Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Triangular Theory of Love and You

The triangular theory of love is a theory of love developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg. Presented in 1985, Sternberg was a member of the Psychology Department at Yale University. During his time as a professor, Sternberg emphasized his research in the fields of intelligence, creativity, wisdom, leadership, thinking styles, ethical reasoning, love, and hate. In the context of interpersonal relationships, "the three components of love, according to the triangular theory, are an intimacy component, a passion component, and a decision/commitment component." Each component manifests a different aspect of love.


Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships.  It thus includes within its purview those feelings that give rise, essentially, to the experience of warmth in a loving relationship.


Passion refers to the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, sexual consummation, and related phenomena in loving relationships.  The passion component includes within its purview those sources of motivational and other forms of arousal that lead to the experience of passion in a loving relationship.


Decision/commitment refers, in the short-term, to the decision that one loves a certain other, and in the long-term, to one's commitment to maintain that love.  These two aspects of the decision/commitment component do not necessarily go together, in that one can decide to love someone without being committed to the love in the long-term, or one can be committed to a relationship without acknowledging that one loves the other person in the relationship.

The three components of love interact with each other:  For example, greater intimacy may lead to greater passion or commitment, just as greater commitment may lead to greater intimacy, or with lesser likelihood, greater passion.  In general, then, the components are separable, but interactive with each other.  Although all three components are important parts of loving relationships, their importance may differ from one relationship to another, or over time within a given relationship.  Indeed, different kinds of love can be generated by limiting cases of different combinations of the components.

The three components of love generate eight possible kinds of love when considered in combination. It is important to realize that these kinds of love are, in fact, limiting cases:  No relationship is likely to be a pure case of any of them.

Forms of Love

So, the three components, pictorially labeled on the vertices of a triangle, interact with each other and with the actions they produce so as to form seven different kinds of love experiences (nonlove is not represented). The size of the triangle functions to represent the "amount" of love—the bigger the triangle, the greater the love. Each corner has its own type of love and provides different combinations to create different types of love and labels for them. The shape of the triangle functions to represent the "style" of love, which may vary over the course of the relationship:


The absence of any of the three types of love. No connection. Indifferent to relationship.


This type of love is intimacy without passion or commitment. This includes friendships and acquaintances.

Infatuated love

Infatuated love is passion without intimacy or commitment. This is considered "puppy love" or relationships that have not become serious yet. Romantic relationships often start out as infatuated love and become romantic love as intimacy develops over time. Without developing intimacy or commitment, infatuated love may disappear suddenly.

Empty love

Empty love is characterized by commitment without intimacy or passion. A stronger love may deteriorate into empty love. In an arranged marriage, the spouses' relationship may begin as empty love and develop into another form, indicating "how empty love need not be the terminal state of a long-term relationship...[but] the beginning rather than the end".

Romantic love

This love is passionate and intimate but has no commitment. This could be considered a romantic affair or could be a one-night stand.

Companionate love

Companionate love is an intimate, non-passionate type of love that is stronger than friendship because of the element of long-term commitment. "This type of love is observed in long-term marriages where passion is no longer present" but where a deep affection and commitment remain. The love ideally shared between family members is a form of companionate love, as is the love between close friends who have a platonic but strong friendship.

Fatuous love

Fatuous love can be exemplified by a whirlwind courtship and marriage—it has points of passion and commitment but no intimacy. An example of this is "love at first sight".

Consummate love

Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing an ideal relationship which people strive towards. Of the seven varieties of love, consummate love is theorized to be that love associated with the "perfect couple". According to Sternberg, these couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they cannot imagine themselves happier over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their few difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other. However, Sternberg cautions that maintaining a consummate love may be even harder than achieving it. He stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. "Without expression," he warns, "even the greatest of loves can die." Thus, consummate love may not be permanent. If passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love. Consummate love is the most satisfying kind of adult relation because it combines all pieces of the triangle into this one type of love. It is the ideal kind of relationship. These kinds of relationships can be found over long periods of time or idealistic relationships found in movies.

Love does not involve only a single triangle.  Rather, it involves a great number of triangles, only some of which are of major theoretical and practical interest.  For example, it is possible to contrast real versus ideal triangles.  One has not only a triangle representing his or her love for the other, but also a triangle representing an ideal other for that relationship. Finally, it is important to distinguish between triangles of feelings and triangles of action.

Applying the Triangular Theory of Love

Sternberg’s theory can be helpful in relationships in which one or both partners feel dissatisfied or sense that something is missing. Sometimes couples find it difficult to put their finger on exactly what is causing their feelings of discontent or discord with their partner. If they examine their relationship from the perspective of the triangular theory, they may make two important discoveries. First, they may feel encouraged and relieved to find that they are quite strong on one or two of the components. This often helps validate their positive feelings for each other and motivates them to work on other areas in the relationship. Second, they will be able to identify more specifically the aspects of their relationship that may be weak, missing, or in need of work. This, then, will enable them to establish a mutual focus for enhancing and improving the bond between them.

