Compassionate and Passionate Love

How compassionate love differs from passionate love

Couple in love
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As anyone who has ever lived and loved can confirm, not all types of love are the same. The love you feel for your partner during the early stages of a romance can feel much different than the love you may feel years later into the relationship. Psychologist Elaine Hatfield has described two different types of romantic love: compassionate (also known as companionate) and passionate. Compassionate love involves feelings of mutual respect, trust, and affection while passionate love involves intense feelings and sexual attraction. 

Passionate Love

Hatfield defines passionate love as "a state of intense longing for union with another." This type of love tends to be more common at the outset of a relationship. People in this state of love tend to experience very powerful feelings for each other. They need to be near the other person, may think about the other person constantly, and experience extreme distress when separated.

Passionate love also comes in two different forms. Requited love occurs when the two individuals share mutual attraction and feelings for one another. Unrequited love, on the other hand, can occur when only one person feels passionate love or if the two are prevented from being together for some reason. Requited love results in two people forming a relationship and being together, while unrequited love results in feelings of despair, anxiety, and loneliness.

Some of the key cognitive, emotional, and behavioral characteristics of passionate love include:

  • Intrusive thoughts about the partner. People often experience almost constant thoughts about the person they are in love with. Not only are these thoughts persistent, they can also intrude at almost any time during the day or night.
  • Idealization of the other person or the relationship. People in passionate love tend to believe that the object of their affections can do no wrong. They also tend to believe that their relationship is without faults, is destined to be, or is a "perfect match."
  • A strong desire to know and be known. People in passionate love want to know everything about their partner. They also want their partner to know everything about them.
  • Strong emotions about the other person. People in this type of love feel good when things are going well, but may be devastated when things go awry.
  • A need to maintain physical closeness. In addition to being strongly attracted to the other person, people in passionate love try to maintain close physical proximity.

Compassionate (Companionate) Love

Where passionate love is marked by its intensity, compassionate love is characterized by its level of intimacy. Compassionate love, also called companionate love, is about intimacy, trust, commitment, and affection. In a long-term relationship, passionate love typically simmers down to compassionate love within one to two years.

People who are in compassionate love still feel passionate about one another, but the intensity typically feels less overwhelming and urgent. This type of love involves caring deeply for the other person, truly knowing the other individual, and being committed to the other person through both good times and bad. Even when disagreements take place, people who share compassionate love remain in love and dedicated to one another.

Some of the key cognitive, emotional, and behavioral characteristics of compassionate (companionate) love include:

  • Long-term commitment. Companionate love is marked by a long-lasting and enduring commitment to each other.
  • Deep intimacy. People who share compassionate love are able to share every aspect of themselves with each other. Mutual sharing of feelings and concerns is a hallmark of this form of love.
  • Trust. Compassionate love is marked by a deep trust in the other person.

Factors That Influence Passionate and Compassionate Love

So what determines whether people end up in passionate or compassionate love? According to Hatfield, some of the factors associated with passionate love include:

  • Timing: Being "ready" to be in love with another person is essential. If you are at a stage in your life where you are not sure you want to be in a relationship, you will also be less likely to experience falling in love.
  • Early attachment styles: Securely attached individuals tend to form deeper, longer lasting love while those who are anxiously attached tend to fall in and out of love quickly. Those who are securely attached may still experience passionate love, but this love is also more likely to eventually grow into companionate/companionate love. Those with insecure styles are more likely to experience intense passionate love that then fades without growing into something more intimate and lasting.
  • Similarity: Hatfield and Rapson note that we tend to fall passionately in love with people who are relatively good-looking, personable, affectionate, and similar to ourselves. Compatibility is also an important factor that helps passionate love grow into compassionate love. While opposites may attract at times, people are typically more likely to stay in love if they share things in common.

    One important thing to remember about these two types of love is that passionate love is usually briefer, while compassionate love may be more likely to stand the test of time. Passionate love is intense, but it is generally very fleeting.

