- Research suggests that the traits associated with what's known as "consummate love" may provide a guide for people who want to know for sure if they are "in love."
- Partners who are comfortable with honest self-disclosure, and who can focus on each other, as determined by how they look at each other, could be said to be in love.
- Concern for a partner, a motivation to make their life easier, and a willingness to make decisions that prioritize them, are all signs of consummate love.
Is this love or is it something else?
People talk about being "in" or "out" of love, but this clear, categorical distinction isn't always reflective of reality. The puzzle of whether you're actually in love is further complicated, because different people define love differently. Some think of it as peaceful, quiet companionship; others view it as an intense physiological experience marked by longing and passion. Still others (e.g., Sternberg, 1986) recognize that some love — consummate love — has intimacy and passion, as well as commitment.
Relationships characterized by consummate love, the kind of mutual love that will last, often share certain features. Turning to the research, here are six central signs of being in love:
1. You're authentic with this person.
Showing the real you is part of the experience of finding the kind of love that can last. Couples that prioritize honest conversation and true self-disclosure, rather than habits of deception, tend to be more satisfied (Lopez & Rice, 2006) and to have the kind of open exchanges that allow for deeper connection.
2. Your eyes really are only for each other.
People in love tend to focus in on each other. Indeed, one strong predictor of relationships ending is how attentive people are to other potential dating partners. Research shows that looking at and paying attention to desirable alternative partners predicts less commitment, investment, and satisfaction (Miller, 1997), all factors that tend to be found in loving, lasting relationships (Rusbult, 1980).
3. Your physical relationship leaves you with an afterglow.
Often, for people in love, sex is more than just sex. New research suggests that it's the positive affect and affection that many couples experience through sexual activity — not sex itself — that drive positive outcomes for individuals and their relationships (Debrot et al., 2017).
4. You're motivated to make your partner's life easier.
Passion is important, but so too is concern for your partner, and his or her concern for you. People's relationships benefit when each partner gives and receives the kind of generous caring designed to promote each other's well-being, termed compassionate love (Fehr, Harasymchuk, & Sprecher, 2014). While this alone won't define being "in love," it is a structural component that distinguishes short-term lust from the kind of long-term love you might be looking for.
5. You take risks with your partner.
Sometimes it's easier to gloss over your past or tell a difficult story without the real emotion, but intimate risk taking appears to be a positive factor in satisfying relationships (Lopez & Rice, 2006). Love provides the safety and trust that enables people to engage in uninhibited self-disclosure.
6. You intrinsically enjoy your partner's company.
You're attracted to your partner, but how much do you like him or her? Liking is distinct from passion, but a component of the kind of "in love" that tends to translate into long-term relationship happiness (Ault & Lee, 2016). Liking your partner signals a high degree of reward in a relationship, and the kind of interpersonal pleasure helpful in sustaining a relationship.
While research psychologists search for more elements of the ever-elusive equation that defines love and being in love, findings to date suggest that both emotional and cognitive factors play a part. In other words, affective reactions matter, but so too do decisions, such as commitment decisions, in determining if you've found lasting love.
Ault, L. K., & Lee, A. (2016). Affective and interpersonal correlates of relationship satisfaction. Philosophy, 6, 115-130.
Debrot, A., Meuwly, N., Muise, A., Impett, E. A., & Schoebi, D. (2017). More than just sex: Affection mediates the association between sexual activity and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Advanced online publication.
Fehr, B., Harasymchuk, C., & Sprecher, S. (2014). Compassionate love in romantic relationships: A review and some new findings. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31, 575-600.
Lopez, F. G., & Rice, K. G. (2006). Preliminary development and validation of a measure of relationship authenticity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 362-371.
Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172-186.