The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved . . . loved for ourselves, or . . . in spite of ourselves . -- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

It's a sad situation, but one that psychologist Marcia Lasswell sees repeatedly in her practice as a marriage and family therapist.

"Two people love each other," she says, "but wind up splitting because they have different definitions of love that they don't communicate. People tend to love others in the way they want to be loved themselves. But love is one area where the Golden Rule does not necessarily apply."

Take, for example, a romantic person who wants flowers, but receives instead a can opener from a practical lover.

"The romantic person has to understand that a can opener can be a love gift," says Lasswell, "and the practical person has to understand -- and try to act on -- their mate's desire for flowers.

"People learn to love in part by how they are loved -- and see love around them -- as children. But when they assume that is the only valid way to love, problems can arise."

What is irritating about love

Is that it . . . requires an accomplice . -- Baudelaire

Lasswell, 53, and her husband Thomas, 60, began investigating "love styles" after becoming intrigued by two major problems they saw in their practiced.

"The first thing we heard so often," she says, "was one partner saying 'You don't love me,' and the other saying 'Yes I do.' The first person responds, 'But if you loved me, you'd do this and this.' The partner answer, 'But I show my love by doing that and that.'

"The problem is that we judge whether someone else loves us by what they do , but we judge if we love someone else by what we feel . And we don't give the other person that same right."

The second recurring problem was partners saying they "loved" their mate, but were not "in love " with them.

"People obviously meant different things by 'love' and 'in love'" says Lasswell. "Loving seemed to mean liking, friendship and deep emotion, while being in love had an additional quality, a chemistry, a spark. Without it, people felt something missing -- which is the basis of a lot of affairs." . . .

As there are as many minds as there are heads ,

So there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts . -- tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The Lasswells decided to research and define the various "love styles" in 1975 when they were on the faculty at the University of Hawaii. First they collected hundreds of statements about love -- from song lyrics to famous quotations to remarks by students and friends.

Using statistical sorting techniques, they grouped like statements into 10 categories. They picked the "most typical" statements in each category, devised a test, gave it to a pilot group of about 300 people and, from the results, narrowed the categories down to six.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways . -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Best Friends: This love style develops through close association over a substantial period of time. Love is built on companionship, rapport, mutual sharing and dependency.

Unselfish: The lover would do anything to make their partner happy. An altruistic style, unselfish love at its highest level is self-sacrificing.

Possessive: A possessive lover feels that true love means wanting to be together all the time. While not necessarily a negative style, it can cause problems if the mate needs freedom.

Logical: Sometimes called "love with a shopping list," logical love centers on mutual compatibility and practicality. A logical lover wouldn't date someone who doesn't meet criteria they consider important.

Game Playing: This love style views a relationship as a challenge. Game players are turned off most when their partner is dependent or predictable.

Romantic: For the romantic lover, love at first sight is not only possible, but almost a necessity. These lovers cling to sentimental details and want to know everything about their partner.

These six "love styles" formed the basis for several years of research for the Lasswells, who tested about 10,000 people representing a broad range of age, racial and ethnic groups around the world. (Including participants at the 1977 International Conference of Love and Attractions in Wales.)

One result is their 50-question Love Scale Questionnaire -- which is widely-used, she says, "as a research tool by many universities and for diagnostic purposes by marriage and family therapists" -- including the Lasswells.

The studies also led to her book, Styles of Loving (ballantine, $2.50) written with Norman M. Lobsenz, and a testbook chapter written by both Lasswells, now on the faculty at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. ("I write academic books with my husband," Lasswell says, "and books for the popular press with Norman.")

"We didn't really find significant racial, ethnic group or age difference," she says. "It seems that people who are 80 years old can be as romantic as 16-year-olds.

"But as people get older there seems to be less of a tendence to be unselfish. And in our society, women have less of a tendency to be unselfish and more tendency to be logical."

In literature as in love

We are astonished at what is chosen by others . -- Andre Maurois

"No one has just one love style; everyone is some combination," notes Laswell. "At any given time in one's life, and with different partners, certain styles may surface over another.

"All combinations between people can work. But probably built into the possessive style are some miseries in relating to people with other styles. The easiest style would likely be best friends."

Lasswell says she and her husband of 30 years have much of the same style -- best friends with a bit of logical and romantic. But it two people are not the same style, they should she says, "try as much as they can -- without violating their own ethics, standards and personality -- to love the other person the way they want to be loved.

"It may be impossible for that to happen, if somehow meeting those needs violates a person's being. Then you have an irreconcilable difference. And that's what divorces are made of."