The 2 psychological explanations of love

Liking and loving share common ground. Both are attitudes that a person holds towards another person; both are ‘invisible packages of feelings, thoughts and behavioural predispositions within an individual. ‘ (Rubin 1973). The two basic types of love are passionate and companionate love. Passionate love is a state of intense loving for another person and of physiological arousal. Companionate love is the feeling of affection that we feel with those that we are deeply attached to.

Sternberg (1986) is the first psychological explanation of love, and suggests that there are 3 components of love. First is intimacy – the feeling of closeness that exists between 2 people. This may be characterized by mutual self-disclosure and the sharing of emotions. Second is passion – the drive that leads to romantic attraction, physical attraction and (eventually) sexual involvement. Lastly is commitment – making a decision to stay with this partner and forgo similar relationships with other potential partners.

Sternberg believed that the type and strength of a couples love could be determined by measuring the strength of these 3 components. In order to accommodate these interactions between the 3 components, Sternberg developed a typology of love relationships. Where one or more of the components is absent, a rather different type of love may exist. E. g. relationships based on passion alone (having a crush on someone) or intimacy and passion without commitment (a holiday romance).

Sternberg recognised that one of the limitations of his initial theory was that it told you where you were but not how you got there. To rectify this, he developed a second theoretical approach. According to this approach, people, almost from the time they are born, begin to form stories about what they believe love should be. This can be done through ways such as books, T. V, and people we know. Sternberg interviewed students about their romantic expectations and found that many people described it as fairy-tale love.

Sternberg developed his initial typology on the basis of extensive interviews with students and adults in the Vale community. As it was done via interview, they may have felt obliged and pressured to say something. Therefore, Fehr conducted further research and gave people questionnaires based on a particular theory of love. She asked participants to describe love in their own words and analysed the responses (qualitative research). However, the people that answered the questionnaire may only be a selective sample and may not be representative of everyone.

Sternberg’s research can be seen as reductionist. Classifying relationships as ‘types’ reduces complex phenomena to simplistic concepts. However, it is possible to use this theory to analyse a relationship and perceive similarities and differences between partners. This may help to sensitise partners to changes they might make in order to make the relationship more satisfactory. One disadvantage is that some of the components are rather vague. For example, the decision/commitment variable doesn’t specify on what basis an individual actually decides to love another person.

Sternberg focuses on relationships that end up as marriage, but not many people marry these days (bearing in mind Sternberg composed this in 1986). Therefore, it is not completely relevant to everyone. It also misses out cultural differences. Western relationships emphasise the importance of passion as being particularly important in the initial stages of a relationship, whereas commitment is strongest as the outset in non-Western arranged marriages. Love as an attachment theory (Hazan and Shaver, 1987) identified with early attachment styles (Ainsworth, 1967).

Bowlby’s theory of attachment suggests that how caregivers treat their infants determines those infants’ personalities in later life. Babies that develop confidence generally have mothers who are reliable. Hazan and Shaver (1987) extended Bowlby’s idea that love relationships should be predictable from acknowledgement of an individual’s early attachment style. Shaver also claimed that what we experience as ‘love’ is actually an integration of 3 behavioural systems.

The table derived from this information gives examples such as secure adults would have positive relationships, and avoidant adults would be fearful of closeness. Shaver et al also believed that these three aspects of love could take different courses during our adult life, influencing the development of different subtypes such as those proposed by Hatfield and Walster (1981). There are many pros and cons to love as an attachment process. Hazan and Shaver tested their expectation using a ‘love quiz’ to access early attachment experiences and later attitudes about experiences in love.

They found that adults that had experienced a secure attachment at a young age would have found love to be enduring, and those that were insecurely attachment fell in and out of love more easily. Although, there are also limitations. Most studies rely on retrospective classification – asking adults questions about their life in the early ages in order to assess infant attachment. Such recollections are likely to be flawed, but longitudinal studies support these findings. McCarthy studies women whose attachment types had been recorded in infancy.

Women who were securely attached as infants had the most successful romantic relationships. Another issue is that this research is correlational rather than experimental, so we cannot claim that the relationship between early attachment and later love style is one of cause and effect. It could be that both are caused by something different – innate temperament. Hagan proposed the temperament hypothesis from evidence that infants are born with certain temperamental characteristics such as ‘difficult’ and ‘easy’. This innate temperament affects relationships throughout life and explains why there is continuity of style.

Attachment is a strong, reciprocal, emotional bond between an infant and their caregiver that is characterised by the desire to maintain proximity. Attachments take different forms, such as secure or insecure. Infants display attachment through the degree of separation distress …

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Theory: – A set of ideas formulated to explain something (Oxford Dictionary 1995:333). That is the dictionary definition of the word “Theory”. Therefore, in layman’s terms a psychological theory can be interpreted as a way of collating and examining differing …

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