Supreme Love

The three fundamental characteristics of genuine love

The three fundamental characteristics of genuine love

Do I experience love? Is this the sensation of genuine love?

Have you ever pondered these inquiries? For some individuals, such questions arise when a relationship is teetering on the brink of becoming more profound. Others grapple with these thoughts in the context of long-term relationships: “Is this sensation love?” “Do I still harbor genuine love for my partner?” “Does my partner still love me?”

To truly understand what love entails, it’s crucial to 1) discern its various forms and 2) articulate precisely the emotions accompanying the experience of love. While previous research has primarily delved into the former, elucidating distinctions between types of love, the recent study by Xia and colleagues (2023) from the University of Alabama marks a noteworthy advancement in relationship science by focusing on the latter.

Love manifests in diverse ways

Those who have experienced love for a grandparent, teacher, or romantic partner understand that ‘love’ takes on various forms. Relationship science has invested significant effort in delineating this diversity, as exemplified by Berscheid’s (2010) taxonomy:

Romantic or passionate love

Some forms of love are intense experiences, encompassing sexual attraction, a spectrum of strong emotions, physiological arousal, and mental preoccupation. Scholars use terms like romantic love or passionate love to describe this high-intensity love.

Companionate love

A serene and intimate variant, companionate love shares similarities with friendship love, embodying care, concern, and closeness to another person.

Compassionate love

Certain forms of love revolve around our inclination to serve another person, whether it be a child, friend, or parent. Compassionate love encapsulates this other-focused love, driven by a deep motivation to support another.

Attachment love

Love can also be akin to a tether, drawing us closer to someone in times of distress. Attachment love pertains to interpersonal bonds that dictate whom we seek and feel safest with when facing difficulties.

While identifying variations of love is beneficial, this taxonomy sidesteps a crucial question: What commonalities underlie these experiences to define the specific feeling of ‘love’? In other words, what are the fundamental features of love?

Researchers may have uncovered the essence of genuine love

Recent research focused on unraveling the essence of love, aiming to pinpoint its core features (Xia et al., 2023). The objective was to understand what evokes the feeling of being loved across various interpersonal contexts. Whether engaged in a passionate relationship, missing a beloved cousin, or planning a celebration for a close friend, the emotion that arises—love—shares certain qualities.

Over 450 undergraduate students, predominantly white and female, were surveyed about how their parents, partners, and friends elicit feelings of love in them (Xia et al., 2023). Through a meticulous analysis of nearly 1,400 participant responses, the researchers identified recurring themes that unveil the essence of what constitutes love.

Genuine love manifests through responsiveness, connection, and stability.

Discerning whether what you’re experiencing is love is now illuminated by the core features identified in Xia and colleagues’ (2023) research.

Positive responsiveness

The belief that love, in all its forms, stems from another person validating, being sensitive, and responding to your needs emerged as a pivotal feature (Xia et al., 2023). Further analysis unveiled specific behaviors constituting responsiveness, including a) demonstrating affection, b) enhancing self-worth, and c) providing support.

Authentic connection

Experiencing true intimacy, devoid of pretense, emerged as the second essential feature of love in Xia et al.’s (2023) study. Love is felt when individuals embrace vulnerability, openness, and a sense of belonging with another. Dynamics supporting authentic connection include a) mutual affinity and b) being ‘in tune’, akin to interpersonal chemistry.


The third feature fostering feelings of love is stability (Xia et al., 2023). Love tends to emerge from steadiness, not uncertainty, and consistency, not unpredictability. Stability is reflected in behaviors that are a) unconditional, emphasizing acceptance, and b) dependable, emphasizing reliability and trustworthiness.

Genuine love results from specific interpersonal dynamics.

The feeling of genuine love is believed to arise from positive responsiveness, authentic connection, and stability, forming a common thread across diverse forms of love (Xia et al., 2023). These core features serve as the foundation, even as their manifestation may vary.

For instance, how a romantic partner expresses affection for positive responsiveness may differ qualitatively from how a parent or friend does so, yet the underlying dynamics leading to love remain the same.

The three fundamental characteristics of genuine love conclusion

The study conducted by Xia and colleagues (2023) represents significant progress in delineating the sensation of genuine love. Subsequent research would gain valuable insights by broadening the participant demographic beyond undergraduates to include adults and older adults. Additionally, exploring measurement methods beyond self-reports could prove beneficial.

While individuals can provide insights into the foundations of love through self-reports, a deeper understanding could be achieved by employing alternative approaches to measure relationship dynamics and establish connections with the essence of love.