What does the triangular theory of love tell us about relationships?

It is clear that love is a complicated concept. What is love? How does love feel? What types of love are there?

Many theories have attempted to explain love, from Plato to Erich Fromm. However, in this article, we will focus on one of the most important and well-researched theories: Sternberg’s triangle theory of love.

Robert Sternberg developed this theory throughout the 80s and 90s and proposes that there are three essential components of love: intimacy, passion and commitment.

    The three components of love according to Sternberg

    Sternberg’s triangular theory of love proposes that these three components are interdependent. According to the author, intimacy, passion and commitment come together to produce all kinds of love that we observe in relationships. In this way, romantic love is the combination of passion and intimacy, but without present commitment. On the other hand, empty love would consist only in the presence of commitment, without intimacy or passion.

    Intimacy and commitment are two often fairly constant components in relationships. That’s to say, Once established in a relationship, they can last over time. However, passion is considered less stable and much less predictable.

    Another difference between the three components is how we are aware of them. For example, passion is usually quite obvious. Either we feel sexual attraction to the other person or we don’t. Intimacy and commitment, on the other hand, are not always so clearly perceived. We may not realize the strong commitment we have to our partner until they are tested by an external event, such as the illness of one of the couple members.

    Next, we’ll look at each of these components in more depth.

    1. Privacy

    Sternberg uses this word to refer to the emotional component of love.. For the author, intimacy means warmth, closeness, trust, connection and friendliness. It is important not to confuse this component with having intimacy or having sex with the other person.

      2. Passion

      Passion, as the name suggests, tells us how passionate the relationship is. Passion is the emotion we feel when we think about the other person, the butterflies in our stomach, the constant thought of that other person, etc. Sure this also includes sexual attraction.

      Moreover, Sternberg describes passion as a motivational component of love, as it motivates us to act, to pursue the object of our love, to write a message, to come up with a plan, to prepare a dinner, etc.

        3. Commitment

        The third element of the triangular theory of love is commitment. Sternberg describes it as that moment when the person thinks: that’s it, I don’t need to keep looking, that’s the person. Also, commitment is the only one of the three components that is conscious or intentional. There is a long-term commitment. An example of the commitment component can be found in a couple who have been married for 60 years.

        A relationship of this length cannot be based solely on sexual attraction or intimacy. In 60 years of marriage we argue, we have disagreements, fights, etc. However, the relationship continues through engagement.

          The eight combinations of love according to Sternberg

          As we said before, the three components can interact and do so in different ways, leading to different types of love. Sternberg’s triangular theory of love identifies eight types of love: non-love, affection, whim, empty love, romantic love, sociable love, foolish love and consummate love. In the following list we see the combinations that give rise to each of the types of love:

          • No love = None of the three
          • Honey = there is only intimacy
          • Encaprication = there is only passion
          • Empty love = there is only one commitment
          • Romantic love = presence of intimacy and passion, but no commitment
          • Sociable love = there is intimacy and commitment, but it lacks passion
          • Mad love = there is passion and commitment, but it lacks intimacy
          • Consummate or complete love = includes all three components

          As we can see from the list above, a relationship without intimacy and passion that only has commitment is called empty love. If only intimacy is present, affection arises and we usually have a friendship with that person. As long as it lacks commitment, you can’t even say it’s a real friendship. And so we would continue with the rest of the components and their interactions.

          Over the years there has been much discussion of this Sternberg theory, indicating that things are not always as clear cut as the triangle suggests and that it’s not always so easy to place yourself in a type of love.

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