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Throughout life humans have the desire for healthy loving relationships. Discuss how the experience of love might change from adolescence to the last stage of adult life, making clear reference to two developmental theories.


What is love? Love is a combination of emotions, cognitions and behaviours that can be involved in intimate relationships. Aron, Paris and Aron (1995) find that falling in love leads to an increase in self-efficacy and self-esteem.


A major conceptualisation of love is Sternberg’s TRIANGULAR MODEL OF LOVE. This formulation suggests that each love relationship contains three basic components that are present in varying degrees for different couples (Aron and Westbay, 1996). One component is INTIMACY. Intimacy is the closeness two people feel and the strength of the bond that holds them together. Partners high in intimacy are concerned with each other’s welfare and happiness, and they value, like, count on, and understand one another.


The second component, PASSION, is based on romance, physical attraction and sexuality. DECISION/COMMITMENT is the third component, representing cognitive factors such as the decision that you love the other person and the commitment to maintain the relationship. Love can be primarily based on one of these components, on a combination of two of them, or on all three. These various possibilities yield seven possible types of relationships.


Actual lovers subjectively experience these three components as overlapping and related aspects of love. When all three components are present for a couple, the relationship is likely to be a long lasting one (Whitley, 1993); and when all three components are strong and equally balanced, the result is consummate love.

1)     Liking= Intimacy alone: true friendship without passion or long-term commitment

2)     Romantic love= Intimacy+ Passion: lovers physically and emotionally attracted to one another but without commitment

3)     Infatuation= Passion alone: passionate obsessive love at first sight without intimacy or commitment

4)     Fatuous love= Passion+ Commitment: commitment based upon passion but without time for intimacy to develop-shallow relationship such a whirlwind courtship

5)     Empty love= Decision/Commitment alone: decision to love one another without intimacy or passion

6)     Companionate love= Intimacy+ Commitment: long-term committed friendship such as a marriage in which the passion has faded

7)     Consummate love= Intimacy+ passion+ commitment: a complete love consisting of all three components- an ideal difficult to attain


What does it mean to fall heads over heels in love? Well usually when people describe themselves as being in love, they usually mean passionate love. PASSIONATE LOVE involves an intense and often unrealistic emotional response to another person. The person experiencing this emotion usually interprets it as “true love”, where as those who simply observe it are likely to use the term “infatuation.” Falling in love is the intense all- consuming emotion where you can think of no one else but the loved one.


Hendrick and Hendrick identified six different types or styles of love.

1)     Eros: Passionate love

2)     Storage: Friendship or companionate love: love that is based on friendship, mutual attraction, common interests, mutual respect, and a concern for each others happiness and welfare.

3)     Ludus: Game-playing love eg. Having more than one lover.

4)     Mania: Possesive love eg. 1 or both lovers cannot envision each other with another person without stimulating strong feelings of jealousy

5)     Pragma: Logical love eg. Lovers who decide to love each other based solely on innate similarities like similar background

6)     Agape: Selfless love


 Please note that love has different meanings according to culture and our analysis today will only be related to the two models of love presented just now.




Adolescence is the period in which an individual will cross the dividing line between childhood and adulthood. This period occurs between the ages of 13-19 years of age. At this stage teens possess an especially strong desire for approval and acceptance. According to Erikson, the psychological conflict of adolescence is called identity versus confusion. At this stage teens become absorbed in the task of identifying themselves and go through an identity crisis and an experimental stage. This is a temporary period of confusion and distress where teens experiment with alternatives before settling on values and goals.


The experience of love differs between girls and boys at this stage. There is a basic difference in the way males and females think about love. A girl thinks of love in terms of romance; in other words she desires romantic love. She wants a guy to love her, cherish her, talk to her, put her on a pedistal; in short she wants love, protection and security.


A guy thinks of love more in terms of sex. The focus of his attention is the physical body of the girl. He’s not dreaming of romantic love; it is the sexual aspect of the relationship that he’s interested in. According to Dr. Mary Calderone at the time of adolescence, especially early adolescence “a girl plays at sex, for which she is not ready, because she fundamentally wants love. A guy plays at love, for which he is not ready, because what he fundamentally wants sex.”


Younger teens tend to date for recreation; they date simply to establish status with peers. Researchers have learned that romance in the middle of adolescence often have more to do with the love of being “in love” than with a genuine relationship between two people.


According to Buhrmester and Furman (1987) the achievement of intimacy in romantic relationships typically lags behind that of the same sex friendships. The reason for this seems to be because communication between boys and girls remains stereotyped and shallow through mid-adolescence.


Researchers have also found that teen romantic relationships tend to be volatile and unstable. Because of the emergence of a wealth of different hormones in the body, teens go through strong emotional states, even stronger than that of emotional states of adults. Since cognitive and emotional skills are less developed than that of adults, teens are less able to distinguish emotion from a situation. So what results is that teen relationships are more erratic and unpredictable than that of adult relationships.

These findings relate to younger teens between the ages of 13-17 years; it has been discovered that older teens become ready for greater psychological intimacy and so are more eligible to enter into a healthy love relationship.




