What Is Love?

Love Relationships



This week I was invited to participate in a public discussion on the topic "What is love?"

We use the word "love" in so many different contexts. Some people state that they love ice cream or their new car or the arrival of spring. Sometimes we talk about loving concepts such as freedom or truth or justice. Or we use the word love to describe activities such as vacations, sports or walking the dog.

Yes, we all talk about it. Poets and lyricists write about it. Deep down everyone craves it. But what really is love?

Some define love as a noun and describe it as "an intense feeling of deep affection". But feelings can change and sometimes they change very quickly so it is probably not a good idea to trust our feelings if we are looking for long-term results.

Drs. Gary Smalley and John Trent wrote the book "Love is a Decision" in which they encourage us to not depend on feelings but instead use commitment as the foundation for our relationships. That's good advice because no matter how much you love another person, there are times when you just might not like them and be tempted to walk away.

Love comes in many forms. The ancient Greeks defined and named four specific types of love:

    1. Eros is the romantic or sexual love that we all hope to capture with a life-long partner. It consists of both physical passion and emotional longing.
    2. Phila is a "mental" type of love that includes "give and take" relationships with friends, family and community. It includes working together to meet each other's needs through loyalty and virtue.
    3. Storge is a word that means "natural affection" and refers to how parents relate to their offspring. It includes acceptance and "putting up with" situations that are not ideal so is often required particularly during the child's teenage years.
    4. Agape is "spiritual" and describes true unconditional love that gives but expects nothing in return. This type of love which is selfless and sacrificial is the one that Christians use to describe the perfect love of God.

There are times when we use the word love in an inappropriate way or apply it to dysfunctional behaviours. Some, for example, state that they do things because they love a person when they are really just being codependent. At times, people give to others stating that it is done in love when really all they want is to be seen as a hero in the spotlight. History offers so many examples of countries that invested years in activities where violence and killing were said to be done in the name of love.

On Valentine's Day people give words, cards, flowers, and gifts to the people who they claim that they love. This year, think very carefully about who you love, what type of love you have for them and what, if any, hidden motives you might be harbouring when expressing your love. Are you wanting Eros, Philia or Storge from others or are you really mature enough and able to offer Agape without any expectations?

It's time for a Valentine's celebration - hope you have a "love"ly day!


Dr. Linda Hancock, the author of “Life is An Adventure…every step of the way” and “Open for Business Success” is a Registered Psychologist who has a private practice in Medicine Hat. She can be reached at 403-529-6877 or through email office@drlindahancock.com


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