In Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, there are generally three components that can combine to form different types of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. The absence of these three components may result in non-love, while the combination of all three combinations can create consummate love, often thought to be the highest type of love. There may be six other types of love as well: friendship, infatuation, empty love, romantic love, companionate love, and fatuous love. If you’d like to cultivate more intimacy, passion, and commitment in your relationship, you may wish to consider trying online couples therapy.
The Triangular Theory Of Love
According to Sternberg's theory of love, there may be three components of love that can be laid out in a triangle. These three components can include intimacy, which may refer to feelings of closeness and safety, passion, which can refer to romantic attraction and sexual desire, and commitment, which may refer to the desire to commit to a specific person and plan your lives together.
Each of these three points can combine to form consummate love, often considered the highest and most complete form of love, according to Sternberg. When only one or two points are incorporated, there can be a variety of other types of love that may result, including friendship, infatuation, romantic love, and others.
Intimacy generally refers to the close, intimate bond between two people. People who feel intimate love often have a very strong emotional and intellectual bond. People in intimate love often feel comfortable around one another and aren't nervous or anxious around their partner.
Passion usually refers to sexual, emotional, romantic, and physical attraction. When passion is in play, people often feel aroused physically and may experience positive physical sensations from being around the person they love. In addition, they may feel especially happy or excited around their partner and experience strong emotions, both positive and negative, when navigating the relationship.
Commitment typically refers to the conscious decision to stick with a partner and make long-term plans for future success and happiness together. Commitment can include promises to complete certain activities, like walking the dog every morning, promises to remain faithful, like a marriage proposal, or a more informal promise of love and exclusivity.
Compassion Vs. Passion
When discussing the different forms of love from Sternberg's theory, there can be confusion between passion and compassion. Passionate love, which usually (but not always) takes place at the beginning of a relationship, is frequently characterized by intense emotions and strong sexual desire. Passionate love is sometimes described as a whirlwind-like feeling and is primarily what people experience when they describe "falling in love".
Compassion, on the other hand, usually follows passion and can be characterized by deep affection, stability, and a sense of being comfortable in the relationship. While passion is often responsible for beginning relationships, compassion can help them flourish even when that initial passionate spark wavers.
Forms Of Love
There can be varying types of love that result from different combinations of the three components of love. Sternberg usually identifies each of these types with a place somewhere on the love triangle. The last type, consummate love, typically represents the center of the love triangle and is often considered the highest form of love.
Non-love can refer to the absence of a loving relationship. It usually does not contain any component of love. In non-love, there is typically no significant connection between people.
Friendship can include the intimacy point of the triangle, but not passion or commitment. Intimacy with friends is often less intense than intimacy that also incorporates other points of the triangle, but it can be just as strong as other forms of love.
Infatuation typically includes the passion point of the triangle, but not intimacy or commitment. Infatuated love may refer to feelings of love that are not reciprocated, love at first sight, or other intense passionate feelings in the early stages of a relationship. To progress into a long-term relationship, most people must move beyond infatuation and develop deeper love that includes other points of the triangle. If intimacy and commitment are never developed, the relationship may die once the initial spark of passion is gone.
Empty love usually includes the commitment point of the triangle but does not include the passion or intimacy that other forms of love have. Empty love may characterize a relationship like an arranged marriage, where both parties agree to commit to one another but do not yet feel any passionate or intimate feelings toward each other.
Empty love may also describe a relationship where intimacy and passion have gradually faded, but both partners still reaffirm their commitment to one another by living in a household, raising children, or having other joint projects together. Throughout the course of long-term relationships, it can be common for passion and intimacy to ebb and flow, and in these circumstances, the commitment of empty love may be the foundation that holds a relationship over until passion and intimacy can grow again.
Romantic love often includes the points of passion and intimacy, but not commitment. Romantic love may refer to a casual relationship in which both parties haven't fully committed yet, an affair where one party is already committed to another person, or a short fling or one-night stand where partners become emotionally and physically close, but aren't yet ready to commit to one another.
Companionate love generally includes the points of intimacy and commitment, but not passion. While it can be similar to friendship in many ways, companionate love is more often centered on commitment to another person, in addition to intimacy.
