Understanding How Love Can Differ For Different People In Your Life

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may be able to identify several groups of people in your life whom you love. You might have told friends, extended family, parents, partners, or children that you love them. 

In all of your relationships, has the love been the same? Love is a complicated emotion and often differs depending on circumstances or the people it is directed toward. For example, the love you show to your kids may look more nurturing than your love for your best friend. 

To accommodate such differences, the ancient Greeks studied love and had several unique words for love. Today, we may use one word for the different types of love we feel. However, there are as many as eight different Greek words for love, each referring to distinct types of relationships, levels of intimacy, and situations. 

Understanding the different forms of love and how they're often expressed may give you perspective when connecting with others or expressing love in your life.

Want help expressing love to the important people in your life?

What is love?

Love is often defined by most people as a feeling of intense affection. Love may deepen the bond between friends or turn a casual romantic relationship into a long-term commitment. Love may change and evolve. On a physical level, love releases chemicals in the brain that can cause happiness and feelings of joy. Many times, recognizing that you love another person is one of life’s most memorable and impactful moments. 

You may not feel "in love" with a partner as soon as you meet them, and it may not happen "at first sight." Love can be a slow process; once you fall in love, your feelings may grow or change as your relationship changes.

Love can exist between two people who are close in a romantic or sexual sense. However, it can also be felt or expressed toward family, in friendship, or oneself in a platonic way. With a broad range of applications, it can be helpful to define the varied forms of love developed by the ancient Greeks.

Types of love

When learning about the different forms of love in Greek, they may overlap in different ways. For example, you may experience both pragma and philia for your partner. Or you may feel storge for your grandmother and the best friend you've known since you were young. Below are the eight types of love and how you can practice them.

Ludus (playful love)

Often present in the early stages of a relationship, playful love, Ludus, is a non-serious type of love. It's often marked by the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you might get when you first feel affection for a new romantic partner or a crush. 

Ludus isn't often associated with a commitment but with a flirtatious, fun type of love. Playful love can turn into a more devoted form of love over time. 

If you have a new romantic interest, expressing ludus by flirting can create a low-stakes level of intimacy that you may be able to build upon.

iStock/SDI Productions

Eros (passionate love)

Named for the Greek god of love, eros is a passionate, sexual, romantic form of love. It's often characterized by physical touch and powerful attraction and is mentioned in so many songs about love. The Greeks felt that the passion and desire that came about due to eros was dangerous, yet it's often a form of love that people seek. 

As humans, we may crave a relationship with enduring love, but also one that is full of romance and sexual attraction. Eros may be a component of a sexual or lust-driven connection or romantic love. However, it may also be considered passion. If your relationship with your partner seems to need a spark, consider whether passionate love may be lacking.

Pragma (practical love)

Also called enduring love, pragma is characterized by commitment and is often present in long-term romantic relationships. Pragma is considered by many the ideal form of love between romantic partners. 

You may experience pragma in a partnership with mutual support and trust. With pragma, while you may experience ludus and eros with your significant other, your relationship may not be primarily characterized by those expressions of love anymore. You might feel a deeper and more meaningful connection or desire long-term commitment. 

Storge (familial love)

Imagine the bond you have with your children, parents, siblings, or chosen family. Storge can be described as the innate love you experience in relationships with those you consider part of "your group."  

Storge is a familiar form of love that's often instinctual. It may be seen in a powerful connection a parent feels for their children as soon as they're born, between individuals in the family, or the intimate bond best friends have. 

When you experience familiar love, storge, you may feel a strong desire to care for the other person. A reliable support system based around storge love could be a vital aspect of your life. Studies show that deep social connections with your community can improve health. Storge may be one type of love that allows you to experience this connection. 

Philia (brotherly love)

Also called affectionate love, philia is often marked by deep feelings between friends or family. Philia is a platonic love that may feel as intimate as the love felt in a romantic relationship. It was considered by the Greeks to be a deep form of love because it related to people who felt that they were, in all ways, equals. 

You may feel philia love for a best friend with whom you had in your life for years. You can develop and nurture such deep friendships by ensuring that mutual respect, admiration, and affection are present.

Philautia (self-love)

Referring to the love you give to yourself, philautia or self-love can be an essential practice for mental health and developing self-worth. Self-love can mean maintaining a positive self-image, caring for your mental and physical health, and fostering happiness.

The Greeks differentiated between philautia, which they considered healthy self-love or self-compassion, and narcissism, which can be thought of as a love of oneself to the exclusion of others. 

Philautia may cause healthy positivity about yourself and offer love and affection to yourself in the same way you would to someone else. You might choose to practice self-love by creating a self-care routine, tending to your mental health, or indulging in activities you enjoy.

Mania (obsessive love)

Considered an unhealthy type of love, mania may be characterized by jealousy, obsession, or possessiveness. Obsessive love, mania, may be present when one romantic partner is more attached than the other or if a couple develops a co-dependent relationship. Mania love is not to be confused with the symptoms of mania often experienced in bipolar disorder. 

With this type of love, you may notice that you act differently when you're afraid of losing someone. Mania can come from a place of low self-esteem or other individual concerns, or it could mean that a healthy form of love is missing. 

If you realize that there are toxic elements or potentially unhealthy expressions of love in certain relationships, consider whether you could benefit from practicing self-love (philautia) or practical love (pragma).

A man with curly brown hair, a beard, and a yellow-green t-shirt lies in bed and hugs his dog.
Want help expressing love to the important people in your life?

Agape (unconditional love)

Agape love, often called unconditional love, compassionate love, or selfless love, may feel difficult to achieve. Agape is considered a type of everlasting love in which you care for another person without the expectation of reciprocation, even in hard times. It can be a selfless and altruistic form of love that is often referred to as universal love because it can apply to everyone and everything. You may choose to express agape love by volunteering or practicing random acts of kindness to others, even strangers.

Understanding love

Love can be a great joy and an enriching part of life. It may help you strengthen bonds with friends, family, and romantic partners and improve your mental and physical well-being. Finding love can create impactful moments and may leave a lasting impression in our lives, However, understanding your feelings and the types of love you experience can be complex. Support is available if you need help talking through your emotions or working on your relationships. 

Discuss love and relationships in therapy 

Speaking to a professional may be valuable if you're struggling with relationships; if you're in love with two people, if you feel like your love life is an empty cup, or if you just want to learn more about the world of love. At times, barriers to treatment, such as cost, distance, or availability, can make it feel challenging to get support. If you relate, you might try online counseling. 

Research points to online therapy as a helpful method of addressing concerns related to love and relationships. In a related story, in a recent study on the effectiveness of online therapy interventions for couples, researchers found that treatment significantly helped distressed relationships. Participants experienced improved communication and overall relationship satisfaction and decreased symptoms of individual mental health concerns.

If you're looking to understand your feelings better regarding the relationships in your life, a mental health professional can help. An online therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Refgain for couples can connect you with a licensed provider who fits your needs and preferences. 


Love can be a deep component of many different types of relationships. If you're looking to better understand feelings of love or emotions and develop greater self-awareness related to relationships, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist. With guidance, you may continue developing healthy relationships and experience love in many forms.
Receive compassionate guidance in love
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started