Is There a Drive to Love?

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This paper offers a neuropsychoanalytic examination of two partially overlapping issues: the nature of the relationship between romantic love, sexuality, and attachment; and the possible existence of a unique drive for romantic love. Over the last century, Freud’s theories about the mental forces and developmental pathways that lead to adult romantic love have served as a basis for psychoanalytic investigation and understanding of human relationships in general. Drive theory, which has become less popular in contemporary psychoanalysis, was formulated as a systematic attempt to describe the most basic motivational determinants of desire, emotion, thought, and behavior from the perspective of human subjective experience. The work of Bowlby and other attachment theorists provided a different, and in many ways complementary, view about the origins of the human need to love and be loved. Recent advances in the cognitive and affective neurosciences have enabled psychologists and neurobiologists to investigate different aspects of romantic love, including its motivational basis. These developments have rekindled the scientific interest in the concept of drive in general and libido in particular. On the basis of psychoanalytic, psychological, and neuroscientific findings and theories about the forces that drive human love, the paper examines whether romantic love is the product of one, two, or three drives or instincts. The view that human romantic love is ultimately motivated by a single drive or instinct can no longer be sustained. Converging evidence suggests that romantic love is shaped and influenced by the action of at least two independent, interacting psychobiological instinctual/emotional systems. It is proposed that the final number of systems involved in romantic love depends on the definition of “drive.”

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-144
Number of pages28
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008


  • Attachment
  • Bowlby
  • Drive
  • Freud
  • Love
  • Neuropsychoanalysis
  • Sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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