The six types of Love: Physical, Sexual, Emotional, Intellectual, Practical and Spiritual

After my recent Valentine’s Day post (‘The Buddha in the Bedroom’) I received quite a few messages and questions about Love and relationships. One of the most common issues was around couples ‘growing apart’. So I want to address these questions here and write about six different types of Love. For the Nichiren Buddhists reading this, please note that I am writing today wearing my ‘Life Coach Hat’ rather than as a Buddhist quoting from the Gosho or citing guidance about meeting a Kosen Rufu partner.

6 types of love

My experience of coaching people to make big decisions about their love life is that the question: “How do you want to love and be loved?” is one of the most powerful ones I can ask. It can produce tears, joy, gratitude, relief or doubt in equal measure, depending on who I am talking to and how much they are able to give and receive the kind of love they most value. Often it can produce quite a long silence, because people haven’t stopped to think about it before.

For example, and please forgive the stereotyping, a man may express his love for a woman by being ‘the family breadwinner’, when really his wife would rather he earned less money and spent more time listening to her. Really listening I mean, not just grunting in the right places… Likewise a woman may express her love by meticulously ironing her husband’s shirts when what he would much prefer is a warm, slow hug at the end of a long hard day.

So, how do you want to be loved? I think there are 6 main ways in which people express their love for each other, in no particular order: Physical, Sexual, Emotional, Intellectual, Practical and Spiritual. In no particular order because none of these, in and of itself, is more worthy or valuable than the other. None of them is right or wrong or better or worse than the other. They are ‘just different’, as NLP practitioners are fond of saying. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, after all. As are happiness, right and wrong, justice… and anything else in the sphere of emotion and opinion.

But, and here’s the rub, relationships seem to work best when the two people in it want to be loved in the same way. Or are able to laugh rather than argue about their differences, based on a bedrock of deep mutual respect. So, before walking up the aisle, or, conversely, walking out the door, ask yourself these 6 questions:

  1. Physical: How much are we attracted to each other physically? Do we each want the same amount of cuddling, holding and kissing?
  2. Sexual: How compatible are our sexual preferences and sex drives?
  3. Emotional: How important is it to each of us to honestly share our feelings with each other and be listened to? Are we on the ‘same wavelength’? Can I say about my partner that s/he ‘gets me’?
  4. Intellectual: How important is intellectual stimulation to each of us?
  5. Practical: how well do we work together on everyday domestic issues such as housework and financial planning?
  6. Spiritual: do we share similar views about the meaning of Life? How much are we ‘looking together in the same direction’ in terms of our values and vision?

For those of you with children, we could add a number 7 about attitudes to parenting. In fact, please do post a comment below if you want to add anything else to this list. 

Why does it help to go through these 6 questions? Because they reveal our core Values, in other words what is most important to us. Our Values drive our expectations and our happiness is determined, at least in part, by how much these expectations are met by our relationships.

Unmet expectations lead to frustration which can manifest, for example, in extramarital affairs. Or sometimes in a weary resignation or a nagging feeling that you have settled for ‘second best’. Or in an arrogant and futile attempt to change your partner’s personality, for example to try and make them ‘more practical’ or ‘more sexual’ or whatever else may be top of your own priorities.

I only discovered my own eight core Values when I received coaching for the first time in 2004. It was incredibly powerful to discover that my Values include ‘Love’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Respect’, ‘Fun’ and ‘Making a Difference’. This simple yet profound conversation helped me make some great decisions about the future and improved some key relationships – especially with people who had different Values to my own! Combined with mindfulness and NLP techniques, it is now the single most powerful exercise that I do as a coach and it takes just two or three coaching sessions to dig out your Values and rank them in order of importance. Then you can go and build a life that truly honours them. An authentic, meaningful and fulfilling life. 

The other thing is that people change over time. “He’s not the man/woman I married!” is quite a common refrain that I hear. So for example, you may enter a relationship feeling that Intellectual love is not that important to you, but 10 years later it might be top of your wish list. And Values have a habit of shifting around, for example if you have children, ‘Practical’ love can become more important – there is loads more housework for a start!

I will leave you for now with these words from Daisaku Ikeda: “It is important to make the effort to calmly construct something together. From there, real love develops. Real marriage is when you have been married for 25 years and feel an even deeper love than when you first met. Love deepens. Love that does not is merely on the simple level of likes and dislikes.”

Wishing you all ‘The Joy of Six’ – here’s to a very fulfilling love life…


PS. I write in more detail about love and relationships in my book, The Buddha in Me, the Buddha in You – a handbook for happiness, available now on Amazon and from various high-street book stores.


