“Is This Real Love?” Five Facts About Love To Help You Find The Answer

Updated May 6, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
“Love is such a beautiful experience, but it can also be confusing. If you're not sure if it's love, that's okay. Love can hold different meanings to each person. Validate the positives of your connection and try to be honest with yourself about your feelings. ” - Ryan Smith, LPC, NCC

Love is a nearly universal and deeply human emotion. But despite all the love we may experience, “real love” can be surprisingly difficult to describe.

If you hold strong feelings for someone but unsure whether you’re feeling genuine love, you’re not alone. All at once, falling for someone can be exciting, intimate, and overwhelming. Both in the moment and after an encounter with your lover, you may find it challenging to process your emotions and determine how you’re really feeling.

The following information and facts can guide you in a clearer direction – and if you need extra support, an online therapist can offer personalized advice and expertise. 

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Wondering if it’s real love or another feeling?

How do psychologists define love? 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), love involves strong feelings of affection and tenderness for someone or something. These feelings are often deeply pleasurable, and make lovers feel devoted to each other’s well-being and sensitive to their reactions, feelings, and needs. 

Physically, you may feel an increase in your energy levels, sweaty palms, lightheadedness, a racing heart, and positive feelings when you’re falling in love with someone. These physiological responses can be attributed to chemicals in the brain: most notably, oxytocin, phenethylamine, and dopamine, which make us alert, excited, and eager to bond.

As you become more comfortable and familiar with your lover, however, the intensity of these responses may mellow over time. In successful long-term relationships, physical intimacy remains important for many couples, but physical attractiveness tends to be less important than in those initial, heart-racing encounters.

What psychologists know about real love: Facts to consider

Beyond the psychological and physical explanations of love, how do you define real love on your own terms? 

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether your feelings amount to love, lust, or something entirely different. While we can’t assess your feelings for you, the following five facts about love can help you reflect on your feelings and decide how to proceed in your relationship.  

1. Love is complex. 

Love is a complex experience and can be broken down into many components. While there is no singular model to contain the complexity of love, many psychologists cite the Triangular Theory of Love, originally proposed by psychologist Robert Sternberg. This model divides love into three components:

  • Intimacy, which describes feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness. You might describe this as a feeling of warmth in a loving relationship.
  • Passion, which includes the drives and feelings of arousal that lead to romantic, physical, and sexual attraction.
  • Decision/commitment, which involves both the short-term decision to invest in loving someone, and the long-term commitment to maintain that love.

These three components of love may help you frame your loving relationships, and consider how varying levels of passion, intimacy, and commitment can define and strengthen your connections over time. 

2. There are different types of love.

The love you feel toward a friend may mellow in comparison to your passion for a lover, but both types of love are still “real” and meaningful under Sternberg’s theory.

When combined in various ways, the three components of love from can lead to eight types of love, again under Sternberg’s model. 



Nonlove is the absence of intimacy, passion, and decision/ commitment. You may feel this toward an acquaintance or stranger. 


Liking includes intimacy only and is the basis for most friendships.

Empty love

Empty love refers to the decision to love and commit to someone in the absence of both intimacy and passion. This could happen in an arranged partnership or when couples stay together for financial reasons.  

Romantic love

Romantic love stems from a combination of intimacy and passion. You may resonate with this category if you’re casually dating someone or have a “friends with benefits” relationship.

Companionate love

Love between companions is typically a combination of intimacy and decision/ commitment. You might experience this love with a platonic best friend, a sibling, or another stable, committed person in your life.

Fatuous love

This intense form of love is a combination of passion and decision/commitment without intimacy. Fatuous love is often driven by sexual attraction but may lack the emotional intimacy you find in other relationships.

Consummate love

Under Sternberg’s model, this “complete love” combines intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment. 

When considering what makes love “real”, keep these eight types of love in mind and remember that you can still feel love for someone, even if the relationship lacks a degree of commitment, intimacy, or passion. 

3. Real love is in the brain

In several studies, scientists have used brain imaging to assess the neural activity of people in loving relationships. 

In a foundational 2005 study, a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School analyzed 2,500 functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans of college students who viewed pictures of their romantic interests, compared to brain scans of students who viewed pictures of acquaintances. When students looked at photos of romantic partners, their brain activity increased in regions with high levels of dopamine: the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. 

The scans also showed more brain activity in the caudate nucleus – a brain region associated with rewards and the integration of sensory experiences into social behavior – and the ventral tegmental area, which is linked to pleasure, focused attention, and the motivation to acquire rewards.

Other fMRI studies affirm that love affects the brain in a real, physical way. In the brains of long-term couples, for example, researchers have found that looking at photos of each other activates the basal ganglia: an area involved in promoting attachment. Not only can we describe the emotional experience of romantic love, but we can also see the brain “light up” in response to both new lovers and long-time partners.

4. Real love takes work and respect

You may have heard the saying that love and relationships take “work”, especially if you’re going through a difficult time with your friend or partner. To an extent, this saying is true: a loving relationship requires time, effort, and ongoing communication, and most friends and partners must resolve a conflict (or two) at some point in their relationship.

For many people, the “work” of a relationship happens during the resolution of a conflict, when you’re working to understand your partner and find a compromise or resolution. In a healthy, loving relationship, this work may be necessary – but it can still be difficult and frustrating at times. 

If you feel like the work is too much and that your partner isn’t listening to you, it may be time to reassess the status of your relationship to determine whether it is based on real love. Ideally, however, the work of understanding someone you love will make you feel more engaged and connected to them. 

5. Love requires communication.

To “do the work” and make real love last, partners and friends must learn to communicate and respond to each other’s needs. 

Research suggests that these reciprocal communication skills play a key role in healthy, long-term relationships. The phrase “communication skills” is a broad category, but in general, love thrives when partners and friends feel like they’re heard and seen by their loved ones.

To cultivate this feeling of responsiveness, both people in a relationship must be open to listening and revealing things about themselves: a process that requires time and courage. But allowing someone to know you – and getting to know them – can help you create a lasting, affectionate, and accepting kind of love. 

Wondering if it’s real love or another feeling?

A therapist can help you find real love

Whether you’re casually dating or trying to deepen a connection with a friend or family member, a therapist can help you navigate the different types and intensities of love. 

Some people prefer traditional, in-person therapy to explore these issues, but a growing number of patients use online therapy to invest in their mental health and relationships. Using a digital platform like Regain, you can match with a board-certified therapist and begin scheduling sessions at a time and place that works best for you. Regain therapists have expertise in relationship therapy and can work with both individuals and couples.

Research suggests that online therapies can be just as effective as face-to-face options for a variety of mental health concerns. One 2020 study found that when couples received online therapy through videoconferencing, they experienced a positive shift in their expectations and felt fully immersed in the therapeutic process. Interestingly, some couples reported that the feeling of “distance” from their therapists made them feel more comfortable expressing themselves. These feelings may be especially helpful for couples therapy, where openness and honesty are needed to overcome shared challenges.


The phrase “real love” is yours to define. Regardless of the type of relationship, real and lasting love depends on healthy, clear communication between everyone involved. 

If you’re looking for someone to guide you through the world of love and relationships, a licensed therapist can offer empathy and tangible strategies. Whether you attend sessions alone or with someone you love, you can discover what real love means to you – and how to express those feelings to the people in your life.

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