The Three Loves Theory (2023)

Written byMark Manson

filed as Relationships

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METROMy favorite relationship model comes from the work of the anthropologistHelen Fischer. He has devoted decades of his life and career to the study and understanding of love, intimacy and relationships. This post covers his theory of the three loves, a theory that I find incredibly helpful in understanding relationships.

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The premise of the theory of three loves is that not all loves are experienced in the same way. Anyone with a lot of romantic/sexual experience can tell you that love and passion taste different. for some it isintense and angry, in others it is soft and delicate. for some it isturbulent with many ups and downs, in others slowly and steadily over a long period of time.

But this is not just theory. Scientists like Fisher have studied the cognitive and neurobiological processes underlying attraction and love and have begun to identify different emotions that occur at different stages of life.romantic relationships.1Through these studies, Fisher was able to map the neurobiological components of each love experience and relate them to real social realities.2

The three loves he created are as follows: lust, passion and devotion.3These three loves occur and occur in different parts of the brainindependently of each other. For example, you may "want" someone, but have no perceived obligation to that person (eg, one-night stands).

But before we get into that, let's cover what the three loves are in detail.

Love one: lust

Lust is a feeling that everyone should be able to easily identify with. It comes from the reptilian brain and is pure instinctual reproduction.4Lust is a yes/no proposition: basically, do you want to have sex with this person right now? It's instantaneous and based on pretty simple physical and behavioral components of attraction.

The Three Loves Theory (1)

Lust can also go away as quickly as it came. It is ephemeral and constantly changing within a person. He has no attachment or favoritism. It's really as simple as, "Do I want to have sex with him now?yes or no?”

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The Three Loves Theory (2)

Love two: passion

Passion is the emotional connection that develops between two people. It has its roots in the mammalian brain.5Two people in love are considered "in love". They stare at each other, want to be together every hour of every day, stay up until 6am talking.

Think newlyweds and honeymooners. Think romantic getaways. ThinkCheese and guava. Passion comes from a high level ofemotional chemistryand cultivating a sense of "newness" or spontaneity within the relationship. Hence older couples planning romantic getaways to rekindle the passion in their relationship.

Passion has incredible poweroverrule a person's logical functioning. He often talks us into making less-than-stellar statements and compromises.

It's the boyfriend who says he loves his new girlfriend and changes his mind four months later. She's the girl who spends a year dreaming of moving in with her boyfriend, and once she does, she realizes that she doesn't love him as much as she thought.

Blinded by passion, we let ourselves be carried away by the moment and projected a utopian and endless future for the relationship.

The Three Loves Theory (3)

Passion cannot be cultivated without lust, although a couple can remain in love after lust has subsided (think again of an elderly couple).

The death of passion is caused by a lack of shared experience and a lack of novelty. When a couple, after 6-12 months together, reaches the point where the "newness" of the other person begins to wear off, there will be a serious test of compatibility.

If this couple manages to unite their lives in such a way as to constantly share their new experiences, the passion will continue. If not, eventually it will befall in the way.

This brings us to the third and final love.

Love three: commitment

When two people stay in love long enough and there's a long-term relationshipcompatibilitywhere they can share unlimited new life experiences with each othercommitment will arise. Commitment is an incredibly powerful feeling and it rarely happens in life.

Commitment is when Love Two's infatuation lasts to the point where it isunconditionally. Couples who love two and don't love three usually feel fine until something happens: he loses his job, she miscarries, he starts drinking, etc.

Compromise is when you accept and love the other person's flaws as much as your strengths. Research has shown that when couples reach this level of commitment, their sense of self merges with the other person's.6

The researchers looked at patterns of neuronal activation in these long-term couples. They found that if you ask a man who has been married for 20 years to remember that his wife was in a car accident, and then ask him to remember that he was in a car accident himself, the same "I" points will light up in your brain while not for anyone else.And it won't for couples who haven't been in the Third Love commitment for some time.

The Three Loves Theory (4)

Commitment comes with the idea that the relationship will last indefinitely. It can only end when one or both parties to a relationship change individually to the point where it becomes harmful for the other person to identify with their partner: think again of the husband who becomes an alcoholic or the wife who becomes an alcoholic. who continue to cheat, &c. Sometimes the power of engagement remains anyway, depending on the individuals.

Passion and lust can fade long after the commitment is made, without jeopardizing the commitment. In this way, each love is a prerequisite for the next love to arise, but once there, it is no longer necessary. Lust is necessary for passion, but passion can later exist without it. There must be a passion for commitment, but later commitment can exist without it.

There are deadlines for all love, although they are very arbitrary and vary greatly from person to person and from couple to couple.

But it's good to think about it: Lust is instantaneous and constantly comes and goes, making it very easy to get lost from time to time.

Infatuation takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to develop and typically lasts 3-6 months. It will persist in highly compatible pairs, but it will still require constant effort and communication to last beyond a few years.

Bonding occurs after 1-3 years and remains for life unless two people separate as individuals, in which case it often takes years to get rid of itself.


  1. See Fisher's book,Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, for more.
  2. In one of the studies, he compares each "love emotion" with the usual suspects: contemporary marriage patterns, adultery, divorce, etc. and other less likely candidates, including stalking, murder, and clinical depression. See: Fisher, H.E., Aron, A., Mashek, D., Li, H., & Brown, L.L. (2002).Defining the brain systems of lust, romantic attraction and attachment. sexual behavior files,31(5), 413–419.
  3. These are named in lust, romance and attachmentyour book.
  4. Fisher describes lust as primarily associated with estrogens and androgens, and evolved to motivate people to seek sexual union. See: Fisher, H.E. (1998).Pleasure, attraction and attachment in mammalian reproduction. human nature,9(1), 23-52.
  5. Fisher tries to identify the exact neural mechanisms in this study: Fisher, H., Aron, A., & Brown, L. L. (2005).Romantic love: an fMRI study of a neural mechanism for mate choice. Journal of Comparative Neurology,493(1), 58-62.
  6. See this review of the evidence to date: Quintard, V., Jouffe, S., Hommel, B., & Bouquet, CA (2020).The intersection of the embodied self and the other in romantic love: a review and an integrative perspective. psychological research.

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