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Understanding love

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The concept of love has been at the centre of many intense conversations, many seemingly scholarly writings offering subjective insights on what may or may not be an ideal consideration of what “love” really is. As humans, we spend our lives craving it and searching for it. Its meaning is felt more than it is or can be clearly expressed. We understand it to be the greatest virtue and the answer to all of life’s problems. But yet, many still battle with explaining its meaning.{{more}}

Psychologists and researchers have proposed a number of different theories of love. Love is a basic human emotion, but understanding how and why it happens is not necessarily easy. In fact, for a long time, many people suggested that love was simply something too primal, mysterious, and spiritual for science to ever fully understand.

According to psychologist Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues, there are two basic types of love: compassionate love and passionate love. Compassionate love is characterized by mutual respect, attachment, affection, and trust. Compassionate love usually develops out of feelings of mutual understanding and shared respect for one another.

Passionate love is characterized by intense emotions, sexual attraction, anxiety, and affection. When these intense emotions are reciprocated, people feel elated and fulfilled. Unreciprocated love leads to feelings of despondence and despair.

Hatfield suggests that passionate love is transitory, usually lasting between six and 30 months. She further contends that passionate love arises when cultural expectations encourage falling in love, when the person meets your preconceived ideas of an ideal love, and when you experience heightened physiological arousal in the presence of the other person.

Ideally, passionate love then leads to compassionate love, which is far more enduring. While most people desire relationships that combine the security and stability of compassionate with the intensity of passionate love, Hatfield believes that this is rare.

As a psychologist, I subscribe to many of the theories presented about “love”, but I also hold a deeper frame of reference, and this is from the biblical truths of 1 Corinthians 13. When I think of “love”, the idea of no limits comes to mind. The thought of unconditional and sacrificial love where one gives of themselves wholeheartedly… The following are the truths I use in my understanding of love: Love is greater than any spiritual gift. Love is expressed by supernatural responses. Love is a word that can only be properly defined in terms of action, attitude, and behaviour.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not jealous; love does not brag; love is not arrogant; love does not act unbecomingly; love does not seek its own; love is not provoked; love does not take into account a wrong suffered.

Love does not rejoice in the misfortune of others; instead love rejoices in the revelation of the truth. Love covers the burden of all things, and it believes all things, meaning it is always ready to allow for extenuating circumstances, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt…It believes the best about people.

Added to all the fundamental truths about love…it is important to note that LOVE IS A CHOICE…it is not something we fall into, as has been thought by the commentators on romantic love, but it is rather a conscious decision we make, through thick or thin, good or bad, to endure and show compassion and care unconditionally. “Let us love one another”….

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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