What Are The Three Parts Of Sternberg's Triangular Theory Of Love?
Sternberg's triangular theory of love states that relationships comprise three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. The people in a relationship can express different types of love based on the components present in their relationship. The ultimate goal for romantic relationships is often to experience consummate love, which has all three branches of intimacy, passion, and commitment. You may use this theory to strengthen your relationships over time.
Sternberg's Theory Of Love
Sternberg's triangular theory of love isn't the only theory in social psychology that looks to explain loving relationships. However, it does explain what love could be and why we might choose it. It was published in 1986 in Psychological Review, a journal that publishes theoretical contributions to scientific psychology.
Who Is Sternberg?
RJ Sternberg is a professor in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University and an honorary professor at Germany's Heidelberg University. He has also served as a university president and a provost and held the chair of ethical leadership for the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
A well-respected psychologist, Sternberg has been the president of the American Psychological Association and editor of perspectives for the Psychological Bulletin. He has contributed much to the field of social psychology.
Sternberg's triangular theory of love is only one of his interests. Sternberg has also been a part of developing theories and educating his students and the public on intelligence, creativity, wisdom, leadership, thinking styles, ethical reasoning, and hatred.
What Is Sternberg's Triangular Theory Of Love?
The Sternberg theory of love is based on the image of a triangle. The triangle represents the concept of love, and each point is a different aspect of love. Sternberg states that you don't need all three elements in any one relationship, but the totality of the concept of love includes all three points of the triangle.
According to the Sternberg triangular theory of love, the three aspects of love are intimacy, passion, and decision or commitment. Like a triangle, the love represented by these components may have different dimensions and different types of balance.
At the top of the triangle is intimacy, one of the three potential components of love in close relationships. Intimacy may bring feelings of warmth and affection. You may gain intimacy as you emotionally invest in the relationship. You might have some control over the intimacy you feel, but you often don't wholly control these feelings.
Sternberg described intimacy as the feeling of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in a relationship. Each of these components of intimacy might add to the love you feel for someone. However, Sternberg states you don't have to have all these feelings to achieve intimacy.
The left point of the Sternberg triangle is passion. When you feel passion, it may lead you to experience romantic love, physical attraction, and sexual desire. Passion can include motivation for loving as well as other sources of arousal. It's a physiological experience that creates intense feelings and may result from genetic and cultural factors.
Humans may be built for physical experiences of passionate love in close relationships. Through the vast expanse of human experience, arousal has often been important as a gateway to reproduction. Cultural factors play a role as well. Aspects of culture may not only tell us who's attractive but may also teach us socially acceptable ways to show our passionate feelings in relationships.
Your passion for someone might involve the following features:
- Romance: A feeling of general excitement and mystery associated with a partner or a relationship
- Physical Attraction: Arousal that comes from recognizing the body, facial features, or physical movements as desirable
- Sexual Desire: Needs vary depending on the individual and type of relationship
Philosophers may disagree about how much choice we have in life. Some say we control our destinies, while others say we're helpless to choose who we are and who we love. Of course, others feel that choice is real, but the actions of others limit it.
For Sternberg and many other psychologists, loving someone comes from a decision or a commitment. You can like the way someone looks. You can want to be close to someone. If you decide not to follow through by expressing your love and feelings, a loving relationship will most likely not develop. One's commitment often determines the types and lengths of relationships that result.
Further studies show that commitment may only be effective in increasing marital satisfaction in relationships that have high levels of healthy communication as well, indicating that commitment may not be enough on its own for some individuals.
Decision-making is the thought process we typically use when we choose whether to show the expression of love in the short term. By making decisions to love in the here and now, you may move closer to a long-lasting commitment in your relationships. On the other hand, you may prefer to keep the relationship casual, enjoying it for the moment without thinking about what lies ahead.
Commitment in social psychology is a long-term decision to maintain the relationship over time and space. Most relationships are without challenges of some kind. You may experience times when your passion for your partner decreases or you feel less affection for each other.
Commitment can carry you through hard times and keep you together in good times. You may make a different decision every day, but when you decide to make or break a commitment, it can significantly impact your well-being and relationships.
How Do The Three Parts Work Together?
Sternberg emphasized that, although love may be composed of the components of intimacy, passion, and decision, the pieces work together to form a complete whole.
How do the three parts work together? Sometimes one component plays the most crucial role, while the others add to the overall experience of love.