Most people in love relationships tend to feel unhappy at times if any one of the three components—intimacy, passion, or commitment—is weak or missing. You can be in a committed relationship and feel lonely and disconnected if you do not feel that special intimacy with your partner. You can feel angry, frustrated, and betrayed if your relationship lacks commitment. And many couples find themselves dissatisfied and longing for the passion that has faded over time from their relationship, although they continue to experience a strong sense of commitment and intimacy.

Are you curious about your love triangle? “Self‐Discovery: The Triangle of Your Love” offers you the opportunity to assess where your relationship (current or past) might fall within Sternberg’s theory. Take the scale yourself or with your partner (gently, as a basis for meaningful discussion, not as an argument starter!), or you and your partner might complete the assessment separately and then discuss your results.

Self‐Discovery. The Triangle of Your Love

Each component in Sternberg’s triangular theory of love is measured by your responses on fifteen items, for a total of forty-five items. Think about a past or present relationship partner (just one!). If you have not yet been in a love relationship, think of how you might answer when you are. Respond to each item using the following key:

“Not at all”        “Moderately”              “Extremely”

The scoring key is at the end of the scale. You can take the scale on your own, with your partner, or separately before discussing your results. (Be aware that some responses may be unexpected or displeasing, so exercise caution when sharing this assessment with your partner.)

Intimacy Component
·         _______1. I am actively supportive of my partner’s well-being.
·         _______2. I have a warm relationship with my partner.
·         _______3. I am able to count on my partner in times of need.
·         _______4. My partner is able to count on me in times of need.
·         _______5. I am willing to share myself and my possessions with my partner.
·         _______6. I receive considerable emotional support from my partner.
·         _______7. I give considerable emotional support to my partner.
·         _______8. I communicate well with my partner.
·         _______9. I value my partner greatly in my life.
·         _______10. I feel close to my partner.
·         _______11. I have a comfortable relationship with my partner.
·         _______12. I feel that I really understand my partner.
·         _______13. I feel that my partner really understands me.
·         _______14. I feel that I can really trust my partner.
·         _______15. I share deeply personal information about myself with my partner.

Passion Component
·         _______16. Just seeing my partner excites me.
·         _______17. I find myself thinking about my partner frequently during the day.
·         _______18. My relationship with my partner is very romantic.
·         _______19. I find my partner to be very personally attractive.
·         _______20. I idealize my partner.
·         _______21. I cannot imagine another person making me as happy as my partner does.
·         _______22. I would rather be with my partner than with anyone else.
·         _______23. There is nothing more important to me than my relationship with my partner.
·         _______24. I especially like physical contact with my partner.
·         _______25. There is something almost magical about my relationship with my partner.
·         _______26. I adore my partner.
·         _______27. I cannot imagine life without my partner.
·         _______28. My relationship with my partner is passionate.
·         _______29. When I see romantic movies and read romantic books, I think of my partner.
·         _______30. I fantasize about my partner.

Commitment Component
·         _______31. I know that I care about my partner.
·         _______32. I am committed to maintaining my relationship with my partner.
·         _______33. Because of my commitment to my partner, I would not let other people come between us.
·         _______34. I have confidence in the stability of my relationship with my partner.
·         _______35. I could not let anything get in the way of my commitment to my partner.
·         _______36. I expect my love for my partner to last for the rest of my life.
·         _______37. I will always feel a strong responsibility for my partner.
·         _______38. I view my commitment to my partner as a solid one.
·         _______39. I cannot imagine ending my relationship with my partner.
·         _______40. I am certain of my love for my partner.
·         _______41. I view my relationship with my partner as permanent.
·         _______42. I view my relationship with my partner as a good decision.
·         _______43. I feel a sense of responsibility toward my partner.
·         _______44. I plan to continue my relationship with my partner.
·         _______45. Even when my partner is hard to deal with, I remain committed to our relationship.

Scoring Key
Add your ratings for each of the three sections—intimacy, passion, and commitment—and write the totals in the blanks. Divide each score by 15 to get an average scale score or rating.
·         Intimacy score ÷ 15 = Intimacy rating.
·         Passion score ÷ 15 = Passion rating.
·         Commitment score ÷ 15 = Commitment rating.

Here’s what your scores mean in terms of how you see your relationship:
·         1–3 = This component is low or lacking and could indicate a serious weakness in your relationship satisfaction or strength.
·         4–6 = Your relationship contains a moderate level of this component, but it could be worked on and strengthened.
·         7–9 = Your relationship is on a solid footing for this component.

Examining your ratings for each of the three scales will give you an idea of how you perceive the level of intimacy, passion, and commitment in your love relationship. If you feel your relationship is less than ideal, this knowledge may offer insights into how to make it stronger.

Sources and Additional Information:

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