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What’s love got to do with it?

The English language uses one word to express the many facets of this concept.  “I love dogs.” “I love to sail.” “I love you.” We use this word in so many contexts, but it has such varied meanings. Ancient Greek contained several distinct words to refer to different types of love. While there is some overlap in their use and meaning, here is a general overview of five different Greek words for love:

  • Philia this word for love refers to a general type of love in the sense of friendship or affection.  It includes the concept of loyalty to friends, family and community.
  • Éros this denotes passionate love, including physical, sensual love.  It does not just describe sexual love though; it includes emotional love and the feeling of love.
  • Agápe this Greek word refers to a general affection or a deeper love (i.e. “true love”) than that of éros.  Christians understand this type of love as the selfless, sacrificial and unconditional love displayed by God in Jesus Christ.
  • Storge this word for love was used by the ancient Greeks to denote natural love, as in that of familial relationships.  It is almost solely used to describe the love between a parent and child or brother and sister.
  • Maniais not really love in a positive sense at all.  It is more the idea of “lust” or “obsession”.  It is the intense desire to possess something or someone (e.g. kleptomania).

Love is a complicated topic, pondered by the ancient Greeks, idolized by songwriters and examined by modern science. According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, the need to belong and be loved is one of the five basic motivations of human beings. He theorized that, next to the fulfillment of our human needs for food, water and safety/security, our need for love and belonging motivates us to create social networks of community in order to fulfill these needs. Maslow suggested that an individual’s level of happiness correlated directly with the level of fulfillment of each of these five basic needs. A study done to test Maslow’s conclusions in 2011 indicated that even in situations where fundamental physiological needs were not completely fulfilled (e.g. food, water, shelter, etc.), individuals could still report happiness due to feeling loved in their social relationships.

Research, on the topic of romantic love, shows that it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you are attracted to someone. That attraction is based 7% on what is actually said, 55% on body language and 38% on the tone and speed of voice. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University has proposed three stages of love: lust, attraction and attachment. Fisher studied the hormones released in the early days of romantic relationships and discovered patterns in the neurotransmitters that were released in couples’ brains at different points in their relationships. In stage one, she noted that testosterone and estrogen were the dominating hormones affecting the brains of men and women respectively. In the attraction stage, Fisher noted the increased presence of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin in couples’ brains. These neurotransmitters are responsible for symptoms such as a racing heart, increased energy, a decreased need for sleep and constant thoughts of the object of one’s attraction. Finally, in stage three, Fisher noticed increased levels of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter released during orgasm. Research suggests that the more sex a couple has, the stronger their bond will become.

Helen Fisher proposed that these chemicals released over the course of romantic relationships were nature’s way of ensuring reproduction. Investigations conducted on the brain activity of individuals experiencing passionate love, as opposed to maternal or unconditional love, suggests that the physiological effects experienced by those “in love” can augment cognitive function.

Oxytocin is the same hormone released in women after childbirth. It cements the bond between a mother and baby. A mother’s love is a powerful force. A study recently conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine investigated the effect of a mother’s love on the physiology of her child.  Brain images were taken of children from both nurturing and non-nurturing home environments.  The children from nurturing home environments had hippocampal volumes 10% greater than children from less nurturing environments. The hippocampus is the region of the brain important for learning, memory and stress responses.  Additional supporting research has confirmed the positive impact a nurturing home environment has on a child’s ability to learn in school.

We can see that love has a significant impact on our quality of life from a scientific perspective. So what does that look like?  If we say we are loved, what does that mean in day-to-day life? Dr. Gary Chapman, pastor, marriage counselor and author, has written a book called The Five Love Languages. This book came as the result of years of marriage counseling and the observation of patterns Dr. Chapman noticed in his clients over time. He discovered that spouses often came to counseling with complaints that fit into five different categories. “You do not spend any time with me.” “You did not bring me anything from your business trip.” “You never do anything around the house.” “If I did not initiate, you would never touch me.” “All you ever do is criticize me.” Dr. Chapman concluded that humans receive love in five different ways: quality time, the giving of gifts, acts of service, physical touch and words of affirmation.  His book explains each of these “love languages” and provides an inventory to help individuals discover their love languages.  Do you know what yours is? (please refer to the following link for The Five Love Language Quiz /05/D31-I-Hate-Your-Job-The-5-Love-Languages.pdf)

Once you are aware of what your love language is, it is important to communicate that knowledge to those closest to you. Dr. Chapman uses the imagery of a “love tank” in his book to describe how loved we feel at any given time. When those around us are communicating love in a way that we understand, our love tank will be full. If our communication lines are crossed, we may feel unloved, even though others are trying to love us. At Nature Medicine, we recognize the importance of maintaining a full love tank for one’s overall health. Whether this love comes from the relationship of a husband and wife, a mother and daughter, or close friends, we encourage you to invest in what will last forever.

“Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love”


  11. 1 Corinthians 13:13