction is necessary for the survival of our species and thus sexual love is functional. This theorizing about the evolutionary basis of love opened up a large research area, leading to comparisons across species and studies on topics such as mate preferencesOpens in new window and sexual mating strategies in both humans and other animals.

An evolutionary perspective on love has gained popularity. Theorists (e.g., Reis & Aron, 2008) have applied Berscheid and walster’s (1978) dichotomy within an evolutionary approach and have argued that both passionate and companionate love are helpful for survival of the species.

  • Passionate love leads to attraction, which can be associated with individuals entering into mating relationships that are relatively long term—at least, long enough to lead to successful reproduction.
  • Companionate love, which includes love between parents and love of parents for their children, increases the probability of survival of the child.

Recently, research on love has met with a resurgence. Reis and Aron (2008) predict that research will continue to be popular, addressgn issues such as specific biological mechanisms associated with love, how love is related to culture, and love outside of romantic relationships.

Reis and Aron also point out that love is associated with some negatives, which they call the “dark side” of love, including bereavement, unrequited love, jealousy, abandonment, and violence, and that these topics also need further study.

See also:
  1. Hendrick, S., & Hendrick, C. (1992). Liking, loving, and relating (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  2. Berscheid, E., & Waslter, E.H. (1978). Interpersonal attraction (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
  3. Reis, H.T., & Aron. (2008). Love: What is it, why does it matter, and how does it operate? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 80 – 36.
  4. Sternberg, R.J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119 – 135.