Saturday, April 25, 2009


Probably more has probably been written about love than any other subject in human experience and history. It has drawn the attention of philosophers and social scientists, poets and playwrights, psychotherapists and theologians, but none of this attention has produced a consensus as to exactly what love is, where it comes from, and what it signifies. In all likelihood, there will never be such a definition, simply because love has so many faces: erotic love, romantic love, love of family, love of God, love of nature, love of humanity, love of art, love of animals, love of friends, self-love, ad infinitum.

Among the modern theories of love that have received scholarly attention are those advanced by Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, and Robert Sternberg, Freud viewed love as a necessary expression of the basic sexual energy drive that, in his view, motivates all human beings. Whether it is directed at parents, friends, or lovers, Freud contended, love is always a manifestation of sexual tension.

Although trained in psychoanalytic theories, Erich Fromm departed from Freud’s somewhat narrow conceptualization of love. Fromm specified five types of love: brotherly, parental, erotic, self-love, and love of God. According to him, a fully developed person is capable of all five. He also stressed that the different types of love are interconnected with one another. For example, individuals who are unable to love themselves will probably not be able to love others. Also, according to Fromm’s theory, learning to love in any of the key areas enhances learning the other kinds of love.

Fromm believed that love is active rather than passive: there is no such thing as being “in love.” Rather, love is a kind of behavior that helps others enhance their potential for social and emotional growth. One who loves is giving rather than receiving. Therefore, according to Fromm, love involves “care,” “responsibility,” “respect,” and knowledge of the loved one.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow discerned two types of love: one based on selfish need and taking (he called this D-love, that is, “deficiency love”) and one based on unselfish giving (Maslow termed this B-love, that is, “being love”). He noted that D-lovers look for and fall in love with persons who can meet their needs for security, self-esteem, social recognition, and sexual gratification. At the same time, they may be (unintentionally) meeting their partners’ own D-love needs. If their needs are complementary, the couple may see themselves as happy and the relationship might last. Not surprisingly, Maslow sees the most mature relationship, resulting in a synergistic growth of both parties, in unions between two B-loves.

In his 1988 work, The Triangle of Love, psychologist Robert Sternberg isolated three major components—intimacy, passion, and commitment, that in combination account for most of the various types of love. He pictured these components as the sides of a triangle. When passion is present without intimacy or commitment, it is infatuation. If there is only a commitment, it is an empty love, as when a married couple stays together for religious reasons but shares no passion or intimacy. Intimacy alone, without passion or commitment, constitutes friendship. Sternberg says that some couples have a companionate love, with both commitment and intimacy but no passion, while others are engaged in romantic love, with intimacy and passion but no commitment (this is found particularly among the young and among persons involved in extramarital affairs). Love-at-first-sight, married-six-weeks-later relationships, combining passion and commitment but no intimacy, are described by Sternberg as fatuous love. Finally, there is the ideal of consummate love, in which passion, intimacy, and commitment exist in equal proportions.

Sternberg stresses that none of these relationships is written in stone. At any given time, either through choice or inadvertently, a couple may shift from one type to another—or to a non-loving situation, in which none of the components is present.

Implicit in Sternberg’s theory is the idea that love relationships cannot be taken for granted or justified solely because they “feel good.” Like most other contemporary thinkers on the subject, he believes that a satisfying love relationship is not something that “happens” to a couple; it is something they make happen.

By Dr. Ruth