Fatuous love usually includes the points of passion and commitment, but not intimacy. Fatuous love might refer to a "whirlwind romance" in which two people quickly fall in love and marry, despite not yet knowing one another very well. Over time, fatuous love may develop into other kinds of love, such as consummate love, or may fade into empty love if the passion fades or lacks intimacy long-term.
Consummate love typically includes all three points of intimacy, passion, and commitment. According to Sternberg, this is generally characterized as the ideal version of love, and one that makes for healthy, happy, lasting relationships with another person.
Strengthen The Components Of Love In Therapy
Cultivating consummate love between yourself and your partner can be a worthwhile and rewarding goal, but it can also be challenging at times. A licensed couples therapist may help you work through any conflicts or difficulties that may arise in your relationship. They may also offer effective strategies for better communication, which can contribute to improved intimacy, passion, and commitment. If traditional therapy isn’t for you or doesn’t fit into your schedule, online therapy may be a more convenient and customizable option. The ability to get the professional help you deserve from the comfort of your home can be empowering.
A recent research study looked at the effects of online couples therapy on 15 couples. Although many of the couples had initial doubts, they were generally able to form strong therapeutic alliances with their therapists. Many participants reported that the online therapy process was positive and beneficial for their relationships.
According to Robert Sternberg, the three components of commitment, passion, and intimacy can combine in various ways to create different kinds of love. These may range from non-love (the absence of these three components) to consummate love (the presence of all three components), as well as six types of love in between: romantic love, fatuous love, companionate love, infatuation, empty love, and friendship. Online couples therapy can be a helpful tool if you’d like to work toward embodying consummate love with your partner.
Who talked about the triangular theory of love?
The triangular theory of love was first described by Robert Sternberg, a researcher and professor of psychology. He outlined his basic theory in a 1986 paper in the journal Psychological Review.
Sterngberg’s theory may have been influenced by several prior psychological theories of love. Zick Rubin’s theory of liking vs. loving (a distinction based on the presence or absence of caring and closeness) appears to have contributed to the triangular theory’s emphasis on intimacy and commitment. The color wheel theory of love, proposed by John Lee, may have contributed the idea of love as a combination of different feelings or attitudes that can produce different types of loving relationships when present in different proportions.
Since the initial publication of Sternberg’s paper on love, his theory has been studied and used in many subsequent research efforts. The Triangular Love Scale he developed has been tested across multiple regions and cultures and appears to be an effective way to measure the intensity of love.
What is the triangular theory of love most important for?
The triangular theory of love may be useful for analyzing different types of social and personal relationships. It can provide a relatively concrete set of criteria for distinguishing between things like friendship (intimacy that lacks the commitment and passion components) and companionate love (intimacy and commitment without passion).
Researchers often use this theoretical model to assess other forms of “love” besides romantic relationships, such as people’s attachment to educational content or consumer brands. Individuals and couples may also find the triangular theory helpful for diagnosing difficulties in their relationships and identifying areas that need to be strengthened.
What are the criticisms of the triangular theory of love?
Some researchers have criticized the triangular theory of love as too narrow to capture the full diversity of what can be meant by the term love. For instance, a linguistic study by Dr. Tim Lomas of Harvard University claimed to identify several additional feelings that could be considered components of love but are absent from Sternberg’s theory, including care, appreciation, and connection. These critics have suggested that the triangular theory is overly focused on romantic relationships.
Other researchers have disputed the empirical validity of Sternberg’s theory, stating that some of the relationship dynamics it predicts are not borne out in practice. They suggest that the decline in passion over time may not be as universal as the original theory argued, and that the three portions of the “triangle” may not contribute equally to relationship satisfaction.
What is intimacy in the triangular theory of love?
Intimacy refers to a sense of emotional closeness and mutual caring. The intimacy component of the triangular model of love can describe feelings and qualities like:
- Positive regard
- A desire to make each other happy
Intimacy can be present in many types of close relationships, not only those with a romantic element. Family members, good friends, or even longtime coworkers may have a deep warmth and connection between them.
Passion refers to the desire, energy, and enthusiasm in a relationship. This can include erotic desire and sexual consummation, but it may also involve things like the feeling of longing when people are apart or the urgent desire to see a beloved person smile.
What would happen if we never fulfill the complete framework of love according to Sternberg?
