Six Theories of Love

Falling in love is a fascinating stage. This is due to what happens in our brains, the emotional intensity that we reach, and the change that occurs in these behaviors.
Six Theories of Love
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 23 September, 2022

Why do we fall in love? Why do some forms of love last while others don’t? Psychologists and researchers in fields such as biology, sociology, and philosophy, have proposed various theories of love to explain how and why we fall in love.

Falling in love involves intense feelings of attraction, with no sense of commitment. It usually occurs in the early stages of a relationship and can develop into more lasting love. In this article, we’ll review six theories of love to understand it better.

1. The neurobiological theory of love

The cortex, the median insula, the anterior cingulate, the hippocampus, parts of the striatum, and the nucleus accumbens are all involved in love. In one study, it was found that when participants looked at the face of the person they were in love with, specific areas of their brains were activated.

These were the medial insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and segments of the dorsal striatum. However, there were also some that appeared to be deactivated. They included parts of the right prefrontal cortex, the bilateral parietal cortex, and the temporal cortices.

Many of the brain regions that are activated when we fall in love are coextensive with those that have high concentrations of neuromodulators, such as dopamine. They’re involved in reward, desire, addiction, and euphoria.

The release of this substance makes us feel good and its increase is combined with the reduction of serotonin. In fact, serotonin depletion during falling in love is similar to that experienced by OCD patients. It seems that, under the influence of Cupid, we spend a lot of time thinking about the object of our affection, in much the same way as the obsessive can’t stop thinking about what generates their anxiety.

Infatuation has also been associated with nerve growth factors which correlate with the intensity of romantic feelings. Likewise, oxytocin and vasopressin play a role in falling in love. Indeed, both are particularly related to attachment and bonding and are discharged during orgasm, childbirth, and lactation in women.

Thus, from this perspective, for falling in love to occur, the action or inaction of different neurochemicals and the activation and deactivation of certain cortical and subcortical regions must be integrated.

Man looking at his partner
According to science, infatuation is driven by neurotransmitters like dopamine.

2. The triangle theory of love

Within Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, there are three components.

Privacy

This is the closeness that each one feels for the other and the strength of the bond that unites them. Intimacy is usually stable over time and can be controlled in some way. The component plays a medium role in short-term relationships but is fully relevant in long-term relationships (Sternberg, 1986).

Passion

It’s a desire of great intensity accompanied by a strong tendency to seek union with the other. It’s based on romantic feelings, physical attraction, and sexual intimacy with the partner.

Passion is usually unstable and frequently fluctuates. People generally can’t control whether or not it appears, but they’re extremely aware of it when it does. This component of love tends to be extremely important in short-term relationships. That said, it also plays a relatively important role in long-term relationships (Sternberg, 1986).

Commitment

This is the will to maintain a bond with the other person. When there’s commitment in a relationship, the couple seeks to overcome any adversity and perpetuate the affection, beyond the circumstances. Commitment includes cognitive elements involved in making decisions about the existence and long-term commitment of the relationship. Like the intimacy component, it tends to remain stable.

Combinations of these components result in different types of love. For example, combining intimacy and commitment results in compassionate love. On the other hand, combining passion and intimacy leads to romantic love.

3. The integral theory of love

Psychology has described different forms of love. In all of them, the role of attraction, attachment-commitment, and care (AAC) seem to be consistent.

The AAC model can be fully captured by four fundamental factors: attraction, connection or resonance, trust, and respect. It provides a novel framework that could explain love in all its forms (Tobore, 2020).

Attraction

Both attachment and attraction play a role in the obsession or passion seen in love. Attraction affects commitment in a relationship. It’s influenced by the perceived value or attractiveness of the relationship.

Connection or resonance

Connection is key to commitment, care, and intimacy. It creates a sense of unity in relationships. It’s strengthened by closeness, familiarity, similarity, and shared positive experiences.

Confidence

Trust is crucial to love and plays an important role in relationship intimacy and caregiving, as well as attachment. Familiarity is a necessary condition for trust, and for the relationship to be satisfactory.

Respect

This is essential in love and all interpersonal relationships. It’s crucial in the commitment and satisfaction of relationships (Hendrick & Hendrick, 2006) and in their intimacy and attachment.

Although these factors can act independently, the weakening of one negatively affects the others. In the same way, the strengthening of one positively modulates the others and the state of love.

4. The color wheel model

In his book, The Colors of Love, John Lee presents another of the theories of love. He compares the styles of love with the color wheel and claims that, just as there are three primary colors, there are three primary styles of love. They’re the following:

Eros

Lee describes this style as sensual, intense, and charged with passion. Erotic lovers would be inclined to seek and prioritize sexual satisfaction and aesthetic enjoyment.

Ludos

This type of love refers to those who perceive love as fun. They do indoor and outdoor activities together, teasing, indulging, and playing harmless pranks on each other. They seldom or never overcommit.

Storge

This kind is represented by the family love between parents and children, siblings, and family members. It can also develop from friendship, in which people who share interests and commitments gradually develop affection for each other.

The combination of these three styles can create the following secondary love styles:

  • Mania (obsessive love) Combination of Eros and Ludus.
  • Pragma ( Realistic and Practical Love) Integration of Ludus and Storge.
  • Agape (Selfless Love)  Partnership between Eros and Storge.

5. The attachment theory of love

This theory suggests a person’s attachment style is partially shaped by the relationship they had with their attachment figures in childhood. The same pattern of interaction continues into adulthood, where it becomes part of romantic relationships.

The three adult attachment styles are as follows:

  • Anxious/Ambivalent. A person with this style worries that their partner doesn’t love them.
  • Avoidant. Someone with this style feels uncomfortable approaching others.
  • Secure. An individual with this attachment style doesn’t worry about being abandoned, nor are they afraid of another getting too close to them.

This theory holds that our love and attachment experiences affect our beliefs. In turn, it affects the outcomes of our relationships.

Man comforts his partner
Our pattern of attachment indicates how we relate to our partners.

6. Compassionate love versus passionate love

The psychologist, Elaine Hatfield proposed that there are two basic types of love: compassionate love and passionate love.

  • Compassionate love is characterized by respect, attachment, affection, and trust. It usually develops from feelings of understanding and respect.
  • Passionate love is characterized by intense emotions, sexual attraction, anxiety, and affection. When it’s reciprocal, people feel elated and fulfilled. However, when it isn’t, they feel discouraged and hopeless.

There are many theories about how we fall in love. To some extent, it’s a reflection of individual variability. Whatever the case may be, it’s really difficult to define this complex and wonderful feeling.

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