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Medicine LibreTexts

4.1: Theories of Love

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    11701
  • Love is a multidimensional concept and psychologists and sociologists have defined it in a variety of ways over the years. John Lee is perhaps the most quoted researcher on love with his six love types. Lee assumed that we all shared six core components of love and that our current loving relationship can be assessed and measured. Lee also claimed that there are qualities of love types—some more long-lasting and supportive of relationships and some pathological and defective which inhibit relationships.  Lee’s love types are widely used to help people understand their love styles. Lee claimed that six types of love comprised our loving experiences.

    Eros

    Eros is the love of sensuality: sex, taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell. Eros love is often what we feel when turned on. Eros love is neither good nor bad; it is simply part of the overall love composite we experience with another person.

    Storgé

    Storgé is the love of your best friend in a normal casual context of life. Storgé is calm and peaceful, surprising to some who might have simply hung out together at one point but suddenly discovered that their friendship deepened and became more important than other friendships. “We started needing to be together, talking on the phone for hours, and missing each other when apart,” are common descriptions of Storgé love.

    Pragma

    Pragma is the love of details and qualities in the other person. Pragma lovers are satisfied and attracted by the other because of their characteristics (e.g., athleticism, intelligence, wealth). Pragma lovers feel love at a rational level—thinking to a certain degree about the good deal.

    Agapé

    Agapé is the love that is selfless, other-focused, and seeks to serve others rather than receive from others. In Christian theology it’s the love of God for mankind.

    Ludis

    Ludis is an immature love that is more of a tease than a legitimate loving relationship. Ludic lovers trick their mates into believing that they are sincerely in love, while grooming 1, 2, or even 3 other lovers at the same time. Ludic lovers typically artificially stroke their sense of self-worth by playing a cruel game on their lovers who end up feeling used and betrayed.

    Mania

    Mania is an insecure love that is a mixture of conflict and artificially romantic Eros expressions. Manic lovers fear abandonment and are simultaneously terrified by the vulnerabilities they feel when intimate with their lover. Thus, their daily routines typically involve extreme highs and lows including arguing, making love, sweet-talking, and fighting with their lovers.

    Abraham Maslow, addressed love in terms of how our needs are met by the other person. His basic premise is that we pair-off with those whose love styles fill an unmet childhood need. In other words, Maslow said that if our childhood needs were not met in the basics of survival, safety, food, shelter, love, belonging, and even self-esteem, then we look for an adult companion that can fill those needs for us. It’s like an empty cup from our childhood that our adult partner fills for us. Maslow also said that when all those basic needs are met in childhood, we are attracted to an adult partner who compliments our full development into our psychological potential.2 If in your childhood, your survival, safety, food, shelter, love, belonging, and even self-esteem needs were unmet then you will be attracted to a deficiency lover. Deficiency lovers are lovers who provide the basic level of needs for their partner while having their needs reciprocally met in a similar way. Being lovers meet their partner’s aesthetic, intellectual, and physical needs while reciprocally having their needs met.

    Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love

    Robert Sternberg was the “Geometry of Love” psychologist who triangulated love using intimacy, passion, and commitment by measuring the intensity of each and how intense the triangulation was for the couple. To Sternberg it was important to consider how each partner’s triangle matched the other partner’s. He said that a couple with all three types of love balanced, and in sufficient magnitude, would have a rare yet rewarding type of love that encompassed much of what couples seek in a loving relationship. Sternberg’s consummate love is a love type that had equal measures of passion, intimacy, and commitment that is satisfactory to both lovers.

    In modern day applications of love, various components have been found as the ingredients of love: commitment, passion, friendship, trust, loyalty, affections, intimacy, acceptance, caring, concern, care, selflessness, infatuation, and romance. There is a love type identified that many people are aware of called unconditional love. Unconditional love is the sincere love that does not vary regardless of the actions of the person who is loved. You often hear it expressed in greater measure among parents of children whose misbehaviors embarrass or disappoint them. The love types and patterns discussed below are taken from many sources, but fit neatly into the Lee, Maslow, Sternberg, or Chapman paradigms.

