What is Love? Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love Explained

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"What is love?" Is one of the most asked questions in American culture today. Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love attempts to answer that question.

What is love? This is one of the most asked questions in American culture today. One theory of what love is, called the Triangular Theory of Love tries to answer this question. Proposed by Robert Sternberg in the 1980’s, the Triangular Theory of Love proposes that love is made up of three separate components: intimacy, passion and commitment. Each of these components can be present one at a time, two at a time, or all three at once in any given relationship.

If a relationship consists of intimacy alone, it’s called Liking. This is usually what we consider friendship, and not a romantic relationship at all.

Commitment alone is considered Empty Love. You can see this in couples who stay together for the sake of the children or for the sake of their partner. They may no longer be attracted to each other or intimate, but they plan to stay in the relationship.

Passion alone is considered Infatuation. This is that first rush that we get when meeting someone new, the high that gives love its addictive quality.

Things get more complex when two of the components are present at once. If a relationship is one of intimacy and commitment, it is called Companionate Love. This can often be seen in couples who have been together for a long period of time once the passion has damped down.

Fatuous Love is a mix of passion and commitment. This relationship, lacking the intimacy, is not unlikely. Some people may find it difficult to be intimate with others at all, and others may find it difficult to be intimate with a romantic partner and save the mental closeness for their friends.

Romantic Love is a mix of Intimacy and Passion. There are examples of this throughout poetry and music. Intimacy and Passion without commitment can often be a relationship outside of the primary relationship, or one where both parties feel the ability to walk away at any time and cut their losses.

The final type of love is called Consummate Love. This type of love is a mix of passion, intimacy and commitment. It is also referred to as Total Love.

It would seem that Consummate Love, being the most complete, would be the most lasting. Surprisingly, according to Sternberg’s research this is not always the case. Love relationships tend to last the longest when each individual’s version of love matches that of their partner. For instance, two people in a relationship who both hold a view of love that most closely resembles Romantic Love, are more likely to stay together than a couple where one wants Romantic Love and the other wants Consummate love.



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Yvonne Williams