Love is one of the most basic human emotions. Many have written about love experiences, both in popular writing and in more scholarly publications, especially as they apply to romantic relationships. As these writings indicate, there are many ways of thinking about love. Some of the types of love identified by researchers are reviewed below. Research about how people fall in love and why they choose one person over another to date or to marry also provides information about love. Much of the research on love and partner choice focuses on dating and the initial stages of relationships.
Love and feelings about the partner are only one of many determinants of commitment to that partner. Factors predicting commitment are also reviewed below. Much of the research on relationship commitment examines marital partners.
Definitions of Love
One of the first modern scientific analyses of types of love was proposed by Lee (1977). Different types of love were derived from a concept analysis of fictional writing in Europe and the US since ancient Roman times. The forms of love that were identified were given names that related them to ancient Greek conceptions of love.
The first type of love identified was called Eros. Eros is an erotic, passionate love. The physical appearance of the beloved is an important part of eros. Eros love can be love at first sight. Having feelings of eros toward someone is a very enjoyable feeling. But eros love can also end suddenly, leaving the person wondering what they saw in their former beloved. Others may wonder what the attraction is toward the beloved, since the relationship does not appear to have a rational basis.
Another form of passionate (and apparently irrational) love is called Mania. While eros love is a positive, happy state, mania love is the dark side of passionate love. Mania involves obsession with the beloved person. Constant thoughts of the beloved can involve high levels of jealousy and upset about what the beloved is feeling about oneself. This type of love may be associated with stalking of the beloved.
Storge is a friendship based love. Storge is a quiet, affectionate love that develops gradually over time. Even if the love relationship ends, the strong friendship associated with storge often means one continues to be friends with the former beloved. Highly related to relationship satisfaction, this type of love can lack strong feelings of passion.
Agape is an altruistic love. Agape love is associated with the desire to give to the beloved without asking anything in return.
Pragma love is a practical love that involves loving something about the person, such as being a good parent, being respected in the community, or being wealthy. This type of love is associated with arranged marriages.
Ludus love is not typically classified as “love” in western society today, although these feelings were found by Lee to be labeled as love in some cultures. Ludus is love for the moment. It is assumed that ludus love feelings will not last long. They may be only for an evening. Ludus is associated with flirtation and the desire to seduce someone for a sexual encounter. Ludus feelings are associated with low relationship satisfaction, shorter relationships, and not feeling “love” for the partner.
Love styles are assessed at one point in time. One’s feelings can change over time. Thus, a relationship that starts out with primarily eros feelings could develop into a storge or agape type of love feeling. Love styles are also specific to the relationship. One can have eros feelings for one partner and mania feelings for another partner.
Another way of classifying love is to divide it into two basic types: passionate love and companionate love. The passionate love would include Lee’s Eros and Mania. Passionate love is also called limerence. Passionate love is of much interest to psychologists since it appears to be irrational. Characteristics of passionate love include strong feelings of sexual arousal. There is also fantasy and idealization of the beloved. This type of love comes on suddenly. It is sometimes defined as a ”state of intense longing for union with another.” When one is feeling passionate love for another, being together brings fulfillment and ecstasy, while separation brings anxiety and despair. This type of love often does not last long, especially if reality is allowed to interfere with the fantasies one has of the beloved.
Several theories have been proposed to explain the origins of passionate love. The first of these was suggested by the psychiatrist Karl Jung and his colleague Esther Harding, who spoke of unconscious attraction as the basis of passionate love. Jung felt that people have both a conscious part and an unconscious part of their personality. Generally, one’s unconscious self is of the other gender than the conscious self. A goal of Jungian therapy is to integrate the unconscious aspect of the personality into conscious awareness. Within this framework it was proposed that when one feels a sudden, passionate attraction toward someone, one is really falling in love with an unconscious aspect of the self that has the opposite gender to the conscious self. This unconscious, opposite gender self is often derived from one’s opposite sex parent. For some reason, perhaps a resemblance to the opposite sex parent, there is a sense of knowing the beloved person and of strong attraction. Fantasy is used to maintain the image that the beloved person has the same characteristics as the unconscious self. This theory is not directly testable, but informal observations of people attracted to those who resemble their other sex parent provide some support for it. Passionate love does not appear to have a rational basis.
