What is Love?
by David Piltz, MA, MFT
Love is both a noun and a verb as dictionary.com reports. In www.yoourdictionary.com the origin of the word love can be traced back to a word that means to please with any words relating to love having roots of dear, pleasing and cherished. This suggests that love has something to do with providing others with kindness and generosity. In addition, the Greek has multiple words for love attempting to qualify the various characteristics of this elusive word. Love happens to be a word everyone seems to know, but when asked what it means one can provide a variety of answers depending on whom they are thinking. When we say I love you to a pet, is that the same as when we say I love you to a parent, sibling, friend or partner? It is in this realm of unclarity and uncertainty that relationships create a type of waltz in which love is not only the music but the steps. In some ways this waltz of love that is created with our relationships (family, friends, pets, partners, substances, social media, etc.) begins somewhere. It is in that beginning place of learning about this elusive entity called love, we find the answers of what love means to each of us. Love never seems to be exactly the same between two individuals because individual needs and wants drive what love means to us and what we expect in terms of how to love and how to be loved.
One way to view love is through the optics of attachment. Attachment is the bonding that occurs between an adult and child based on safety (Johnson, 2004). This bonding creates initial beliefs of what love is and how one gets to be loved. Another view of love is that love is limited by our own personal ability to trusting ourselves or in essence our own personal ability to love ourselves (Schnarch, 2009). From this perspective love is an internal process that begins with our own self-esteem and self-worth and self-respect. The more developed and healthy those elements of ourselves are the more we can extend healthy love to others. And of course, the reverse is true, when we have love self-esteem and self-worth and self-respect we create a love that is unhealthy for ourselves and others. A third way to view love is from the concept of how are brain works and how experiences create for individuals a response that becomes automatic when similar experiences appear (Hendrix, 2008). This approach is basically the same as attachment, but with the added dimension of how the brain sets our responses from our youngest experiences and how those responses become unconscious to our conscious live.
In all of this, love is complex with no one unified theory of how love works. But in that void of complete understanding, we do know that love exists and that it is an attempt to connect with another in a way that creates safety and a sense of calmness. Love undergirds the pattern of relationships and can describe all aspects of relationships. When arguing, disconnects, defensiveness, anxiousness, abuse, power and control and their opposites of connection, openness, calmness, equality and fairness happens love is the central reason driving those experiences. Taking the time to explore how one’s own experiences of love throughout life occurred provides insight into how one loves currently. Realizing that our current expression of love is based on our past learnings about safety and security can create an epiphany that explains why love is both enjoyable and painful. Exploring beliefs about love, experiences about safety and security can provide personal insights into an individual’s current pattern of love and how that pattern is expressing itself in the here and now.
Johnson, S. M. (2004). The practice of emotionally foucused couple therapy: Creating connection (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge
Hendrix, H. (2008). Getting the love you want a guide for couples. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Schnarch, D. (2009). Passionate Marriage keeping love & intimacy alive in committed relationships. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Yerkovich, M., & Yerkovich, K. (2006). How we love discover your love style, enhance your marriage. Waterbrook Press.