Love is one of the most powerful feelings we can experience in life. It can be directed toward friends, families, romantic partners, the universe, God, or yourself – and it may be the most painful and joyful emotion we feel. Despite its intensity, love can be difficult to define. Even psychologists, sociologists, and researchers disagree somewhat on its characterization. Some say that it is not really an emotion at all, while others suggest that it is a secondary emotion, arising from a mix of primary emotions.
For most people, though, a basic definition of love includes a deep affection for someone that manifests as a desire to make them happy and a willingness to do anything for them. It also involves respect for their boundaries and wishes, regardless of whether those are in line with your own. It is a feeling of safety and excitement about the future. It also means being willing to work hard for the relationship. Miller says that if you can’t picture yourself without the person you’re in a relationship with, that is one of the biggest signs you are in love.
In addition to a biological cascade of hormones, love can be defined by the way we act and the way we treat the person we’re in love with. Helen Fisher, a neuroscientist at Rutgers University, has defined three stages of love, based on unique hormonal processes in the brain. Lust is a phase ruled by the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, which promotes sexual desires. Attraction is the next stage, fueled by the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine, which promote feelings of elation and energy. Finally, attachment is a phase triggered by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which encourage emotional bonding in long-term relationships.
While there is much debate about the scientific aspects of love, most experts agree that it is a combination of multiple emotions. In addition to lust and attraction, love can be described as compassion (karuna), admiration (adhu), infatuation, obsession, adoration, loyalty, and more.
Another important component of love is the ability to forgive and forget. While it’s common to have disagreements and arguments in a relationship, it’s important to be able to put these aside when you’re in love. In order to do this, it’s crucial to communicate openly and honestly with your partner, listen to them, and prioritize spending time together. The more you invest in your relationship, the better it will be for both of you.