Sternberg’s Triangular Theory and the 7 Types of Love
Love is essential to our well-being. Though most have experienced it in their lives, they would have differing responses when asked to define love. Few researchers have put forth a viable theory on the concept of love. The triangular theory of love, developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Dr. Robert Sternberg, however, tries to do just that. His theory suggests that people can have varying degrees of intimacy, passion, and commitment at any one moment in time.
Three Components of Love
- In Dr. Sternberg’s theory, the concept of love is introduced as a love triangle that is made up of three components:
- Intimacy, which involves feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness
- Passion, which involves feelings and desires that lead to physical attraction, romance, and sexual consummation
- Decision/Commitment—feelings that lead a person to remain with someone and move toward shared goals
Finding a balance between the physiological need for sex and the need for love is essential, and the complete absence of all three components is categorized as non-love.
Types of Love
The three components of love interact in a systemic manner, working off of one another. The presence of a component of love and a combination of two or more components create seven kinds of love experiences.
These types of love may vary over the course of a relationship as well.
This type of love is when the intimacy or liking component is present, but feelings of passion or commitment in the romantic sense are missing. Friendship love can be the root of other forms of love.
Infatuation love is characterized by feelings of lust and physical passion without liking and commitment. There has not been enough time for a deeper sense of intimacy, romantic love, or consummate love at the beginning of the relationship. The other forms of love may eventually develop after the infatuation phase eases up. The initial infatuation is often so powerful that people can “carry a torch” for one another, not completely knowing if they have what it takes for a sustaining, deeper and lasting love.
Empty love is characterized by commitment without passion or intimacy. At times, a strong love deteriorates into empty love. The reverse may occur as well. For instance, an arranged marriage may start out empty but flourish into another form of love over time.
Romantic love bonds people emotionally through intimacy and physical passion. Partners in this type of relationship have deep conversations that help them know intimate details about each other. They enjoy a sexual passion and affection. These couples may be at the point where long-term commitment or future plans are still undecided.
Is characterized by the combination of intimacy and commitment, and the absence of passion. This is stronger than the friendship form because of the element of commitment. Companionate love is observed in long-term marriages, where you don’t exactly need the passion in order to stay in love with your partner, because the affection remained. It can also be observed among family members and close friends who have a platonic, but strong friendship.
This type of love sits at the very center of the triangle, because this is said to be the perfect and ideal type of love. All three components are present in this type of love and this is some sort of a goal for people who are in a relationship. According to Sternberg, these couples will continue to have a great sex life fifteen years or more into the relationship, they cannot imagine themselves happier over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other. However, Sternberg himself cautions that maintaining this relationship is harder than achieving it. And this is not a permanent form of love.
Your Relationship Is Unique
Dr. Sternberg’s theory is dependent on the fact that the importance of each component may differ from one person to another and from one couple to another. Yes, all three components are required for the ideal romantic relationship, but the amount of each component required will differ from one relationship to another, or even, over time within a particular relationship. Knowing how these components interact with one another may help highlight areas that may need improvement.
By Marni Feuerman, Reviewed by a board-certified physician