The word love gets tossed around quite a bit, and it’s usually associated with feelings of passion, intimacy, and devotion. It can also have religious or spiritual meaning. This diversity, combined with the varying ways that people experience it, makes it hard to consistently define, and makes love more complicated to understand than most emotions.
In a global survey, the top sources of happiness included: family, a sense of purpose, feeling safe and secure, financial security, healthy eating, exercise, and relationships with friends and partners. While many of these are universal, the definition of happiness isn’t, and this can change over time as we evolve.
When it comes to romantic relationships, we’ve come to associate love with a certain type of love: the kind that makes your cheeks flush, palms sweaty, and your heart race – it’s what’s known as a ‘love rush.’ And there is a lot of science behind this feeling. Brain scans show that the primary reward centers of your brain – including the ventral tegmental area and caudate nucleus – light up when you’re in love. It’s what causes the dry mouth, butterflies in your stomach, weak knees, craving for sex, and separation anxiety.
Unfortunately, this is not the only kind of love that exists – and when it’s unhealthy, can be very damaging to your body, mind, and spirit. In addition to the physical symptoms outlined above, a toxic relationship can lead to insecurities that go deeper than your current relationship and may even impact your ability to be open to other relationships.
A toxic relationship can also leave you feeling less like yourself, and a study found that being in a bad relationship has the same effect on happiness as smoking cigarettes. If you have a partner that treats you with contempt, dismisses or even invalidates your feelings, keeps you at arm’s length (i.e., leaving you on read or returning your calls every third day), or physically or emotionally unsafe, these are all clear red flags that can signal the end of love.
Love is a big deal, and it’s important to choose wisely. If you’re in the early stages of a potential relationship and you can determine that it’s not just infatuation, true love will naturally develop over time as you foster a sense of intimacy and safety with each other.
For more on the different types of love, click here.
The most basic kind of love is affection, which is an emotion and action that involves concern for another’s well-being. It can include empathy, compassion, and self-sacrifice. It can also be seen in our relationships with pets, friends, and community members.
Unlike the love we feel in romantic relationships, this form of affection doesn’t require any sex. However, it still has significant psychological and health benefits if you practice it regularly. You can do this by focusing on your gratitude, spending time with loved ones, and practicing mindfulness.