Understanding the concept of love isn't easy since it can be interpreted differently across different cultures, and even for each person. The word 'love' refers to an emotional bond as well as a series of decisions and actions related to passion, intimacy, and loyalty.
In this article, we talk about the types of love and define it based on Sternberg's triangular theory of love, as well as other scientific research in the field of relationship psychology. To be more specific, we'll focus on romantic relationships, although we'll also mention different ways in which one can manifest this feeling.
Love has been defined in many ways by different individuals and across cultures. This is an abstract term that has many meanings depending on one's values and social traditions, and even depending on the language that one uses.
In Ancient Greece many different words were used to talk about love: sexual passion was called 'eros,' profound love between friends was represented by 'filia,' and the word for commitment between two members of a couple was 'pragma,' etc.
Cross-cultural studies show the presence of romantic love in most societies throughout history. However, it doesn't always have the same value -in some cases, like in Japan or Russia, commitment seems to weigh more heavily in relationships than passion.
However, the closeness of these concepts of love reveals the fact that this is a feeling common to all human beings -therefore, there must be a biological explanation for this even though social contexts also plays a vital role in the exact manifestation of this feeling.
According to Sternberg's triangular theory of love, there are three main elements in romantic relationships: intimacy, passion, and commitment. So, by looking at this relationship psychology theory and a biological explanation, we share the bigger picture of what this complex sentiment really means.
A biological explanation
Psychobiological research reveals that romantic relationships made up of three phases: desire, attraction, and commitment. These phases only overlap partially, although desire and attraction are temporary, and attachment is the most crucial factor in the long-term. Besides, attachment and intimacy are present in romantic relationships, friendship, and family relationships.
Studies have connected desire to the secretion of testosterone and estrogen, masculine and feminine hormones, and other factors. On a biological level, desire is fundamental for human development since it promotes reproduction and therefore the continuity of the species as a whole.
Falling for someone is connected to attraction, and that's why it's more closely related to romantic relationships, with regard to sexual passion. During this period, that usually lasts between 2 and 3 years, the body produces neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, that bring out pleasant feelings when we're close to the person that we feel attracted to.
Hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin are a part of attachment and, as we mentioned, this is characteristic of all types of love, not just romantic. Pleasant feelings caused by attachment bonds explain long-lasting relationships between couples, friends, and family members, which we'll talk more about below through Sternberg's triangular theory of love.
In 1986, the psychologist Robert Sternberg, best known for his intelligence theories, came up with what's likely the most widely recognized theory on the psychology of love: the triangular theory of love (or "Sternberg's triangular theory of love").
Below we'll explain the types of love based on Sternberg's triangular theory of love. This classification is based on three factors: passion, intimacy, and commitment.
A relationship solely based on intimacy is 'friendship.' This doesn't mean that the love isn't intense though: the bond we form with our friends can be powerful even if there is no long-term commitment involved.
If you have intimacy with a friend, but you also experience a relative amount of sexual attraction or emotional commitment, this could be fatuous or companionate love, respectively. Later on, we'll talk about these two types of love in-depth.
In Sternberg's triangular theory of love, infatuated love refers to relationships where passion dominates; this is very close to what one would describe as 'love at first sight' or 'cupid's arrow.'
Infatuation is characterized by physiological activation: a feeling of passion that makes your heart beat faster, generates sexual excitation, and the secretion of hormones.
The term 'empty love' has a negative connotation that reflects the concept that our society has of commitment without passion or intimacy. This type of love can happen both in relationships that last for years as well as in new ones; this happens, for example, in committed marriages.
However, it's important to keep in mind that commitment is a fundamental component in relatioships since it reflects the choice to stick by someone's side long-term. For many people, commitment is more important than passion and intimacy since it's essential to make a relationship last for a long time.
Companionate love occurs between intimate friends with intense and committed relationships, but it is also common in happy couples where passion and physical attraction have fizzled out over time -which can be hard to avoid in most cases.
Related: 8 Types Of Relationships And Dating
In Fatuous love, the commitment established is based on sexual attraction without intimacy. In this case, there could be premature commitment since, without intimacy or knowing the person that you have feelings for; the relationship is bound to unfold this way.
According to Sternberg's triangular theory of love, romantic love involves passion and intimacy but lacks the commitment essential to a relationship. Therefore, this is a mix of infatuation and friendship, with physical attraction and emotional connection.
This type of love is often portrayed in fiction, from ancient times to the present day. A lot of people exclusively talk about this kind of relationship when they use the term, and commercial fiction has a lot to do with this.
Consummate love puts together all three of the key elements mentioned in Sternberg's triangular theory of love. On a social level, we tend to idealize this type of romance; however it usually doesn't last long-term since passion usually dwindles quickly.
So, people need to recognize that this kind of complete love is usually just a phase since although it's lovely, it isn't everlasting nor is it the only type of relationship that's worth fighting for. Research suggests that if a satisfactory relationship persists, it's most likely to turn into Sternberg's 'companionate love' over time.
Check out the original article: ¿Qué es el amor y qué tipos hay según la Psicología? at viviendolasalud.com