56 thoughts on “The six types of Love: Physical, Sexual, Emotional, Intellectual, Practical and Spiritual

  1. I enjoyed readingall wat is love, values mine by ranking of importance. My wishes were reading this about 6 types of love–I,d gives anything to feel that way–but from 5 to 18 years old, only 2 people, I knew loved me. So, I’ll be working on these things as my biggest thing is “giving sometimes to much to people”.
    Again everthing that was their wasa DEFINITELY very inspiring and thanks each of you
    I’m 69 years old.


  2. I’m in a long distance relationship & he comes down on the weekends only, I been with him 3 years, I’m to the point were I need him more I starting to feel like he is not the one for me. He is not there for me emotionally and physically, I starting to wanna see other guys because I feel lonely. What do you think?

    1. Hi Abby, many thanks for sharing your experience with me. I am not sure from your message whether you are practising Buddhism or not, but if you are, I would recommend that you seek personal guidance from your local Buddhist leader. I wish you all the best, David

  3. I am in a brand new relationship with someone I’ve known for years and Ioved the article, but when I read about the concept of “…relationships seem to work best when the two people in it want to be loved in the same way.” I said, “Uh Oh…” and I asked the question what if we are totally different in that area? Shouldn’t there be an assimilation of perspective toward someone who needs love in a different manner than you opposed to modifying your own nature to please someone else? Relationships are work, but not too much work that they become untenable?

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for your comment. I think that whatever works for you is what is best for you, my observation was simply that, something I have noticed, but I’m sure many people have different experiences of Love that are equally successful. All best wishes, David

  4. Pingback: The “L” word 
  5. I would like to thank you for posting this wonderful and inspiring article (even as late as I am). Although I am a bit too ‘young’, in some peoples eyes, to be constantly pondering such intellectual topics such as love, life, spirituality, and even the unanswered mysteries of the world, I find myself doing just that anyways, as I have been studying and practicing in the Wiccan religion path.
    Being a Wiccan, I have always been thinking about much deeper things, and was considered to be very intelligent from a young age (I’m not trying to brag or anything). For many years, I had wondered about where my ‘sexual orientation’ lied. Most of what I was told was that you could basically only be Heterosexual, Homosexual, Bisexual, or Asexual. This disgusted me, as they were mostly centered around sexual relationships. While I am not saying that there is anything wrong with those sorts of relationships, I just PERSONALLY believe that there may/should be more to relationships than just sexual desires.
    In the end, I found myself to be both Pansexual and Demisexual, which I find more fitting based on my personality and spiritual being. I also find myself, according to your categories, fitting into Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical, and Emotional types of love, and with Sexual and Practical types of love being of lesser importance in my eyes, while still holding some level of specialty or importance in some ways.
    Thank you, David, for helping me better open my eyes to understand the concept of these different types of love and how they reflect on not only myself, but also my ‘ideal’ partner. I look forward to reading more articles from you.

    1. Hi Bayley, many thanks for your very kind words and happy to hear that the blog post was thought-provoking for you. I admire your seeking spirit and wish you all the best on your journey. David

  6. How about “recreational” and “aesthetic” values?

    As in, do you like to spend your “down time” doing the same stuff, enjoy similar hobbies, or at least that both can appreciate or perhaps participate in? This can make or break the closeness of a relationship. I know women who absolutely hate the amount of time their men spend working on old cars, and it drives a wedge between them. My ex spends every weekend at the lake, and if you’re not in to boats, tough luck, keep moving.

    And as far as the aesthetic thing goes, while it may sound shallow, visual tastes in home decor, clothing, choice of car color, and other various styles can have a huge impact. I am an artist, and decor/fashion enthusiast…as such, tastes in styles can matter a lot to me, and be a great point on which to connect and expand in your relationships with others. My boyfriend’s taste is sometimes a real thorn in my side, because he just doesn’t “get” the idea of stuff that doesn’t have a practical use, say beyond framing a picture you like, maybe. We get along great apart from that, though, but I sometimes find myself missing my artist ex-husband’s ability to see beauty in things.

    1. Hey Brooke, yup I think you make a good point. When I coach couples or coach individuals about their relationship, I nearly always do a ‘Values discovery’ exercise, ‘Values’ being what’s most important to people in the core of their being. Examples include ‘Respect’, ‘Fun’, ‘Harmony’, ‘Beauty’, ‘Discovery’ etc… and on the whole I find that people are happiest in a relationship when they have a lot of shared Values and when they respect (or are able to laugh about) their differences. All best, David

    1. Hi Rose, well I would define it as loving someone’s mind, their ideas etc… Someone who makes you think. Probably someone with a similar level of intelligence to your own. Best, David

  7. Thanks for these great inputs… I guess you covered the entire spectrum.
    How do I want to be loved…. this is mind boggling…It would be really nice if you could elaborate. What our expectations are and what we need to give to receive in return…

    1. Thanks Colin for your kind words. Your question about expectations is one that I would need to give quite a lot of thought and daimoku to! But if you chant, I am sure you will find the right answer for you. I once heard a Buddhist recommend that when we give, we do so ‘without hunger, without sacrifice and without regret’ which seemed pretty wise to me.
      All best, David

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoyed it and think it can relate not just to people in monogamous situations but also people who identify as nonmonogamous or polyamorous. I have two partners and I enjoy different types of love with each of them (while some people like to have many parters who all fulfill one or two specific types). I think the idea is to find “you” and how that true self wishes to interact and love others, regardless of how many partners or what type of love.

