Compassionate and Passionate Love

How compassionate love differs from passionate love

Couple hugging
Christopher Malcolm / Getty Images

Psychologist Elaine Hatfield has described two different types of romantic love: compassionate and passionate. Compassionate love involves feelings of mutual respect, trust, and affection while passionate love involves intense feelings and sexual attraction. 

What Is Passionate Love?

Hatfield defines passionate love as:

"A state of intense longing for union with another. Passionate love is a complex functional whole including appraisals or appreciations, subjective feelings, expressions, patterned physiological processes, action tendencies, and instrumental behaviors. Reciprocated love (union with the other) is associated with fulfillment and ecstasy. Unrequited love (separation) with emptiness, anxiety, or despair."

What Is Compassionate Love?

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.

Factors That Influence Passionate and 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

While passionate love is intense, 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.

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).

Final Thoughts on Passionate and Compassionate Love

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. Other 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. 

View Article Sources