John Money, known primarily for his work with children with abnormal genitals, suggested a theory of pair bonding, a concept very similar to passionate love. Money (1980) feels that passionate, somewhat irrational feelings of love are analogous to an imprinting process that is set off by the physical appearance of the loved one. Although Money does not specify what the bio logical basis of pair bonding is, one possibility is that this is related to pheromones. Fantasy about the beloved is used to explain to the person why the strong attraction exists. High levels of passion are maintained for about two to three years (long enough for a pregnancy to occur). Once a woman becomes pregnant, her pheromones change and the basis of the pair bonding may be lost (explaining why so many passionate relationships end during pregnancy). After the pregnancy, if the relationship continues to exist, it must be maintained by parent-child bonds in both partners.
Another theory of love proposed by Berscheid and Walster (1969) is based on social psychological research on attribution theory. This theory builds on Zillman’s work on motivation and the finding that arousal from sexual feelings, fear, physical exercise, or aggression all lead to similar forms of physiological arousal in the body. People use cues in the environment to label this physiological arousal, and if cues are ambiguous, people can mislabel the source of their arousal. Arousal from one source can be transferred to another source. Thus, when men are angry, they rate pictures of attractive women more positively than they do if not previously angered. Berscheid and Walster apply these ideas to human passionate love. Their theory argues that when one is aroused (by any source), if an appropriate love object is present, the physiological arousal may be (mis)labeled as passionate love. This theory has been extensively empirically tested and data from many studies do show support for the idea that physiological arousal can increase feelings of attraction or love of a desirable partner. When one encounters an unattractive individual under a state of physiological arousal, the reaction is more likely to be anger.
Companionate love is similar to Lee’s concept of storge. This type of love is affection or deep friendship felt for those with whom our lives are deeply intertwined. Companionate love tends to develop gradually and strengthens over time (at least in theory). This type of love generally occurs among those with similar backgrounds and shared interests. It appears to be based on mutual reinforcement.
Determinants of Partner Choice
Another way of analyzing love is to study how people select their marital or dating partners. Many studies have attempted to do this, using a variety of methodologies. Conclusions depend on the methodology used. Studies that simply ask people about what they are looking for in a partner do not yield valid findings, since it appears that people either do not know what they seek or they are unwilling to say. When asked, people often report wanting ”boy scout” traits. They say they want a partner who is loyal, dependable, and honest. But these traits do not appear to explain why people select the partners that they do. When people are asked to rate how important various traits are in making partner choices, although people do continue to rate traits such as loyalty high, it is also possible to see differences in the ratings of men and women. Such studies show that men value the appearance of their partner more than women. Women rate the earning ability of their partners higher than men do. Ratings are different for short term partners, as compared to what one wants in a marriage or long term partner.
Another technique for studying partner choice is to analyze personal ads where people seek a partner. Since the first of them in the 1970s, these studies have consistently shown that men seek an attractive partner, more than women do, although both sexes care about the appearance of their partner. Women mention their own appearance in their ads more than men, while men are more likely than women to mention their financial situation, or the fact that they seek a committed relationship. Men tend to respond to more ads than women, and there is less correspondence between men’s own self-described characteristics and the characteristics of the women whose ads they respond to. Women tend to be more selective, responding only to ads of selected men.
Other studies analyze the people who do marry to see what variables appear to predict partner choice and breakup. When existing couples are examined, it is very difficult to show that any measure of personality compatibility consistently matters across groups of couples. In studies using photos of real couples, when the level of attractiveness of the man and the woman are similar, the couples matched on attractiveness are more stable and satisfied in relationship.
