The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure ("I loved that meal") to intense interpersonal attraction ("I love my partner"). This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes the concept of love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.
Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.
Helen Fisher defines what could be understood as love as an evolved state of the survival instinct, primarily used to keep human beings together against menaces and to facilitate the continuation of the species through reproduction.
Psychology depicts love as a cognitive and social phenomenon. Psychologist Robert Sternberg formulated a triangular theory of love and argued that love has three different components: (a) intimacy, (b) commitment, and (c) passion.
(a) Intimacy is a form in which two people share confidences and various details of their personal lives, and is usually shown in friendships and romantic love affairs.
(b) Commitment, on the other hand, is the expectation that the relationship is permanent.
(c)The last and most common form of love is sexual attraction and passion. Passionate love is shown in infatuation as well as romantic love. All forms of love are viewed as varying combinations of these three components. American psychologist Zick Rubin sought to define love by psychometrics in the 1970s. His work states that three factors constitute love: attachment, caring, and intimacy.
Psychologist Eric Fromm also maintained in his book "The art of loving" that love is not merely a feeling but is also actions, and that in fact, the "feeling" of love is superficial in comparison to ones commitment to love via a series of loving actions over time. In this sense, Fromm held that love is ultimately not a feeling at all, but rather is a commitment to, and adherence to, loving actions towards another, ones self, or many others, over a sustained duration. Fromm also described Love as a conscious choice that in its early stages might originate as an involuntary feeling, but which then later no longer depends on those feelings, but rather depends only on conscious commitment.
Psychology sees love as more of a social and cultural phenomenon. There are probably elements of truth in both views. Certainly love is influenced by hormones (such as oxytocin), neurotrophins (such as NGF), and pheromones, and how people think and behave in love is influenced by their conceptions of love.
The conventional view in biology is that there are two major drives in love: (a) Sexual attraction and (b) Attachment. Attachment between adults is presumed to work on the same principles that lead an infant to become attached to its mother. The traditional psychological view sees love as being a combination of companionate love and passionate love.
(i) Passionate love is intense longing, and is often accompanied by physiological arousal (shortness of breath, rapid heart rate); (ii) Companionate love is affection and a feeling of intimacy not accompanied by physiological arousal.
The Three Stages of Love:
(i) Lust or romantic feelings: Romantic feelings or lust is the first stage of love. Romantic love is driven by testosterone and estrogen. Mating is the evolutionary purpose of this stage of love; it creates strong physical attraction and sets the stage for emotional attachment. In this stage of love, endorphins soak your brain and you're immersed in intense pleasurable sensations. Your lover is perfect, ideal, made for you. In this stage of love you feel exhilarated and even "high" (similar to the feeling you get after you eat really good chocolate or have a great workout). You feel infatuated in this stage of love.
(ii) Physical attraction: Physical attraction and power struggles make up the second stage of love (the "lovesick" phase). You may lose your appetite, need less sleep, and daydream about your lover on the bus, during meetings, in the shower. In this stage of love, dopamine, nor epinephrine, and serotonin are racing through your body and brain. You're also trying to shape your lover into your ideal partner - which is where the power struggles come in. In this stage of relationship, you're becoming more realistic, and you two may fight about things like whether or not to buy organic food or listen to country music. The infatuation is wearing off, a strong emotional attachment begins to set in, and feelings of infatuation fade.
(iii) Emotional attachment: Emotional attachment or unconditional acceptance is the third stage of love. Emotional attachment involves commitment, partnership, and even children (a fear of intimacy prevents many from reaching this stage of love). In this stage of love, you're aware of both positive and negative traits in your partner, and you've decided you want to build a life together. Confrontation is most likely to occur in this stage of love (though if you're authentic and honest, it'll also happen in the second stage of love). You and your partner will either work towards a healthy, loving relationship or decide to call it quits.
Love isn't just a vehicle that brings happiness and contentment to your life (or bitterness and pain!). Love is a living, dynamic creature that changes, grows, and needs attention -- and you must nurture it.
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