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5 Different Kinds of Love

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistAugust 24, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Love is a frequent topic in my office. Some patients ask themselves: Do I really love this new person in my life? Or is it just infatuation? Others ask: Do I still love my spouse after all these years? And is it the “right kind of love” to keep me in my marriage? Others struggle with conflicted feelings related to their parents or their children. While love songs, poems and movies make love seem pretty easy to define and identify, it’s really not always so easy to know whether what we are feeling is, in fact, love.

Of course, you love the important people in your life in different ways. Gaining an understanding of the different ways that you love, and who they apply to, can help you to decide what next steps you’d like to take.

Here are a few different kinds of love you might experience in your relationships – starting with the most basic:

Love for people: The Greeks called this kind of love agape. It is the love you feel for someone because they are human, just like you. You have empathy for their experiences, compassion for their pain, and can find forgiveness for them in your heart because you know what it is like to have weaknesses, frailties, and to be imperfect. When you feel and nurture this kind of love, you help yourself to become a more loving, compassionate person.

Caretaking love: People feel this type of love for those who are dependent upon them. Sometimes it is part of an ongoing role, such as being a parent. Sometimes people grow into the role, as in caring for an aging parent or a spouse with a degenerative disease. And sometimes it is temporary, such as with a good friend who is recovering from surgery. Caretaking love is mostly about giving, though you “receive” some good feelings in doing so.

Understanding your role as a caretaker is important because when you are pouring out caretaking love, it is essential that you also turn elsewhere to feel loved for who you are as a person (not your caretaking role). People who fail to do this are more likely to become resentful and/or expect too much from their loved one who needs to be taken care of.

Platonic love: This is the love you feel for those whose friendship you value. You like, care about, respect, and feel warmly toward these friends. While it might be okay to feel this way toward someone who does not seem to return the feelings, you want most of your friendships to include a reciprocated feeling of platonic love. This supports your feeling valued and viewing yourself positively.

Deep connection: Some relationships are so much a part of your life that they are a part of you. This often includes family, friends from childhood, and spouses or partners who have been with you for decades.

Many people have come to my office in search of whether this kind of connection is enough for marriage. They’ve been with their spouse “forever” and can’t imagine leaving; and yet they also wonder whether their love is not enough for a marriage. They wonder whether they should be expecting more. This is not a question that can be answered easily or lightly. Each person needs to decide for themselves what is essential for them in marriage.

Passionate love: This is the love sung about by poets. It is equal parts exhilaration and painful longing. It is intense and exciting… and short-lived. It is no more or less important than the other kinds of love. However, when people are intoxicated by it, they often lose perspective. Be wary of making decisions based on this kind of love. I have been privy to the struggles of people who have done all kinds of things for passion, such as cheating on their spouses, giving away their money, and rejecting their families. No matter how real your feelings are in the moment, they will change. And when they do, you need to ask yourself whether you will still think your actions were wise.

Each of these kinds of love has value, and liability. And the truth is, more than one of these types – maybe even all of them – might apply to a single relationship, though probably not all at the same time. When you struggle in a relationship, consider which types of love apply to it, both in the present and in the past. With this to guide you, you can better decide how you might want to nurture your relationship and grow the love you feel, or the love you’d like to feel.

Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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