Overall, data suggest that although men value the attractiveness of their partners more than women, physical appearance is important to both sexes. People have many positive beliefs about attractive individuals, and have negative associations with unattractive individuals. The greater importance of partner appearance for men than women is seen in heterosexual as well as homo sexual couples.
Commitment to a Relationship
As noted above, many of the types of love, especially passionate love, tend to be unstable and can end very quickly. Thus, commitment to a partner involves quite different dimensions than feelings of (passionate) love. One component of commitment is the positivity of feelings about the partner and the relationship. Generally, relationship satisfaction is higher for companionate love or storge relationships than for passionate love, especially mania. Several theories of commitment are discussed below. Many of these theories focus on marriages.
Rusbult has proposed that commitment is related to relationship satisfaction, as well as to the level of investment in the relationship and to the availability of alternative attractive relationships. This model has received some empirical support. Investment is generally operationalized as the amount of time spent in developing the relationship and resources such as a shared social network and children that have become associated with the relationship. Rusbult further suggests that when a person is more committed to the relationship, they are more willing to accommodate to the partner’s requests, sacrifice for the partner, feel a sense of interdependence, avoid seeking alternative relationships, and have positive beliefs about the relationship.
Levinger provides another perspective on relationship commitment. He suggests that commitment is a function of the level of positive as compared to negative feelings about the relationship and the level of barriers or restraining forces that prevent breakup of the relationship. If there are strong social pressures to maintain a marriage, for example, people would be more committed to their spouses than if divorce is relatively easy. The level of attraction to the relationship is dependent on the rewards associated with the relationship compared to the costs of being with the partner. Once people make a public commitment to their relationship, through announcing an engagement or a marriage, the external barriers to breaking up the relationship increase. Barriers are relatively low today in the US as compared to earlier historical periods and to other societies in the world.
Johnson has argued that there are three different types of commitment to a relationship. First is the personal commitment or desire to continue the relationship. This is similar to what others have labeled as relationship satisfaction or attraction to the partner. A second type of commitment is the feeling of moral obligation to remain with the partner. Such moral feelings can relate to religious beliefs about the permanence of marriage. They can also come from believing that one has to remain with the marital partner for the sake of the children. Some people may feel that breaking up a relationship is a form of failure. Such feelings may also take on the characteristic of remaining in a relationship because of feelings of obligation. In addition to these factors within the person, Johnson also considers that social pressure exerted for people to remain in relationships functions as a third predictor of relationship commitment.
Another body of research looks at personality factors in the individual, known as attachment styles, as they relate to commitment. There are three basic forms of attachment: secure, avoidant, and anxious. These are believed to develop during infancy and come from the types of interactions that occur between the infant and his or her major caretakers. Securely attached infants become upset when the caretaker is absent, but are happy when the caretaker is present, and feel free to explore their environment. Avoidant infants do not appear to be upset about the caretaker being absent and show little positive affect in the presence of the caretaker. Anxious infants appear to be overly clinging when their caretakers are present and become quite upset when they are absent. Such behaviors are believed to continue into adulthood and become manifested in romantic relationships. Work by Shaver and others has indicated that those with secure attachments are more com mitted to their romantic partners and feel more satisfaction about these relationships. Their relationships tend to last longer than for other groups. Those with an avoidant pattern are less committed to their romantic partners and report less relationship satisfaction. The anxious adults often form relationships very quickly, but they do not appear to have long term commitments. Qualitative data suggest that they may be experiencing mania types of love.
- Adams, J. J. & Jones, W. H. (Eds.) (1999) Handbook of Interpersonal Commitment and Relationship Stability. Kluwer, New York.
- Berscheid, E. & Walster, E. (1969) Interpersonal Attraction. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.
- Lee, J. (1977) Colors of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving. New Press, Don Mills, Ontario.
- Money, J. (1980) Love and Love Sickness: The Science of Sex, Gender Difference, and Pair Bonding. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.