Love is a very broad concept that also encompasses many different types of love. But really… what is love? Is there an exact definition that could define it?
It has been described as an emotion, an instinct, or a construct. The truth is that it is a fairly subjective and complex reality. What for some is love, for others is selfishness or submission, for some it is happiness and for others suffering. And it is that possibly love has part of all this.
What do we understand by love?
The French writer Stendhal defined it as a flower that grows before the abyss, thus showing that talking about love is not an easy task.
However, it is an element of great importance in the development of people and with great influence on psychological well-being. For some people, there is no pain comparable to that which can be produced by love affairs.
It also becomes one of the greatest motivations in life, something to always pursue. For love or in the name of love we know that the most heroic and noble deeds, the greatest madness, and also the most brutal atrocities can take place.
Taking into account the different types of love, we are going to focus here on love within the couple and its influence on the relationship.
perspectives on love
To begin with, let’s say that love can be understood from different perspectives, be it from philosophy, science, biology, poetry, and art, from different psychological currents, evolutionary perspectives, etc.
For example, in philosophy, great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle show their discrepancy towards what for them is love. Aristotle would say that it is the most important feeling of the human being and that the mere fact of feeling it produces a pleasure that is not comparable with any other; love for him would be like a single soul that lives in two bodies.
Plato, for his part, would say that there is in love a desire to possess what one does not have, and then when one has to discard it and desire it again.
Spinoza, for his part, would be in the middle of both positions and would say that love is something that produces a joy that comes from an external stimulus that makes one want more of the other than of oneself.
Fort Smith, philosopher, an economist, love is the response, rather mysterious, to something that attracts us from the mind and body of another person. And we could continue to see positions that show us the complexity of its definition of it.
In art and literature, love will become a muse and inspiration, and from there, an idealized love would be born sometimes, full of romanticism; it becomes a giving everything to the loved one, sometimes being represented as dramatic and passionate.
From a biological perspective, it would be a means for the survival of the species influenced and mediated by chemical substances and brain mechanisms. Starting in the 1990s, psychiatrists, anthropologists, and biologists found important correlations between the levels of hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin and love states such as sexual attraction, falling in love, and stable love.
Various studies show that when we fall in love, serotonin levels plummet and the reward centers of the brain are invaded by dopamine, producing an effect similar to that of a drug.
On the other hand, psychologist Robert Sternberg published 1986 the Triangular Theory of Love, whose influence on psychology has become quite remarkable. According to him, couple relationships are constituted from three fundamental elements, Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment, which would occupy the vertices of a supposed triangle that would show the different forms of love that can arise in a couple, depending on how these are related. components.
From cultural psychology, culture and history determine the mental states and psychological processes of people, and therefore also love. For Erich Fromm, love is an art, a voluntary action that can be learned, not a passion that is imposed against the will of those who experience it. Love would be according to him; decision, choice, and attitude.
love and couple
As we can see, it is not easy to talk about love and above all to limit the term. Love is something that is influenced by multiple factors that interrelate with each other and it is also not something static and permanent, but can vary over time, and specifically within a stable relationship, affecting those established forms of life. in which two people agree to share their existence in every way.
We should also take into account the role played by eroticism and sexuality, a topic that we are not going to deal with at this time, focusing more on love as a bond seen from couple therapy, and as that subjective way of loving that each one has, together with that of the other, will generate a specific type of relationship, with its particular conflicts and satisfactions.
The topic is quite broad, so I am going to stick to those processes that I have observed the most from the clinic, and that have to do with self-esteem, and with unconscious movements.
Love for the other and our self-esteem
To love, you must first love yourself, it is necessary to have traveled the path of narcissism, a necessary step in the development of personality to be able to reach self-esteem.
The first relationship we have with love comes from the mother, father, or figure who cares for us, and it will be that way in which we have perceived that love and fundamental value in our way of loving. Later it will influence the achievement of achievements, which can be social or academic. This usually occurs in the period of adolescence, when the relationship with peers is fundamental; This stage will influence our whole life and our relationships. And finally, we have the assessment and appreciation of others as something fundamental for healthy self-esteem.
It is not so much how all this happens, but how it is perceived by the person, which will lead to a certain way of loving ourselves, which in turn will influence how we love. This perception could have been of not valuing or not having been loved, with which unconditional love was sought in the other to heal that wound.
Sometimes, in a love that is never enough, we also observe an insistent need to be valued and recognized by the other, looking for a partner to give us what we do not have.
I call these mechanisms that I have observed in therapy and whose base is unconscious, being necessary a work aimed at being able to unravel those mechanisms that are acting.
It consists of attributing to another person things of oneself. When this mechanism is present in the way of loving in a couple, it happens that those things about oneself that they hate are attributed to the other, promoting feelings of rejection, continuous attacks and blaming, feeling that something about the other bothers deeply, sometimes unjustifiably, without knowing exactly what it is.
Love bonds established asymmetrically
In couples, as in any relationship constituted by a bond of love, support and care are of utmost importance, sometimes it happens that one is in the position of caring, giving, and supporting more than the other.
Not knowing how to differentiate between what belongs to one and what belongs to the other
This also has to do with the establishment of the bond, producing in this case a symbiosis between the members of the couple.
The interpretation of love
And finally, another of the issues that I have observed the most in couples therapy is something that has to do with the interpretation of love that each of the members of the couple has their perceptions and expectations placed on the relationship, which equally they have to do with attachment, with that human being’s need for love that begins in the first years of life and will continue throughout life.
These can be:
- security in the other.
- Of doubt or ambivalence, with fear of losing the other.
- Of distrust, promoting distancing in the couple.
How would couples therapy help?
In the first place, it would be necessary to unravel those unconscious processes that are acting on the couple’s discomfort to make them aware and be able to do something with them.
The couple must understand what each one has to do with what the other complains about.
Knowing how to differentiate what belongs to one person and what belongs to the other is an important step to pursue, in addition to recognizing the mutual dependencies that can exist.
Helping to identify what each one wants and desires from the other is sometimes as simple as talking about it and asking for it, but for this it would be necessary to know it without self-deception or confusion, because if we are confused, the way to transmit it to the other person is to be ambiguous and unclear, generating in the other misunderstandings and defensive behaviors of distancing and coldness.
There is no doubt that the love of a partner is different from other types of love and that it is something difficult to define, it is not simple eroticism, nor is it just the desire to be with the other person, nor is it a simple concern for the couple.
It is also important to differentiate the states of falling in love with love. The first state, although it is a carrier of very pleasant emotions, is something that tends to fade over time and with contact with the reality of everyday life, something that does not tolerate coexistence, since this infatuation is based on the idealization of the another, to highlight their qualities and avoid or not see the defects, hence that love is blind, the presence of the other becomes a necessity to be happy, feeling in disgrace if they are not there.
It is a way of loving more based on oneself than on the other, on our pleasure, satisfaction, and sense of fulfillment, since all of this is given to us by this state.
Love, unlike falling in love, occurs when the interest is placed on the well-being of the other when you also try to help him in his individual development, and I do not mean that love dissolves the differences or conflicts that can arise in a relationship, but it does provide a firm basis for dealing with them.