Sunday, February 14, 2010

Theories of love

There are a variety of theories of love that few outside the family studies field are familiar with or aware of. In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I felt it'd be appropriate to describe a few of these theories as I find they have practical application in my own experiences. However, before describing formal theories of love it is important to recognize that all individuals have their own "theories" of love (although they are often implicit) and operate within relationships in accordance to these theories of love. This means, that individuals' expectations and interactions within relationships are strongly influenced by personal theories of love. Informal theories of love are often based in our own experiences. However, I find that the formal theories I outline below can provide additional insight that may better inform these "personal theories of love."

Robert Sternberg conceptualized love as a process, which implies that it changes throughout a person's life. His theory is often referred to as the Triangular Theory of Love with three interconnected components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Because love is dynamic, the three components are not always in perfect balance. According to Sternberg:
  1. intimacy refers to loving relationships characterized by feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondness.
  2. commitment is a decision to love someone else and a decision to maintain that love over time. It refers to love as a conscious act of will or deliberate choice.
  3. passion refers to the physical attraction and romantic feelings that initially draw us to another person.
Sternberg identified eight types of love which represents a combination of the three components of love, but only one includes all three. Because love changes, it is possible, and likely, that a single relationship may experience each type of love. Sternberg's theory resonates with me because it recognizes and makes central the dynamic nature of love. It highlights the way love evolves and changes overtime.

Another theory of love that I find particularly salient is Lee's Six Types of Love Styles. John Alan Lee conceptualized love in a manner similar to the Greeks, who identified multiple words to differentiate types of love.
  1. Eros refers to a type of sensual or sexual love.
  2. Ludas refers to a love that is playful, flirtatious, carefree, and casual.
  3. Storge can be conceptualized as friendship love or a type of affectionate love between companions.
  4. Manic lovers experience very high highs, and very low lows and are typically associated with jealousy, protectiveness and exclusivity.
  5. Pragma refers to a love guided by logic and practicality.
  6. Agape is described as a selfless, enduring, other-centered type of love and is typically referred to as unconditional, willful love.
Personally I desire to experience a love that incorporates EACH of these love styles. I want someone I can be playful and flirty with, someone who is my best friend, someone who makes the choice to love me, and someone who is protective of me and our relationship. I see value in each love type when combined with the others and appreciate the possibility of these love styles to balance and compliment one another. This theory of love resonates with me because I appreciate its recognition of the multidimensionality of love.

In general, I think many people fail to recognize the multidimensional and dynamic nature of love. People often have unrealistic expectations about love and therefore relationships. It seems that many people expect love to look a certain way and never change. However, these two theories of love support the notion that love is multidimensional and dynamic. These two theories of love, along with my own experiences, have profoundly influenced my "love paradigm" which profoundly influences my expectations of and interactions within the confines of a relationship. Reviewing these theories has facilitated my own reflection on past relationships and has allowed me to critically reflect on my expectations within the context of a relationship. It is my hope that others will consider (either accept or reject) these theories in relation to their own "theories" of love and reflect how your own theories of love influence your expectations of and interactions within relationships.