    Romance

    Romantic love is based on continual courtship and physical intimacy. Romantic lovers continue to date long after they marry or move in together. They often express the strong sexual attraction to each other that was there from the beginning. Romantic lovers are idealistic about their relationship and often feel that it was destined to be. They often define mundane activities such as grocery shopping or commuting to work as escapades of two lovers.

    Infatuation

    What happens when very young people feel love for the first time? What is puppy love or infatuation? Infatuation is a temporary state of love where the other person is overly idolized and seen in narrow and extremely positive terms. An infatuated person might think obsessively about the other, may feel a strong emotional response when they are together, may see their entire world as revolving around the other, may see them being together for the rest of their lives, may find one or two qualities of the other as being near perfect, or may be seen by others as having a crush on the other person. Regardless of the details infatuations rarely last very long. This love develops quickly much like a firework launches quickly into the night sky, puts on an emotional light show, then burns out quickly. Many define puppy love or infatuation as an immature love experienced by those who are younger and perhaps a bit credulous.

    Commitment

    Committed love is a love that is loyal and devoted. Two lovers may share committed love with or without: physical affection, romance, friendship, trust, loyalty, acceptance, caring, concern, care, selflessness, and or infatuation. Committed lovers have a long-term history with one another and typically combine care-giving, concern for one another’s well-being, and spending much time thinking of the other. Committed lovers are there when needed by the other person.

    Altruism

    Altruism is a selfless type of love that serves others while not serving the one who is altruistic. True altruism is hard to find according to some. Mothers who tend their sick child throughout the night; fathers who work 3-4 decades in a job they don’t love to provide for their family; and even fire fighters who sacrifice their safety to save the lives of others are all considered to be altruistic in their actions. Because so much of what we do in our relationships is considered in the larger overall equation of the fairness in a relationship, selfless acts can be seen as acts which either build a reservoir of goodwill which will later be repaid or creating a debt of sorts in which the other person owes you some selfless service in return.

    Passion

    Sexual or passionate lovers are focused on the intensely sensual pleasures that are found with the senses of taste, smell, touch, feel, hear, and sight. Sexual lovers lust one another and feel closest when together and being physical. Sexual lovers can be together for five minutes, five days, five weeks, or five years, but sexual love, by itself is typically short- lived. There is closeness during sex and activities leading up to sex, but not much thereafter. Sexual love when combined with other love types can be very beneficial to the couple. Sexual love is almost always the love type experienced by those having an extra- marital affair.

    Friendship

    Friendship love includes intimacy and trust among close friends. Today, most long-burning or enduring love types form among people who were first close friends. Friendship lovers tend to enjoy each other’s company, conversation, and daily interactions. They consider one another to be “go-to” friends when advice is needed or when problems need to be talked about together. Not all friendship lovers become a couple. Many are just close or best friends. Yet many who spend the rest of their lives together will start out their relationship as friends.

    Realistic Love

    Criteria or realistic love is the love feelings you have when your list of a potential mate’s personal traits is met in the other person. For example, women often desire their male love companions to be taller. Men and women often desire to find a partner with homogamous traits (e.g., same religion, political leanings, hobbies, etc.).

    Obsession

    Obsessive love is an unhealthy love type where conflict and dramatic extremes in the relationship are both the goal and the theme of the couple’s love. Obsessive lovers live for storms and find peace while they rage. They are often violent or overly aggressive at different levels. Sometimes couples bring complimentary traits to the relationship which light the other’s fire of madness. In other words, she may be angry and violent with him, but not with some other males. He may feel simultaneously drawn to her and repulsed, but not with other females. Their personality-chemistry contributes to the insanity and lack of peace. These couples most likely need professional counseling and would probably be better off if they broke up. At the same time, why would they seek help or leave the person whose entanglements bring them such an occupation with drama and conflict that they are freed from their boredom and entertained at the same time?