How Psychologists Define Love Will Mess With Your Mind

definiion of love

You might be surprised when you read about the psychological definition of love. Does your own love meet this definition? Leave a comment.

So much is written and said about love each and every day. There are so many different views on love that it can be hard not to get confused about exactly what love is.

Is it attachment?

Is it commitment?

Is it passion?

There are so many varying opinions on the definition of love that society seems to have gotten a little confused about what those four letters really stand for. Let’s shed some light on things by revealing some universally agreed upon theories of love.

What is the psychological definition of love?

In Strengths of Character and Well-Being (published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology) love is defined as:

Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.

Ellen Berscheid (an American social psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota who specialises in close interpersonal relationships) expands upon this definition, stating that there are:

 four different types of love: attachment love (where we seek to be close to a protector—mother / daughter for instance), compassionate love (where we care deeply about another whether or not our love is reciprocated) companionate love (friendship) and finally romantic love.

Another view of love is offered by psychologist Robert Sternberg who developed a theory called Triangular Love Theory.

This theory states that there are three components of love—Intimacy (attachment, closeness, connectedness), Passion (sexual desire) and Commitment (choosing to stay together / planning a life together). These three components can be exhibited in any combination.

For example, you could have:

  • just commitment
  • just passion
  • just intimacy
  • intimacy with commitment but without passion
  • commitment with passion but without intimacy
  • passion with intimacy but without commitment
  • passion with intimacy and commitment

There are eight different combinations of love in the Triangular Love Theory, which are:

  • nonlove
  • friendship
  • infatuation
  • empty love (which is commitment without intimacy or passion)
  • romantic love
  • companionate love
  • fatuous love
  • consummate love (which is the ideal, complete form of love). Read more about this in The New Psychology of Love [AMAZON].  



Wow, who knew it’s so difficult to define love?

Above we have looked at just two of the many theories of love, and already it’s clear that love is not a simple matter.

Thankfully psychoanalyst Erich Fromm offers some easy to follow guidance to love, stating that. . .

All forms of love include four things: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

Psychologists also state that a key component of love is ‘communal responsiveness’ which basically means listening and helping.

In a loving relationship we should be willing to show our vulnerable side, to listen to our partner’s troubles and to offer beneficial advice that makes both sides of the relationship happier.

This has been proven to be of help to self esteem and to mental health, where relationships without communal responsiveness are shown to potentially harm one’s health, possibly even causing severe depression.The worst case of this is relationships where gaslighting tactics are used.

So, here are the facts about love

  1. There are many different kinds of love
  2. Healthy and loving relationships have huge benefits to our mental and physical health
  3. Abusive relationships are detrimental to our health
  4. All forms of love include care, responsibility, respect and knowledge
  5. The best relationships involve communal responsiveness (listening, sharing and caring)
  6. These are the key points we’ll be looking at next when we delve into the bountiful resource of love known as the movies, seeking for positive inspirations and motivations for love, and finally when we get to our Self Improvement For Love guide at the end. But up next, there’s one amazing theory about love that I promise you’ll. . . uhhh . . . LOVE!


 Love Stories and the psychological definition of Love

Robert Sternberg (American psychologist and psychometrician and senior vice president of Oklahoma State University), the same man who gave us the triangular theory of love, later went on to create a theory of love which I think you’ll be amazed to hear about.

This theory of love that shows that love is more accurately described by the movies than by scientists (let me tell ya, as an actor and a writer, having a scientist admit that art reveals more than science about love, the most important of all human strengths, is a cause for celebrtation, but here I am digressing again. . .)

Robert Sternberg’s later research showed that people have a personal story that describes to them how love should be.

Some, for instance, believe love should be a salvation. They believe their true partner will save them.

Others believe love involves war and so expect arguments in their relationships, and so on.

People with matching stories may well go on to eternal love where those with conflicting stories will fall apart even though they may seem perfect for one another.

A girl whose idea of love involves finding a new life and being whisked away will struggle to settle down with a guy who looks on love as a business partnership, where everything is shared and contractually agreed and so on.

The very key to long lasting love, says Sternberg, is a shared story. More than this, the pattern of our love life is governed by our story, which means:

If we are to change the way our love life is panning out we must change our stories.

Where do our Love Stories come from?

 Sternberg tells THE DAILY MEDITATION that our “Love Stories” begin to form very soon after birth “based on our inborn personality, our early experiences and our observations of our parents’ relationships, as well as depictions of romance in movies, television and books. We then seek to live out these conceptions of love ourselves.”

