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What is love, really? We ask 5 experts

Table of Contents

What is ‘love’ – it’s one of life’s big questions, but what’s the answer? We examine the neurochemistry that takes place when we experience love, and ask 5 leading relationship experts to uncover the answer…

Why our definition of love is so important

The way we define love shapes not only how we experience it ourselves, but also how we deliver it to our partners.

Our personal definition of what love means is shaped by a variety of influences, including  family, friends, society, media, religion, and culture are all part of the love mix. In particular how we were loved as children, and the relationships we observe such as those of our parents make a profound imprint on us.

How we see love affects who we love

The qualities we believe define love – things like commitment, passion, sacrifice, trust – are what we seek in our partners. If we believe love means never fighting or always agreeing, we may miss out on healthy conflict and struggle to set boundaries. If we think love is about constant excitement and fireworks, we could fail to appreciate the deeper intimacy that comes with comfort and stability.

Our definition of love also determines who we open our hearts to. If we believe love requires wealth, status or meeting social norms, we may close ourselves off to meaningful connections with people outside those rigid standards.

Time to examine your love script

It’s worth reflecting on how you define love and examining where those beliefs came from. Think about your earliest memories of love – how your guardians showed you affection and care. Consider the love stories you’ve been exposed to in media and culture. Identify any unhealthy or unrealistic notions you may have internalized.

Re-defining Love

Re-writing your definition of love is challenging but liberating work. As you open your mind to more expansive possibilities, you open your heart to deeper relationships and connections. Love becomes an act of courage, compassion and choice rather than something that just happens to you. Defining love on your own terms allows you to experience it in ways that are meaningful for you.

The Science of Love: A Neurochemical Rollercoaster

When you’re in love, your brain is on a wild ride.


The initial attraction activates your dopamine system, flooding your brain with the feel-good hormone and giving you a natural high. This is why the early stages of a relationship can be so euphoric and all-consuming.


As the relationship progresses, other chemicals come into play. Oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’, increases feelings of affection, calmness and trust. It’s released by physical touch and intimacy, so those long hugs, holding hands and heart-to-hearts are important.


Vasopressin is another key hormone, linked to feelings of attachment and bonding. The longer you’re with someone, the more vasopressin is released, creating that sense of connection and commitment.


Of course, relationships also bring negative feelings at times like stress, anxiety, fear and jealousy. When you argue or feel insecure, your body produces higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and lower levels of oxytocin and dopamine. The key is learning to regulate these ups and downs together.

Embrace emotions

True love means embracing all of these emotional and chemical peaks and troughs, and choosing to navigate them side by side.

While the initial rush of dopamine and infatuation will fade over time, the oxytocin and vasopressin released in a healthy long-term relationship can create a lasting lifelong bond. Love may not always be pretty, but the science shows it can be deeply rewarding.

The neurochemistry behind why we feel the way we do about the people we hold most dear. Love really does move in mysterious (and highly chemically related) ways.

How 5 influential relationship coaches define love

Love means different things to different people. To get a well-rounded view, we asked 5 leading relationship coaches how they define this powerful yet complex emotion.

Commitment to the relationship

For April Davis, love is “a conscious commitment to the relationship and the wellbeing of your partner.” It’s about making the choice to care for someone despite challenges, imperfections or differences.

Acceptance and understanding

Dr. Wyatt Fisher sees love as “fully accepting another person as they are, understanding them, and being there for them through ups and downs.” Rather than trying to change your partner, focus on embracing them for who they are.

Intimacy and affection

To Shannon Battle, love involves “intimacy on emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual levels.” She emphasizes affection, open communication, quality time together, emotional support, respect, trust and sharing meaningful experiences.

Shannon Battle

Passion and excitement

For some, like Chris Armstrong, love is characterized by “a sense of passion, excitement, chemistry and fun.” While commitment and acceptance are important, a spark of romance and playfulness can help maintain a strong connection over the long run.

Chris Armstrong

Sacrifice and compromise

Terri Orbuch defines love as “a willingness to sacrifice for your partner, compromise when needed, share life’s ups and downs, and build something meaningful together over the long haul.” Real love requires work, but with the right person by your side, the rewards are great.

Learning to Love Ourselves First

To really love someone else, you first need to learn self-love. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make yourself a priority and work to overcome feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy. 

Practice self-care

Prioritize exercise, nutrition, sleep, and downtime. Engage in hobbies and activities that you find meaningful or uplifting. Seek professional counselling or therapy if needed to build self-esteem and set healthy boundaries. 

Learn to accept yourself

You are a perfectly imperfect and complex human being. Embrace all parts of yourself – your flaws, weaknesses, and perceived shortcomings, as well as your strengths, talents, and accomplishments. Speak to yourself with compassion and encouragement instead of harsh self-criticism.

Set boundaries

Do not rely on the approval or validation of others. Say no when you need to and do not feel guilty about it. Make your own needs and well-being a top priority instead of constantly trying to please people or meet unrealistic expectations.

Practice self-reflection

Spend time reflecting on your core values, priorities, and what really matters to you. Gain insight into your thoughts and behaviors to build emotional intelligence. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and learn from them.

Follow your passions

Engage in work, hobbies, and social activities that you find personally fulfilling and meaningful. Do not let self-doubt hold you back from pursuing dreams or goals that motivate or excite you.

Learning self-love and acceptance is a journey. Be gentle with yourself and celebrate small wins and milestones along the way. Loving yourself will help you build healthy, balanced relationships and find greater peace and contentment in life. Make the choice today to be kind to yourself. You deserve nothing less.


As you can see there are many different angles to examine the complex subject of love.

It’s interesting to learn that there is a tangible and measurable chemical reaction to us whilst we are experiencing ‘love’. Understanding that chemical reaction can help us better understand the complex emotions we might be experiencing. It’s equally interesting that the relationship coaches featured here describe love using language such as acceptance, commitment, and sacrifice. 

How we define love has a significant impact on our relationships and those around us. So taking a little time to better understand what it is to you, is time well invested.

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