At this period, men and women explore the possibility of forming relationships that combine emotional closeness, shared interests, a shared vision of the future and sexual intimacy.

The nature of such relationships differs:

1)     Serial monogamy: sequence of dyadic pairings with no commitment to marriage

2)     Same-sex partnerships: which are usually long term

3)     Hope of marriage: most common; increased involvement in dating relationships mainly with the hope of a transformation of marriage.


According to Erikson’s psychosocial theory, this stage of development is called intimacy versus isolation. It occurs between the ages of 20-40 years of age. This stage is reflected in a person’s thoughts and feelings about making a permanent commitment to an intimate partner. Many young adults have recently attained economic dependence from parents, and many are still involved in the quest for identity. Yet intimacy requires that they give up some of their new found independence and redefine their identity in terms of the value and interests of two people, not just themselves.


Finding a partner with whom to share one’s life is a major milestone of adult development, with profound consequences for self-concept and psychological well being. 100 years of social science research has established that satisfaction in relationship of marriage contributes significantly to the psychological well being including a greater sense of social integration and protection from other life stressors. For most adults happiness in life depends more on having a satisfying marriage than any other domain of adult life.


Longitudinal studies done by Belsky and Rovine with 128 families reveal four patterns of change in the assessment of marital quality after the first child:

1)     Rapid decline

2)     Slow and steady decline

3)     No significant change

4)     Slight increase in marital quality


Results show that persons whose marital quality declined, whether rapid or slowly, were due to a lack of self-confidence in caring for an infant which created tension between marriage partners.


 In many cases, intercourse encounters decline with the birth of a child. This

disturbance in sexual intimacy for the couple may create tension and repressed feelings leading to increased arguments and disagreements between the two. Also conflicts on how to care for and raise the child might build tension between the couple.


Experience of Love in Middle Adulthood

In middle adulthood the experience of love will change. In earlier stages passionate love tended to be more of a focus; but for middle-aged persons who are married, compassionate love becomes the focus for a good and healthy marriage relationship.



Love and marriage in middle adulthood are increasingly important, as a good marriage boosts psychological well-being. Research from a longitudinal study done, shows that the role of love and marriage as a mark of mental health increased with age, becoming powerfully associated with mental health by age 50.


Although women’s adjustment is more sensitive to the quality of the marital relationship or love than men, love and a good marriage brings considerable benefits for middle-aged men and women alike.


A longitudinal study done tracked people who moved in and out of love and intimate relationships; they found that love and a stable marriage actually caused happiness and well-being. In fact those that remained married were found to be happier than single people in middle adulthood. Separated or divorced couples were much less happy and it was found that there was considerable depression at the loss of love.


Reason being that love and marriage account for changes in individuals’ behaviour in ways that make them better off. For example, married partners monitor each other’s health and are less likely to drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. Also sexual satisfaction predicts mental health and it’s claimed that married couples have better sex lives than single people.


Satisfaction and marital stability in middle adulthood is based on acts of compassionate love such as sharing activities, exchanging ideas, laughing together and working together on projects. Women, at this stage, are even happier with marriage if compassionate love is coupled with sparks of passionate love. However, men seem to be unaffected by the absence of passionate love.


This view is somewhat linked to one of Levinson’s four developmental tasks of middle adulthood. According to this task, which is termed “Masculinity-Feminity,” the middle-aged person must come to terms with masculine and feminine parts of the self, creating a better balance. For men, this means becoming more empathetic and caring; for women, it often means becoming more autonomous, dominant, and assertive.



The Experience of Love in Late Adulthood

Late adulthood is a time when individuals come to terms with their lives. This is a time for reflection of one’s life. According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, the stage of late adulthood is termed ego versus despair. In this final stage individuals reflect on the kind of person they have been and have become. Integrity results in the feeling that life was worth living as it happened; persons are left with a feeling of worth and completeness. On the other hand, persons who are dissatisfied with their life fear death as they think they still have things to accomplish. Depending on whether a person’s experience of love was positive or negative will determine whether or not they die happy or bitter.  


Love and companionship in the form of marriage become increasingly important as individuals enter the stage of late adulthood. Again, compassionate love typically increases in marriage, as couples get older and have more time together in retirement. They will share more leisure activities such as gardening and travelling. Also, greater emotional understanding and emphasis on regulating emotion develop leaving a positive mark on couples’ interaction.


The loss of a partner or the loss of love is most common at this stage. Coping with the loss of a partner is easier at this stage than at any other stage of development. This is because at this stage death is inevitable and seen as less unfair. However, widows and widowers tend to feel lonely, anxious, and depressed at the loss of loved ones.


It was found that women who never married and believed that life was empty without a partner or “true love” were usually depressed in old age. They may say that they escaped problems of being a wife or mother and develop deeper friendships, however they despair at the fact that good friendships are not the same as true love.


We can now come to the conclusion that most human beings desire healthy loving relationships; no matter what age. So in keeping with this assumption we have prepared an interesting table about suggestions for healthy relationships.