Even though romantically involved, not every couple is alike, indicating that there are also different types of love. In psychology, this shift to focusing on love and relationship maintenance began in the 1970s. Zick Rubin, a sociologist, is widely credited for developing the very first empirical measurement of love in the late 1960s. How did he do it?
Love, Like, and Passionate Love
In the late 1960s, the commonly held view was that liking and loving were on a single continuum, with love just indicating an extreme form of like. Zick Rubin’s work changed that view. He developed a scale that assessed both feelings of liking and loving and found that these were in fact two different types of feelings. Liking reflects respect and confidence in someone’s judgment. Love reflects self-disclosure and self-sacrifice.
The first model, of how love changes over time, developed within psychology was by Elaine Hatfield and William Walster, in the 1970s. In the early stages of a romantic relationship, people typically experience passionate love, meaning a state of intense longing for the other person. They want to be near the other person, think about that person constantly, and feel extreme distress when they are separated.
Now, it might seem pretty depressing to learn that passion generally fades over time in a relationship. But, as one of the characters says, in the 2004 film, Before Sunset, about two people who meet up again 10 years after first falling in love, if passion didn’t fade, “we would end up doing nothing at all with our lives.”
Passionate and Companionate Love
And it’s not that all love fades, it’s just that the type of love changes. Over time, most couples evolve into a different kind of love, known as companionate love. This type of love includes intimacy, respect, and trust. People care deeply for each other and share a commitment to the relationship, but the intensity of their feelings is less urgent and overwhelming. This is the kind of love that endures over time.
This basic distinction between passionate and companionate love was the first attempt to categorize different types of love. But Robert Sternberg, a professor at Yale University, developed a new model known as the triangular theory.
It describes different types of love in terms of three potential components: passion, intimacy, and commitment. These three components form the three corners of a triangle. Intimacy involves sharing thoughts and feelings, passion involves physical attraction, and commitment is sticking with the person over time.
The Components of Love
Sternberg believed that a healthy relationship includes all three of these components of love, which he described as consummate love. However, he also proposed types of love that include only one or two of the components.
For example, some relationships might have only intimacy, which he describes as liking. Others might have only passion, which he describes as infatuation. Relationships held together largely by commitment are sometimes described as empty love.
Still others might have intimacy and passion, but no commitment; a type of romantic love often associated with an intense but brief summer fling. A relationship with intimacy and commitment, but no passion, is basically companionate love.
This article comes directly from content in the video series Introduction to Psychology. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Brain Science Underlying Love
One of the challenges of studying love is that it’s often based on what someone will or won’t report to researchers. But brain imaging research reveals that love really does look different, even at a neurological level. Interestingly, this foray into the brain science underlying love was initiated by Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University. She had studied 166 different societies around the world and found evidence of romantic love in 147 of them. That led her to wonder if this feeling is, in fact, biologically based.
She put together a team of scientists to study this question, and, in 2005, they published a ground breaking study. They analyzed 2,500 brain scans taken of people looking at a photo of their romantic partner and also of an acquaintance.
Fascinatingly, the images showed clear differences in brain activity. People looking at photos of their romantic partner showed activity in parts of the brain with high levels of dopamine, the so-called feel-good neurotransmitter. So, falling in love leads people to feel a high not unlike that of an addict using drugs.
This research also explains why a relationship break up is so painful. The brain processes the loss of love in a similar way to how it processes breaking an addiction to drugs, such as heroin. At a biochemical level, we literally get addicted to love. These findings about how love activates particular parts of the brain, help explain why simply holding the hand of a romantic partner, or just looking at a photograph of them, can help reduce pain.
And yet, how does this process work? One study published in 2018 found that holding hands with a romantic partner leads to interpersonal synchronization, meaning partners’ physiological responses such as breathing, heart rate, and brain waves fall into sync.
The research team recruited couples who had been together for at least a year and measured their brain wave activity while one member was experiencing mild pain—intense heat applied to the arm. The couples were placed in one of three conditions: sitting together, but not touching; sitting together and holding hands; or sitting in different rooms.
Surprisingly, even without touching, couples sitting in the same room showed some synchronicity in brain waves, however, it was higher if they were holding hands, and lower if they were in different rooms. This clearly indicated that the more in sync the brain waves were, the more the pain subsided. This fascinating neurological connection leads us to the most fundamental thing when it comes to love: How relationships get started matters, but what’s far more important is how they evolve over time and whether they last.
Common Questions about the Different Types of Love
In the late 1960s, the commonly held view was that liking and loving were on a single continuum, with love just indicating an extreme form of like.
The triangular theory describes different types of love in terms of three potential components: passion, intimacy, and commitment.
Brain imaging research reveals that love really does look different, even at a neurological level.