Tag Archives: love

The Love Multiverse

Love has been notoriously hard to define, though many have tried, from poets to psychologists.  According to psychologist Dr. Robert Sternberg who runs the human development lab at Cornell University, his team’s extensive research narrowed down three key elements in a love relationship: Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment.

His ‘triangular theory of love’ states that the concept of love is a triangle that is made up of these three essential components that may shift over time in how they present themselves within a relationship.

  • Intimacy involves feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness. Intimacy includes trust, reciprocity, and effective communication.
  • Passion involves feelings and desires that lead to physical attraction, romance, and sexual intimacy. According to Dr. Sternberg, how excited a person gets in thinking about or being with their partner is a great indicator of the passion component of love.
  • Commitment involves feelings that lead a person to remain with someone and move toward shared goals. There is a decision component to this; partners volitionally decide to remain together.

All relationships have their own version and levels of the three components. Dr. Sternberg referred to a balance of all three within a relationship as Consummate Love.  He also found that consummate love was not an endgame, but a process that required ongoing effort and insight by both partners.

Sternberg‘s research led to his interest in universal love stories. These are predominant ideas we have internalized about love and what we think a relationship should be (among others, he discusses the fairytale prince and princess story, the successful business couple story, and the adventure/travel story, as three possible types of relationship stories that we carry within us, that unconsciously define how we see love). These stories naturally affect how our relationships play out.

A recent psychology study (published in the Journal of Sex Research, August 2020) studied 7300 participants across 25 countries, and found that the triangular theory of love holds true across the love multiverse. Seen through different cultural lenses and traditions, intimacy, passion, and commitment seem to be pillars of this thing called love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

The neuropsychology of love

Falling for someone may be stressful in the beginning, there’s uncertainty about whether they feel the same way, the possibility of rejection, and anxiety about when and if to say those three big words.

The initial stages of falling in love INCREASES levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, in new couples, according to a study published in 2004. However, when the participants were tested 12 to 24 months later, their cortisol levels had returned to normal.

Love can potentially DECREASE stress in the long run. A study published in 2005, in Neuroendocrinology, examined the neuropsychology of those in love for over a year or longer, and found a reduction in levels of stress and overall anxiety.  Forming a bond with a partner brings about physiological changes that reduce levels of anxiety. Oxytocin, a hormone released through physical contact like hugging, kissing, and intimacy, deepens feelings of attachment towards your partner and produces sensations of contentment, calmness, and relaxation.

(Photo, San Francisco, 2015)

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