The Triangular Theory of Love

The triangular theory of love is a theory of love developed by psychologist, Robert Sternberg.

Sternberg believes that love is made up of three traits: Passion, Intimacy and Commitment. Each of which may be present or absent in a relationship. The presence or absence in these components produce seven (7) triangles, or types of love. In most of our casual, daily relationships, there is no sense of passion, intimacy or commitment. Sternberg terms this, nonlove, which he does not count as one of the (7) types, or triangles of love.

(1) Liking: Where there is intimacy without sexual passion, and without strong personal commitment, we are friends. Friends can separate for long periods of time and then pick up the relationship as if it never ended.

(2) Infatuation: Passion alone leads to infatuation. Infatuation refers to physiological arousal and a sexual desire for another person. Infatuation usually fades, often to be replaced with infatuation with someone else.

(3) Empty love: Empty love involves commitment alone–As in a couple who stays together even though their relationship long-ago lost its passion and intimacy. Relationships that begin with commitment alone can develop intimacy and passion.

With liking, infatuation and empty love, only one side of the triangle is complete ( / , — , \ ), which creates an unstable figure, and an incomplete relationship.

(4) Romantic love: Passion plus intimacy leads to romantic love, which is often the first phase of a relationship. Romantic love is often an intense, joyful experience.

(5) Companionate love: Intimacy plus commitment creates companionate love. Companionate love ranges from long-term, deeply committed friendships, to married or long-term couples who have experienced a decrease in the passionate aspect of their love.

(6) Fatuous love: Passion plus commitment creates fatuous love. Love is fatuous, silly or foolish, when one does not really know the one to whom one is making a commitment. Hollywood often portrays two people who meet, become infatuated and make a commitment by the end of the movie. However, a committed relationship continues even after passion fades. But if intimacy doesn’t grow in its place, you’re left only with commitment. So it makes sense to know one’s partner before making a commitment.

With romantic love, companionate love and fatuous love, two sides of the triangle are complete ( ). These relationships make a more stable figure, although the triangle and relationship is still incomplete.

(7) Consummate love: Consummate, or complete love has all three elements in balance–passion, commitment and intimacy ( ∆ ).

Even after achieving consummate love, we can lose it. Passion can fade. Intimacy can stagnate. Commitment can be undermined by an attraction to another. But it is consummate love we all strive for.

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