  9. Hello David.
    I’m holding a talk at a speed dating meeting, and would love to use your Check list wheel as a tool for the daters 😉

    I would love to add the part about parenting, and maybe also something about vulnerability and how to start a fight and how when one stabs the other in the back, they practise revenge. (Fundamental darkness shows up as a surprise for many couples during break-ups and in conflicts)

    Maybe that will crack them more open to be more sincere, what do you think?

    1. Hey Karl-Otto
      of course please feel free to use anything on my blog that you feel will make people happier and advance Kosen-Rufu, this is the purpose of my site. All I would ask is that you give your audience my blog address so that they can find out more about Buddhism and ask me questions if they want to. Thank you.

      In terms of sincere responses from people, my experience as a trainer/facilitator/coach is that this comes mostly from your own life-state and whether you have created a heart-to-heart connection with the audience. One way to do this is to show your own vulnerability, as this builds trust. Men especially need to realise that in the modern age it is now a strength not a weakness to show vulnerability.
      All the very best for your talk, let me know how it goes!

      David 🙂

  10. this is awesome post! thank you! Love is truly the most amazing feeling, whatever the kind of love one experiences! would absolutely LOVE to read similar or related info about love. Is there any chance You could please advise on the sources. LOVE to have the diverse overview on the topic of LOVE!:)

    1. Hi Lily, many thanks for your very kind comments.
      As for other sources of info about LOVE, to be honest I have not read many books specifically about this topic, I wrote the article based mainly on my 28 years of Buddhist practice and human revolution. For specific Nichiren Buddhist books, try’The Reluctant Buddhist’ by William Woollard or’The Buddha in Your Mirror’ by Morino & Hoschwender, or anything by Daisaku Ikeda (or mine when it comes out in the next few weeks…) There are loads of spiritual and personal development books that also talk about LOVE and top of my list would be titles such as ‘Loving What Is’ by Byron Katie, ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran, ‘Buddhism for You: Love’ by Daisaku Ikeda, ‘The Alchemist’ by Paolo Coelho and ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ by James Redfield.
      Very best wishes

  11. If I were you David, I would include ” Family Love”, particularly parental love. These is nothing highier than parental love.

  12. I really enjoy your posts and wonder whether you have read Bodhisattva or Codependent? [] and would consider writing something on that very topic…it’s an area I myself have struggled with and suspect many other Buddhists do too. Your insight would be appreciated!

    1. Hi Sophie, many thanks for your kind comments and yes I will read that UKE article when I get back from my travels. And I will certainly chant about writing something on that topic as one of my goals with this blog is to ‘join up’ the worlds of Buddhism and psychology.
      Warmest wishes, David

  13. I think it’s a very useful piece of thought and would help apply the same in real life to get answers from oneself. It might help avoid great confusions.

  14. I love your piece of thought here..its remarkably inspiring. However i do believe in factor x or what we will assume as karma. You can expect people to love you in any way you want but if you yourself do not wish to express your love the same you want to be loved then your relationship is going nowhere.

  15. My dear friend Mr. Jensen, whom I knew from age nine to until the day he died from a series of heart attacks (I’d just turned 19 and was by his side when he took his last breath!) He’d had such a relationship with his wife, as President Ikeda describes. I remember his eyes tearing up around Christmas as he recalled his late wife. I sensed they’d had a deeply profound and mutually respectful relationship. Some of us are still hoping/chanting to meet such a person…and it’d be a major bonus if he was an SGI member! 🙂

  16. It could be Joy Of Seven, – “Warmth & Respect” – that originates from the deepest concentric circles of the heart – The Core..

  17. Love your comments on long term marriage and the changes that take place in a relationship. I am been married for 27 years and I truly believe it is both a level of commitment and bit of luck that has made us both change and move in the same direction.

  18. Real love is respecting each other, love each other with earnest, polish your weakness to make your loved one happy, love is very important and special feel

  19. Thanks, ‘love’ is a complicated thing, good to have it broken down. I think love is about how much you want to give and is amplified in a number 7 on parenting. Parenting is important and is the understanding and expression of all of the first six.

  20. U make a good “life coach” I am new to the practice and i have been married 3 times and i’ve never considered any of the 5/6 things u mentioned… husband and I both have kids and the house is definitely in need of more cleaning in all the ways mentioned here. Thanks for enlightening me 😉

  21. What a useful, thoughtful and clear piece of work. It should be on everybody’s list when choosing a partner. 🙂

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