The Psychology of Love: Teaching Tips to the Science of Relationships
By: Kacy L. Michel, Ph.D.
“You complete me.”
Jerry Maguire’s words are so well-known that they have been incorporated into our common lexicon. Although it may sound cliché, the psychology of love and relationships can be a complex subject. I enjoy teaching my students how science can be applied to love and sexuality in a professional setting.
Sternberg’s Triangular Theory is a great way to explain the different types and types of love.
My students understand that consummate love is the highest level of love. It is where both partners feel all three dimensions. These dimensions include intimacy and passion, as well as commitment. This is where Jerry Maguire comes in. Many relationships fail because one or both of the above dimensions are missing.
I ask my students to think about different types of relationships.
Have you ever been placed in the friend zone before?
This is companionate love.
Did your parents live together “for the children”?
They were likely practicing empty love.
Are you a hookup victim who has no intention of getting into a relationship?
This is infatuation or fatuous love.
My students are often amazed to discover that even though the psychology of love is a very abstract concept, it can be studied and modelled in an objective manner. This concept is reinforced by the following activity.
“Love Carousel” Activity in Class
4 sheets of paper
This activity is a favorite of my students (pun intended), as it gets them up and moving around the classroom. It facilitates group work, teambuilding, and creative, critical thinking. Before class, I write one sentence on a blank sheet of paper and tape it to one side. Then, I tape the remaining two to four sheets around my room.
This activity is paired with Sternberg’s Theory so I write questions like the following:
How can you tell if someone is “The One”?
What does it mean, to be in the “Friend Zone”?
Is it possible for unrequited love to ever lead to a relationship? How do you prove it?
What would you do if your spouse felt empty?
Then, I ask students to divide into three or four groups. Each paper is assigned to one group. I allow groups to brainstorm and then write down their answers. Then, I tell each group to “carousel”, in a clockwise fashion to the next piece. Groups cannot repeat what another group has said.
After each station is completed, I ask students to read their responses. We then have a closing conversation on Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.
Tip 1 – This “Carousel” activity can be easily adapted to any subject matter. Asking open-ended questions that challenge and engage students is the key.
Tip 2 – If you teach an online section via Zoom you can assign different breakout areas with different questions.
Tip 3: Keep the groups small so that everyone has an opportunity to take part.
You can add a carousel to your pedagogy by taking the simple step of adding it today. Although it is unlikely that students will say, “This class completes me,” it is possible for them to leave your class with a deeper understanding of the complex nature love.
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