For example, your commitment to love and care for your child may be the most critical aspect of your love for them. Because you are typically responsible for them as they grow, you may feel a profound need to be there for them and stay in the relationship. You may also feel passion for the potential that's within them. A parent's love may be considered consummate, companionate, or other types of love, depending on the individual relationship between parent and child.
One component of love often increases another element. Imagine that you appreciate someone's physical beauty. This attraction might prompt you to connect with them on an emotional level. At that point, you might decide whether to appreciate the connection in a singular moment or commit to them in the long term.
The Three Components In Different Types Of Love
The three components of love work together differently in various types of love.
- Inliking, you experience intimacy without passion or commitment.
- Ininfatuation, you feel passion but not intimacy or commitment.
- Inempty love, you commit to the relationship without feeling intimacy or passion.
- Inromantic love, you feel passion and intimacy.
- Incompanionate love, you feel closeness and commitment, as in a lifelong friendship.
- Infatuous love, you feel the passion and commit without feeling intimate, such as in a quick courtship.
- Inconsummatelove, you experience an unconditional love that combines all three components.
How Can You Maintain Love In A Relationship?
Studies estimate that the current rate of divorce in America is between 50% to 67%. These figures may only tell part of the story since many couples stay together for a time without ever marrying.
Long-lasting loving relationships often require more than a verbal commitment. A decision to stay in the relationship with loving actions that maintain the three components of love may also be necessary.
How To Maintain Intimacy
To maintain intimacy, it's often helpful to spend quality time together. Stagnation may lead to the end of a long-term relationship. To keep the experience of love fresh and immediate, varying when and how you show your love might be effective. Leaving space for the relationship to change over time could increase your likelihood of staying together in the long term.
Making a concerted effort to work on both your physical and emotional intimacy (depending on your and your partner's needs and preferences) can have quite an impact. Small actions like discussing your day together, sitting down for dinner without your phones, or scheduling regular date nights may facilitate intimacy.
How To Maintain Passion
Because you may have less conscious control over passion, it can be the most challenging component in maintaining a long-term relationship. Passion is a motivation that often comes from need.
To maintain passion, it can be effective to be mindful of your and your partner's needs and how you can fulfill them within the relationship. In many cases, passion tends to increase when both intimacy and commitment are present.
How To Maintain Commitment
Of the three components of love, you may have the most control over your commitment to the relationship. The commitment often remains strong when you make the relationship an essential part of your life. Your commitment can keep you in the relationship longer and make it possible for you to remain devoted to the tasks of increasing intimacy and passion.
If you're dissatisfied with your relationship at any time, a helpful strategy could be to assess the strength of each of the three components of love between yourself and your partner. You could then take action to increase your commitment and make efforts to improve intimacy, possibly allowing passion to come more naturally.
Online Couples Therapy May Help You To Maintain Love
It can be normal to experience challenges in relationships, but if you're having a hard time maintaining love, you may choose to seek help from a mental health professional. Online therapy may be one effective way to do this.
Suppose you and your partner have busy schedules. In that case, a potential benefit of online therapy is that you can schedule sessions at times that would be considered before or after hours at a traditional therapist's office.
Many people wonder whether online therapy will be as effective as in-person therapy. A study from 2020 followed numerous couples as they went through the process of online couples therapy. Many expressed doubts initially, but after experiencing the process, they found it practical and beneficial for their relationships.
If you’ve decided that therapy would benefit you, you might consider an online platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. Online options offer a large database of counselors with up-to-date research and resources.
Read below for counselor reviews from online therapy users who have sought help for similar concerns.
“Dr Paula has been a great therapist for me. She was readily available when I needed her. She was supportive of me and my partner and I thoroughly enjoyed her as my therapist.”
“Such an insightful therapist. He gets right to the point. I felt like such a terrible person, and he made me realize that I have a good heart and my situation is not an unusual one. I learned with my partner that I cannot own her stuff. We all have to take ownership of our own insecurities and life challenges. We can’t pass those onto our partners.”
One of the key components of Sternberg's triangular theory of love is that there are various kinds of love made up of three parts: passion, intimacy, and commitment. For many romantic relationships, the goal may be to experience consummate love, a combination of all the components.
You might use Sternberg's theory to improve and deepen the love in your relationship. Another tool that could increase relationship health and satisfaction is online couples therapy, which may allow you and your partner to talk through issues and strengthen your bond.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
What Are Sternberg's 7 Types Of Love?