In Sternberg’s theory of love,personal relationships that fulfill some but not all of the elements of the triangle may experience distinct types of love. For example, love that’s characterized only by one’s commitment to a spouse (with no passion or intimacy) might be considered “empty love”. A love that has passion and commitment but not a deep intimacy could be termed “fatuous love”.
The ideal form of love according to Sternberg, which involves strong intimacy, passion, and commitment, is called “consummate love”. He believed that few if any couples fulfill this at all times, but may experience it at particular times during their relationships.
People may still experience a great deal of satisfaction and feel deep love in the process of striving toward consummate love. In Sternberg’s view, even a relationship that at times is sustained only by a couple’s long-term commitment may flourish into consummate love later on.
How does Sternberg's triangular theory of love help foster a relationship?
People interested in building a stronger relationship may find the triangular theory of love helpful for setting goals and diagnosing challenges in their partnership. If both people are dissatisfied in the relationship but not sure why, assessing their levels of intimacy, passion, and commitment might help them identify the issue.
For instance, a couple might feel close to one another and have no doubts about their commitment, but feel somewhat bored or disinterested. Sternberg’s theory might suggest that they need to work on the passion component of their relationship. Things like getting more exercise or trying new, challenging activities together might help them rekindle their spark.
What is the status of the triangular theory of love in psychology today?
The triangular theory of love is still widely used and studied in the field of psychology. Researchers continue to investigate how the components of love as defined by Sternberg impact the development of relationships and the romantic happiness of couples. His model is also still used to evaluate the strength of romantic love in studies exploring questions like the association between relationship duration and satisfaction.
However, there are many other competing theories of love that have been proposed by other psychologists in the years since Sternberg’s proposal. For instance, a 2020 paper described a “Quadruple Theory” of love in which the key components are:
- Connection or “resonance”
Sternberg himself has also expanded on his original theory with works like Cupid's arrow: The course of love through time. This book, released through Cambridge University Press in 1998, discusses how the triangular theory of love relates to various philosophical and literary conceptions of love through history. It also discusses how love can change through the course of a person’s life.
Theories like these can offer psychologists additional ways to think about how the various elements of love interact to create different experiences. They may also help couples understand their relationships in a deeper way.
What is the triangular theory of love activity?
Along with his theory of love, Robert Sternberg created a measurement tool called the Triangular Love Scale (STLS). This self-assessment instrument aims to measure the strength of the three components of love defined by his theory.
The user answers a series of questions about their relationship with a particular person on a scale from “Not at all” to “Extremely”. These answers are used to create numerical scores of passion, intimacy, and connection.
Multiple research studies on the STLS have found that it’s highly correlated with other psychological and behavioral metrics of love. This offers some evidence that it may be an effective assessment tool.
Other individuals and organizations, such as relationship counselors, educators, or support groups, may develop other activities based on the triangular theory of love. These are often designed for use by couples looking to understand and improve their relationships.
How does knowing more about attraction, love, and commitment help you become more responsible in a relationship?
Popular conceptions of romance may tend to emphasize passion, attraction, and other emotional and physiological aspects of love. This can lead some people to feel a sense of disappointment and confusion when the intense feelings experienced early on in a relationship decrease in strength. They may even question whether the loss of their “spark” means that they’re no longer really in love.
Understanding the importance of qualities like intimacy and commitment, as well as the natural fluctuations of passion and attraction over time, may help mentally prepare people for the ups and downs they’re likely to experience in their relationships. It might also help people understand the need to actively work on fostering a stronger connection, rather than expecting the force of their romantic feelings to sustain itself over time.
How does love affect your life?
Love may affect a person’s life in many different ways. For many people, finding a sense of place in a network of loving relationships can be an important source of meaning in life. Romantic love may lead to one of the longest-lasting and most important relationships that a person will ever experience. This may in turn generate a web of other significant connections, such as children, in-laws, and mutual friends.
The effects of love may not always be positive. Some people can experience serious emotional pain as a result of a love interest, friend, or family member who lets them down. The desire for love could also lead a person into a toxic or abusive relationship.
(If you’re experiencing abuse from a loved one, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help at any time of the day or night. The trained volunteers there can often direct you toward shelter, information, and resources to help you seek safety.)
Still, research suggests that for most people, love tends to be a mostly positive force in life. It can enhance emotional security, provide joy, motivate compassion, and potentially even increase a person’s health and lifespan.
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