How You Feel You Are Loved

How do you feel you are loved? Do you?

Professor Mengya Xia and her colleagues from the University of Alabama recently conducted an interesting exploratory study on the core elements of love across family, romantic, and friend relationships. This research revealed how people know they are loved.

Their studies have shown the benefits of love across diverse populations. Love and being loved are both valuable feelings. Love is a complex concept with various types and constructs that research studies in various interpersonal relationships.

What Studies Explored?

In this study, researchers used a grounded theory analysis of 468 individuals. They revealed that love is an interpersonal process involving positive responsiveness and authentic connection. All participants in the study shared three core elements across family, romantic, and friendship relationships. This integrated theoretical conceptualization of love as a shared feeling and asset offers insights for love conceptualization, assessment, study design, intervention, and therapy.

This study explores love literature by identifying central features and examining core elements in various relationship types using qualitative, data-driven approaches.

  • What are the core elements of love, as perceived by lay people?
  • Are the core elements of love shared across family, romantic, and friend relationships?
  • Whether the weights of each element are the same or different across three relationships?

This study analyzed open-ended responses on love in family, romantic, and friend relationships, revealing three core elements: positive responsiveness, authentic connection, and stability. This theory contributes to understanding love as a feeling and asset in interpersonal processes. The theory informs strengths-based research, and sets the foundation for developing an assessment tool. The varying frequencies of love elements across relationships suggest that love in different relationships may have different distributions of the same components.

Grounded Theory on Core Elements of Love

The study reveals that love is an accumulative interpersonal process. In such love relationships, people consistently perceive positive responsiveness from others. They experience authentic connection with them, resulting in a positive sense of oneness. This grounded theory aligns with Reis and Shaver’s interpersonal process model of intimacy, which emphasizes mutual validation and understanding. The core elements of love include positive responsiveness, authentic connection, and a sense of stability. Positive responsiveness describes positive ways of responding to others’ needs, while authentic connection describes the process of forming a pleasurable, desired, and heart-to-heart connection. Mutual affinity emphasizes the enjoyable and mutually desired experience of togetherness, while being in tune with one another focuses on approaching and merging with someone to form a heart-to-heart connection.

A sense of stability describes the feeling that the interaction between two parties is durable, stable, and reliable, as echoed in attachment theory, unconditional love, and the commitment component. The study highlights the importance of considering the temporal history of interpersonal relationships and the need to incorporate the timing and dynamic components of love into the study design.

Comparison of Love Across Family, Romantic, and Friendship Relationships

The study reveals that love is a general feeling experienced in various interpersonal contexts, with core elements of feeling loved being more similar across interpersonal contexts than distinct between relationship types. The specific actions that elicit the feeling of love may vary depending on the type of relationship, but the message they convey is generalizable across relationship contexts. The frequency of each element across relationship types corresponds to how people typically conceptualize love in the respective relationship. In family and romantic relationships, “positive responsiveness” is most frequently mentioned, while “demonstrating affection” is more often mentioned in romantic relationships. In friend relationships, “authentic connection” and “a sense of stability” are most often mentioned, with spiritual union being the key to love in friend relationships.

The higher weight of “a sense of stability” in friend relationships is consistent with companionate love and friendship literature, where trust is viewed as an important component. While many categories weigh differently across three relationships, some similarities provide insights into the key aspects of love as a feeling shared across relationships. Support, mutual affinity, and being in tune with one another are at the core of several conceptualizations of love, emphasizing the importance of providing support, having quality time together, and truly understanding someone’s feeling of love. Additionally, “enhancing sense of worth” was mentioned by 23–30% of individuals in different relationships and did not differ significantly by relationship type.


Xia, M., Chen, Y., & Dunne, S. (2023). What makes people feel loved? An exploratory study on core elements of love across family, romantic, and friend relationships. Family Process, 00, 1-15.