    Researchers have looked at how relationships progress among new couples, newlyweds, and those married for a longer time and found that while passionate love is more intense at the beginning of relationships, it tends to give way to compassionate love that is focused on intimacy and commitment. Passionate love may be quick to fade, but compassionate love endures.

    Researchers have long suggested that passionate love tends to be the more likely type of love to fade. Interestingly, more recent research by Hatfield and her colleagues has suggested that time can have an equally detrimental effect on both passionate and companionate love. One study comparing passionate and companionate love between newlyweds and long-term marriages also found that both newlywed men and women tended to feel equal levels of passion. However, the researchers also found that newlywed women were more likely to love their partner companionately at a greater level than their partner expressed in return.

    The Passionate Love Scale

    Hatfield and Sprecher developed the Passionate Love Scale that has been used worldwide with people of every age. It asks questions based on cognitive components (what and how often you think about your partner), behavioral components (how committed you are and what you do for the other person), and emotional components (how you feel about your partner).

    Respondents are asked to think about the object of their affections, and then answer questions similar to the following:

    • Do you feel like your emotions have been on a roller coaster since you have been involved with this person?
    • Would you experience great despair if he or she left you?
    • Do you ever feel like you cannot stop thinking about this person?
    • Do you feel like you would rather be with this person than anyone else?
    • Do you enjoy studying this person's body or movements?
    • Do you feel a powerful attraction to this person?
    • Do you feel depressed when things don't go right in your relationship with this person?

    If you can answer yes to some or most of these questions, then it is probably a sign that what you are experiencing is passionate love.

    Passionate and Compassionate Love and Relationships

    While it is one thing to understand what these two types of love are conceptually, how might these concepts play out in your real world relationships?

    In reality, you may be more likely to experience passionate love in those early stages of a new relationship. As your infatuation grows, your passion for the other person may build and eventually peak. As your relationship continues, this passion may eventually be tempered and grow into a more compassionate/companionate form of love.

    Companionate love may not necessarily be marked by the wild passion, excitement, or obsessive thoughts that are seen in passionate love. However, this compassionate form of love does include feelings of tenderness, a strong bond, friendship, and enjoyment of the other's company.

    Once you have established a more compassionate form of love, this does not mean that you will not experience great passion from time to time. In fact, some research suggests that romantic love marked by intensity, engagement, and sexual interest (but without the obsessive component that is often common in early stages of relationships) is associated with higher self-esteem, increased well-being, and improve marital satisfaction. Such findings suggest that the strongest and most lasting relationships may be those in which people are able to find a balance between companionate and passionate love.

    So what can you do to rekindle feelings of romantic love, even if you are in a long-term relationship where it feels like the flames of passion have long faded? Look for ways to get out of your rut. Spend time together doing new things or seeking new adventures. Taking a dance or cooking class together, going on a trip to a new location, or even seeking adventures together in the outdoors are all ways to foster trust, intimacy, and even romantic passion.

    A Word From Verywell

    While research on love has flourished over the past 20 years, Hatfield’s early research on this topic was not without critics. During the 1970s, U.S. Senator William Proxmire railed against researchers who were studying love and derided the work as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Others defended Hatfield's and other researchers' important work, noting that if psychologists could understand patterns of human love, then perhaps they could also understand divorce and failed relationships.

    Despite the debate, the work created by Hatfield and her colleagues contributed tremendously to our understanding of love and inspired further research on attraction, attachment, and interpersonal relationships.

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    Article Sources
    • Hatfield, E., Bensman, L, Rapson, RL. (2012). A Brief History of Social Scientists’ Attempts to Measure Passionate LoveJournal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2012;29(2):143-164. doi:10.1177/0265407511431055.
    • Acevedo, BP & Aron, A. Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love? Review of General Psychology. 2009;13(1):59-65. doi:10.1037/a0014226.
    • Hatfield, EC, Pillemer, JT, O'Brien, MU, & Le, YL. The endurance of love: Passionate and companionate love in newlywed and long-term marriages. Interpersona. 2008;2(1);35-64. doi:10.5964/ijpr.v2i1.17.