Whether it’s love for your partner, your children, your creative project or your favorite sports team, we feel passionately about something at some point in our lives. But what is love, exactly? Psychologist Helen Fisher and others have explored the many dimensions of this phenomenon. Their work reflects the reality that love manifests in many different ways – for example, the intense feelings we have when we see a loved one after they’ve been gone for a while. Then there’s the “eros” type of love, which is based on physical intimacy and feelings of attraction and desire. Finally, there’s “agape” or “commitment” love, which is the kind that grows when you feel a strong bond of trust and closeness with your person.
Despite the numerous theories of love, most experts agree that there are some basic elements to the concept: a feeling that someone is special (love); a sense of responsibility for the well-being of the object of your affections (agape); and a desire to spend time with the person you’re in love with (eros). Some people also feel affection for other persons – for parents, siblings or friends, for instance – or even for their pets.
As we all know, love can be complicated, especially when it’s paired with conflicting emotions like fear and jealousy. But there are ways to help you get back on track when your feelings get out of control. One way is to focus on your shared interests with the person you’re in love with. For example, if they’re into gardening, take a class together to learn about this passion or join them at a garden club or community event that they may be involved in.
The more you share your interests with the person you’re in love, the closer you can become. And sharing your own passions with them may make them feel more interested in you, too. Another way to strengthen your relationship is to talk about your dreams and aspirations, so you’re both on the same page. And don’t forget to laugh. One study found that male participants who were in love tried harder to make their partners laugh than those who weren’t.
While the idea of love has long intrigued philosophers, psychologists only began to focus on it as a specific concept in the last 75 years. And that’s when they started to realize that there are different types of love, with eros and agape being two specific concepts.
But the research has been controversial. For example, some scholars have argued that love isn’t really an emotion at all. They argue that the feelings of concern, attraction and empathy that we typically associate with love aren’t “affects” of it but rather its normal effects – just as the joy of seeing your child after a long absence is a normal effect of parental love. Others, on the other hand, argue that love isn’t a feeling but rather an attitude that can be cultivated through practices like communication and commitment.