Sternberg lists 25 common “love stories,” including travel (we see love as a new journey), gardening (believing love needs to be tended), humor (taking things lightly and having fun) and horror (liking people who frighten you). Women are mostly drawn to travel and men to art (beauty), collectibles (dating many people at one time) and pornography (satisfying sexual desires).

Though no story guarantees a relationship will work out in the long run, some have better chances than others.

The worst love stories are Business, Collectibles, Government, Horror, Mystery and Police (keeping an eye on your partner at all times).

The love stories that work best are those with two compatible sides (like Prince / Princess) or where the stories are similar enough to work together.

Listen to this:

Often, people turn a good relationship bad in order to satisfy their story. You know those people who always say “I always pick the bad ones!”? Odds are they’re not picking the bad ones, their relationships start off fine but they turn them bad in order to satisfy their love story (be it a horror, police or any of the other more negative ones).

The 25 Types Of Love Stories

Here are all 25 “Love Stories” plus a link to Robert Sternberg’s Love is a Story on Amazon.


1. Addiction. Partners show clinging behavior and anxiety about losing one another. In some relationships, one partner is a codependent, living off the other’s addiction. (Heath Ledger and jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.)

2. Art. Partners are loved for their physical attractiveness. Typically, one partner is the admirer and the other is admired.

3. Business. A relationship is a business proposition. The partners are usually in the business together, but it is also possible for one partner to be “selling” himself or herself to the other. (Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx, her manager, in Dreamgirls.) Love Is A Story is written by psychologist Robert Sternberg and published by Oxford University Press.
4. Collection. Partners are viewed in a detached way, as fitting into some overall scheme. In most cases, one partner is the collector and the other is an object in his or her collection. (Michael Caine/Jude Law in Alfie.)

5. Cookbook. If you follow a succession of recipe-like steps, a relationship is sure to succeed. (Bill Murray and his countless attempts to “get it right” with Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day.)

6. Fantasy. You expect to be saved by a knight in shining armor or marry a princess and live happily ever after. The knight or prince tends to serve the princess. (Good-hearted working girl Julia Roberts and super-rich Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.)

7. Game. Love is a game or sport. The two partners may both be players, or one may be unwittingly drawn into the other’s game.

8. Gardening. Relationships must be constantly nurtured. If partners “water” their garden—tend to each other carefully—the relationship will succeed.

9. Government. (a) Autocratic. One partner dominates or even controls the other. (b) Democratic. Two partners share power equally.

10. History. Events in a relationship form an indelible record. Great importance is accorde

11. Horror. Terror makes relationships interesting. One partner terrorizes; the other is terrorized. (Diane Keaton toward her lovers in Looking for Mr. Goodbar.)

12. House and Home. The core of a relationship is the home, which merits more attention than one’s partner does.

13. Humor. Love is funny and strange. One or both partners joke a lot about the relationship, even if they take it quite seriously. (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.)

14. Mystery. Love is a mystery. Typically, one person is the detective trying to unravel the mystery presented by the other.

15. Police. You need to keep your partner under surveillance to make sure he or she behaves, or your partner needs to keep you under surveillance. One partner is the police officer; the other, the suspect.

16. Pornography. Love is dirty, and to love is to degrade or be degraded. One partner typically views the other in pornographic terms.

17. Recovery. After the trauma of the past, you can get through practically anything. One person helps the other recover from a past event. (Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle.)

18. Religion. Either love is a set of feelings and activities dictated by religion or love itself is a religion. Either one person is the other’s god or goddess, or both partners are supposed to defer to a higher power. (Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy Gresham inShadowlands.)

19. Sacrifice. To love is to sacrifice one’s own interests for those of one’s partner. (Humphrey Bogart toward Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman toward Paul Henreid, in Casablanca.)

20. Science. Love can be understood, analyzed, and dissected, just like any other natural phenomenon. One partner is the scientist; the other, the studied object.

21. Science Fiction. One partner views the other as an alien—incomprehensible and very strange.

22. Sewing. Love is whatever you make it. Partners stitch away at the relationship, fashioning it according to their own particular design.

23. Theater. Love is scripted, with predictable acts, scenes, and lines. Both partners may be acting, but typically one partner puts on an act for the other. (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton inWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.)

24. Travel. Love is a journey. The two partners travel together through time and space, hoping to stay on the same path.

25. War. Love is a never-ending series of battles. The partners may both be willing combatants, or one may be unwilling. (Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, tussling in It Happened One Night.)

26. Student-teacher. Love is a relationship between experienced and inexperienced parties. One partner teaches the other, although the roles may sometimes reverse. (Salma Hayek as artist Frida Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her mentor and lover Diego Rivera in Frida.)



So now you know the psychological definition of love. How does your own love compare? And do you agree with this psychological definition of love? Leave a comment.

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