At some point, you’ve probably found yourself asking what the word “love” actually means. Whether you’ve pondered this topic in the wake of a confusing breakup or because you’ve noticed that a friend doesn’t see the love in the same way that you do, you’re bound to have noticed that people use the word very differently. Looking at the work of psychologist Robert Sternberg can help to simplify matters—he describes seven main types of love, each of which is made up of one or more components. Which types of love have you experienced, and which do you value the most?
The ingredients of love
The main ingredients of love are commonly assumed to be passion, intimacy, and commitment. Passion is essentially lust, which you can experience through exciting daydreams or actual sexual encounters. It’s the addictive element of love that causes “lovesickness”—nausea, a racing heart, and an obsessive focus on the beloved. Meanwhile, intimacy is characterized by a close bond with another person.
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It’s at the heart of those special moments when you share secrets, offer a non-judgmental shoulder to cry on, and really feel accepted for who you are. Finally, commitment is the ingredient of love most under conscious control, as it involves deciding to stay with someone and make plans for a shared future. It’s exemplified by acts like getting married, moving in together or factoring another person into your career decisions.
Some types of love involve just one of these components, while others involve two or more. Following are the 7 main types of love:
Friendship is the type of love that’s present when two people are intimate but don’t feel sexual passion or make any major commitment to each other. As such, it is rarely present in romantic relationships, though it may well be the precursor to them (think of deep friendships that eventually develop a sexual spark). It is a love that feels safe, warm and trusting.
If you’ve ever had the experience of being instantly, powerfully attracted to another person, you’ve experienced infatuation. This type of love involves lustful passion, but it lacks interpersonal intimacy or shared commitment. As such, it can be one-way (as a form of unrequited love), or develop between two people who have a strong sexual connection but haven’t learned much about each other. It can mark the start of a deeper relationship, but on its own, it tends to be rather fickle and easily lost.
3. Empty love
Everyone knows couples who are determined to stay in a marriage or partnership in spite of clearly lacking the intimacy of friendship or the lust associated with passion. This is empty love, which is built only on commitment. Empty love is a type that is often left over after years of resentment and unresolved conflicts. On the other hand, it can also appear the start of some relationships, such as arranged marriages, and may eventually blossom into something further.
4. Romantic love
This type of love involves feeling close and sexually attracted to one another, as its two components are intimacy and passion. Romantic love is often the next step after mere passion when a couple starts to get to know each other’s personalities properly and begin to learn about each other’s unique quirks. It is a very pleasant type of love, like friendship and lust combine. However, since it lacks commitment, it can also feel a little unstable. While it is appropriate and wise to withhold commitment in the early stages of a relationship, anxiety can develop if romantic love continues for years without the addition of commitment.
5. Fantasy love
If you think about some celebrity marriages that last mere weeks, you’ll have a good idea of what fantasy love involves. It is a type of love that is passionate and (at least for a time) committed but lacks any kind of meaningful intimacy. The two people may have tremendous sexual chemistry and rush straight into a marriage or a decision to have a child, but do not really know much about each other. As such, it’s more accurate to say they’re committing to a fantasy or an idealized image than to each other.
6. Companionate love
The last of the types of love that involve two ingredients, companionate love is made up of a combination of intimacy and commitment. Consequently, it can be very satisfying in a certain sense, with the two people feeling extremely validated and secure. In fact, it’s the type of love that exists in the best familial relationships, bonding parents with their children, and keeping siblings close. Some couples are also satisfied with companionate love if they agree that neither partner cares much about sex anymore. However, for couples who miss having sex or feeling lust, companionate love can be profoundly unsatisfying.
7. Consummate love
Finally, consummate love is the type that most people yearn for. Those in consummate love enjoy the excitement of sexual passion, the friendship associated with intimacy, and the safety of commitment. If you’re lucky enough to have a relationship like this, you probably have a great sex life in spite of having been together for years, can’t imagine preferring a different partner, and have a “relationship toolkit” of communication strategies that keeps you together in times of difficulty.
However, if you don’t feel like you have consummate love or you worry that you have lost it somewhere along the way, the good news is that it is possible to develop it. Honest conversation sustained the effort to create positive change, and a willingness to see a relationship counselor are all ways of moving towards a deeper, more satisfying form of love.