What Does it Mean When You Say, “I Love You”?

What does it mean when you say, “I love you”? Two partners can have wildly different versions of how they define love. He may define love as practical, and his show of affection is checking the oil in her car. She may define love as possessiveness, and a display of jealousy makes her feel valued. But he doesn’t mind her flirting with the waiter, and she never thanks him for changing her flat tire. Their dissimilar outlooks could spell trouble ahead in the relationship.

Understanding what makes your partner feel loved can help you improve your relationship and steer clear of conflict. In the 1970s, California sociologists Thomas E. Lasswell and Terry Smith Hatkoff devised a questionnaire based on John A. Lee’s six types of love found among couples (below). Their work was followed up by relationship counselors who use the scale to predict which partnerships have the best chances of success. The counselors say the most committed relationships are typically a combination of two or three different forms of love.

Here’s a look at the different types of lovers followed by predictions on their futures together.

Best Friends or Companionship: Fondness, deep affection, companionship, and the intimacy of a close friendship identify this type of lover. They tend to value comfortable, slowly developing, trusting, and committed relationships.

Unselfish: A gentle, nurturing, and dutiful partner, this type of lover is devoted and self-sacrificing to their loved one. They often give without expecting anything in return.

Logical: With this type of lover, feelings are practical and based on shared values such as financial goals, religion, or attitudes about children. They carefully look for the “right” person and select someone with compatible interests and long-term goals.

Romantic: Based on passion and sexual attraction, this type of lover constantly thinks about their loved one, and they need repeated reassurance that their love is returned. Often characterized by “love at first sight,” this type of love may be short-lived.

Playful: For this type of lover, feelings are stirred by flirtation or challenges. They enjoy the dating game, relishing the meeting, the impressing, the seducing, and the conquest. They usually make it clear that they promise little or no long-term commitment to the other person.

Possessive: Jealousy, control, and obsession go hand in hand with this type of lover. When the relationship seems threatened, they get physically sick or depressed or act out in foolish ways.

The Best Pairs for Ideal Relationships

Those who score high in both the Best Friend and Unselfish categories form the strongest relationships, according to Marcia Lasswell and Norman Lobsenz, authors of Styles of Loving: Why You Love the Way You Do. They say both styles stress giving and anticipating their partner’s love needs. Other matchups that work well are two Logical lovers or a Best Friend-Logical combination.

Two opposite types of lovers are the Romantic and Best Friend categories. Another likely mismatch is Romantic and Logical. While the Romantic wants candlelight dinners and passionate lovemaking, their partner prefers a quiet evening at home planning a trip or buying a new house.

The Best Friend type of lover isn’t going to fare much better with a Possessive type. The clash of styles is inevitable.

Want to find out the similarities and differences in how you and your partner each define love? Take the What Is Your Love Style? quiz.


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