Robert Sternberg published his Triangular Theory of Love in 1986. Sternberg’s theory established seven different types of love that are combinations of the three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment.
The first type of love is liking, which involves intimacy, but no commitment or passion. Liking is often the type of relationship between friendly acquaintances or good friends. Liking can also occur between business partners; they work together and thus have some level of intimacy, but they’re not committed to or passionate about one another.
Next, there’s companionate love, which has intimacy and commitment, but no passion. An example of companionate love is a lifelong friendship; you may be committed to being friends and have quite a bit of emotional intimacy, but there’s no passion component or sexual desire there. Companionate love can also be had between people who have been married for a long time and no longer have a sexual relationship, but are still emotionally intimate and completely committed to each other.
Empty love consists of commitment without any intimacy or passion. A marriage in which the spouses have drifted apart and rarely communicate or have sex, but are still committed to each other and intend on maintaining their long-term commitment, is an example of empty love. Essentially, empty love occurs when loving relationships lose their spark. Empty love is often the type of love present in an arranged marriage as well, at least initially.
Another type of love is fatuous love, which has the passion component and the commitment component, but no intimacy. Fatuous love is often described as the “Vegas wedding” type of love. The two people involved are passionate about each other and committed to being together, but they’ve typically rushed into the commitment and thus haven’t had time to forge true emotional intimacy.
Infatuation only has the passion component, without any commitment or intimacy. An example of infatuated love would be two people that have a strong physical attraction or lust for each other, but haven’t built their relationship any further than their mutual sexual attraction and perhaps sexual consummation. Infatuated love is sometimes referred to as love at first sight, or the type of love that occurs when someone is “struck by Cupid’s arrow.”
Next, there’s romantic love, which has the passion component and the intimacy component. This is typically the kind of love between two involved parties who have been dating for a while but have not yet considered making a more significant commitment to each other. Romantic love is more about enjoying spending the time you have with each other.
Finally, consummate love has all three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Consummate love is sometimes called complete love, and it’s thought to be the true point of a lasting long-term relationship. Committed romantic relationships in which both partners feel passion for and intimacy with each other display consummate love and are considered the ideal relationship. It’s necessary to put in regular effort to maintain consummate love, as a drop in passion, intimacy, or commitment will change it into a different type of love.
What Are The Three Parts Of Sternberg's Love Triangle?
The three parts of Sternberg’s love triangle are intimacy, passion, and commitment. In different combinations, these components of love interact to represent different types of love.
Intimacy refers to a feeling of emotional safety, of knowing that you can tell your partner anything and trust that they will be there for you. It can also be described as giving and receiving emotional support, which can also be displayed through physical affection (for example, a hug to show support or a massage to help relieve stress).
Passion refers to not only sexual desire and sexual consummation, but also to the intense feeling of needing to be with your partner and dreaming about having a future with them. Passion can be feeling excited and happy whenever you and your partner are reunited after a day apart. It’s often a type of deep affection that can lead to great sex and passionate love.
Commitment refers to the decision to love each other and the conscious decision to continue loving each other as time goes on. Those who have made this commitment remain together even through hard times, and thus, commitment is typically the difference between short-term relationships and long-term relationships. Relationship duration can be greatly impacted by the emotional investment of commitment.
What Are The 8 Forms Of Love According To Sternberg?
Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of love includes seven or eight types of love, depending on your perspective as to whether non-love counts as a type of love. All social and personal relationships may fall into one of these types of love (or non-love). According to Sternberg’s theory, each type of love is made up of a different combination of the components of love.
- Non-Love: The absence of intimacy, passion, and commitment (casual interactions)
- Liking: Intimacy without commitment or passion
- Companionate Love: Intimacy and commitment without passion
- Empty Love: Commitment without intimacy or passion
- Fatuous Love: Passion and commitment without intimacy
- Infatuated Love: Passion without commitment or intimacy
- Romantic Love: Passion and intimacy without commitment
- Consummate Love: All components of love, including intimacy, passion, and commitment
What is the most important dimension in the triangular theory of love?
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Is love one of the three components of a healthy relationship according to Sternberg?
What is the emotional component of love in Sternberg's Triangular theory?
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What does Sternberg's theory teach you about intelligence?
Why is it important to understand the value of the various concept of love?
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