Love is the foundation of all human relationships. It can be defined as an emotion characterized by passion, intimacy, desire, attraction, and commitment. Researcher Robert Sternberg devised a triangular theory model to define love. The model is constituted of three major components- intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Triangular Theory Of Love
The triangular theory of love consists of three major components, namely intimacy, passion, and commitment which can be experienced at different levels at any given moment. According to psychologist Robert Sternberg 1 , it can be defined as a phenomenon characterized by intimacy, passion, and commitment. The triangle is used as a metaphor to describe how the components are interrelated. We are provided with various opportunities to observe multiple conceptions of what love can be through personal experiences, movies, books, and other forms of media.
The three components of this theory can be defined as follows:
It refers to the emotional feelings of closeness and bond between two people. Intimacy 2 occurs when we share feelings with one another, engage in sexual or sensual activities, or enjoy leisure activities. It involves the feelings that make us feel warm in a loving relationship.
It is governed by the feelings associated with romance, physical attraction, or sexual consummation. This is the “motivational” component that motivates us to pursue our partners, ask them out, send gifts, and other acts of expression. Passion 3 is the component that excites or gets us thinking about being with our partner. It is also constituted of sexual attraction as well.
This is the intentional or conscious part of a loving relationship. In the short term, commitment 4 is the decision to love another person while in the long term it is the decision to maintain that love for the other person. This component is governed by choices and decisions to continue being this particular person.
Validity Of The Triangular Theory
There are two basic theories of love that influenced Sternberg’s theory. The first is the Theory of Liking vs Loving developed by Zick Rubin. In this theory, he believed that attachment, caring and intimacy are the three basic differentiating components of liking and loving someone. The second is the Colour Wheel Model of Love developed by John Lee. In this theory, he described six styles of love. The three primary ones are known as Eros, Ludos, and Storge, whereas the secondary ones are known as Mania, Pragma, and Agape.
The triangular theory is a widely accepted theoretical concept. A 2002 study 5 examined the differences in three components among 446 romantic partners who were either casually dating, exclusively dating, engaged, or married. It was found that in support of the assumptions in the triangular theory there were significant negative partial correlations between intimacy and relationship length and between passion and relationship length. Intimacy and passion scores were lowest for participants who were casually dating whereas the scores were higher for engaged couples. Another 2021 study 6 revealed that levels of love components tend to differ depending on relationship duration.
The Interplay Of Intimacy, Passion And Commitment
Robert Sternberg pointed out that the three components of love tend to interact with each other giving rise to different types of relationships. For instance, increased intimacy may lead to increased passion or commitment, while greater commitment may lead to greater intimacy or passion. A 1999 study 7 attempted to test the triangular theory of love. It was found that sex differences indicated that women scored significantly higher on “Intimacy and Commitment” than men.
The value and importance of each component are greatly dependent on one individual to another or the duration of time spent in a relationship. The three components give rise to eight possible kinds of love, when combined. They are as follows:
The eight combinations of the three components can be defined as follows:
1. Non Love
In this type, intimacy, passion or commitment are absent. No relationship is formed in this case.
In this form, only the intimacy component is present. The passion and commitment components are absent. This is more of a friendship form.
In this form, the passion component is present in the absence of the other two components. Infatuation can be defined by experiencing feelings of physical passion and lust in the absence of intimacy or commitment. In this type, there’s no space for a deeper sense of intimacy or romantic love. The infatuation phase is often intense and powerful.
4. Empty Love
This form involves commitment without intimacy or passion. In some cases, deeply passionate love can deteriorate into empty love. It usually occurs in long-term relationships wherein a person is desperate for long-term commitment but doesn’t actually connect with their partner.
5. Romantic Love
In this form, the passion and intimacy component is present without the commitment component. People usually bond through intimacy and physical connection. In this relationship, the couple has deep emotional conversations and likes being in the presence of each other. They also enjoy sexual passion for each other. In this case, future commitment remains undecided.
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6. Companionate Love
Companionate love is derived from a combination of intimacy and commitment components of love. This is a non-passionate form. This form is stronger than friendship but lacks sexual intimacy. It is often found in marriages where the passion has faded away. However, they have a strong bonding with each other. It is often found between family and friends.
7. Fatuous Love
This form derives from the combination of passion and commitment component of love. The intimacy component is absent in this relationship. This is a brief duration of passion that is followed by commitment without knowing the intimate details about each other.
8. Consummate Love
This form contains all three components namely, intimacy, passion, and commitment. This form represents the ideal relationship that is intimate, passionate, and a desire to commit to each other. People who experience this form have physical passion for many years into their relationship. They are truly happy in each other’s company and cannot imagine their life without each other.
All Relationships Are Different
Every relationship is different and unique in its own way. A relationship depends on how each component interacts with the other. Even though all three components are required to form the ideal relationship, the intensity of each component will determine the quality of the relationship. According to Stenberg, consummate love may be harder to maintain than it is to achieve.
- Tobore T. O. (2020). Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Love: The Quadruple Theory. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 862. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00862
- Timmerman G. M. (1991). A concept analysis of intimacy. Issues in mental health nursing, 12(1), 19–30. https://doi.org/10.3109/01612849109058207
- Baumeister R. F. (1999). Passion, intimacy, and time: passionate love as a function of change in intimacy. Personality and social psychology review : an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc, 3(1), 49–67. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327957pspr0301_3
- Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Whitton, S. W. (2010). Commitment: Functions, Formation, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment. Journal of family theory & review, 2(4), 243–257. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1756-2589.2010.00060.x
- Lemieux, R., & Hale, J. L. (2002). Cross-sectional analysis of intimacy, passion, and commitment: testing the assumptions of the triangular theory of love. Psychological reports, 90(3 Pt 1), 1009–1014. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.2002.90.3.1009
- Sorokowski, P., Sorokowska, A., Karwowski, M., Groyecka, A., Aavik, T., Akello, G., Alm, C., Amjad, N., Anjum, A., Asao, K., Atama, C. S., Atamtürk Duyar, D., Ayebare, R., Batres, C., Bendixen, M., Bensafia, A., Bizumic, B., Boussena, M., Buss, D. M., Butovskaya, M., … Sternberg, R. J. (2021). Universality of the Triangular Theory of Love: Adaptation and Psychometric Properties of the Triangular Love Scale in 25 Countries. Journal of sex research, 58(1), 106–115. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2020.1787318
- Lemieux, R., & Hale, J. L. (1999). Intimacy, passion, and commitment in young romantic relationships: successfully measuring the triangular theory of love. Psychological reports, 85(2), 497–503. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.19126.96.36.1997