By Stephanie Stolorow, MFT intern at The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center


By Stephanie Stolorow, MFT intern at The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center

Navigating Different Meanings of Love in Relationship


"I must have thought that there was nothing more absurd than that love is just a four-letter word" --Bob Dylan


For most couples, one of the most important components of a successful relationship is love.  But as universal as the feeling of love is believed to be, its meaning is infinitely subjective.  That is, what love means to me cannot be the same as what love means to you, as it is a product of our individual experiences of love over time.  Further, how one expresses love is a product of the person's unique relationship history.  Love then, can show up in the form of behavior.

What happens when two people in a couple behave, or love, differently?  Let's look at some possible different meanings of love first.  The ancient Greeks conceptualized four forms of love.  Love could mean friendship (Philia), intimacy and romance (Eros), familial affection (Storge), or unconditional/universal care (Agape).  In our current era, these forms of love might translate behaviorally to greatly enjoying your partner's company or companionship, sexual attachment or expressing of desire for your partner, a bond or care taking sense toward your partner, or a willingness to sacrifice or hold your partner's needs as priority.  And then of course there are many derivative beliefs about what loving someone means, such as being monogamous or not, how often to say "I love you," whether it's required to let your partner in on your thoughts and actions, and so on.

Whether you are in a long-term committed relationship or dating, thinking about the meaning of love for you and exploring how it is similar to or differs from your partner's meaning of love could be illuminating about the dynamic between you and/or clear some roadblocks in your communication.  Sure, it's possible that your and your partner's meanings of love and how you express it are so similar that there's rarely a time when one of you is confused about how the other feels.  Often though, an effort needs to be made to recognize how your partner both feels loved and expresses love, and perhaps a further effort to behave, or love, in a way that makes your partner feel more loved is necessary to cultivate ongoing success in the relationship.

The fact that from ancient Greece to now, the many meanings of love have been contemplated by so many thinkers, from philosophers to musicians, suggests that it's not easy to try to understand someone's different meaning of love.  But doing so is perhaps an act of love in and of itself, and that can mean a lot.