Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love is not what one may think. It has nothing to do with love triangles and jealousy; it’s all about different components of love — the three of them, to be precise.
If all three components are present, the result is the most satisfying kind of love — the ideal a lot of people strive for.
If one or two components are absent, the result is a different type of love. Although this supposedly “incomplete” type of love is less satisfying, it still can be pretty good in some cases, especially if food is involved (not according to Sternberg).
But what are Sternberg’s three components for the ideal love? They are intimacy, passion and commitment.
When all three are present, we have a case of Consummate love. According to Sternberg, this type of love is associated with the perfect couple who are very much into each other many years into the relationship. Here is how the consummate love triangle looks like:
According to Sternberg, this is the hardest type of love to achieve and the hardest type to maintain. Once you get there, you need to act on all three components or, in other words, you need to make sure your sweetheart knows and feels how much you like them, how passionate you are about them and how committed you are to them.
But life is not perfect. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have non-love or absence of all three components.
There is no passion, no flowers, no poems, not even food. This isn’t even a friend zone because there is no intimacy or liking. Basically, nothing to look at.
But if you add just one component — intimacy, we already have something to work with. We have liking or friendship type of situation. Although we don’t think of it as love, in this theory it is referred as one of the seven types of love.
We can hang around together, text each other and play games just like these two.
This can feel pretty good. You really don’t need that much, do you?
There is another possibility as well: Passion without intimacy or commitment. This all-too-familiar type of love is called infatuated love.
Infatuated love is how a lot of relationships start before they progress to something more serious. There is another term for infatuated love — “puppy love”. When you are in a puppy love stage, you basically eat pasta and don’t think much about anything else.
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Finally, there is one more situation where just one component is present — so-called empty love. It is love without passion or intimacy; all we have is commitment.
Basically, you just marry and figure out the rest later. It is the case of many arranged marriages.
Sternberg called this type “empty love”, but considering the fact that arranged marriages have a much better success rate, we believe it deserved a better name. According to statistics, 53.25 percent of all marriages belong to the arranged category. However, the global divorce rate for arranged marriages is only 6.3 percent, which is much lower than the rest.
And here is another familiar type of love — romantic love. However, Sternberg uses this term specifically for a romantic relationship where passion and intimacy are present, but there is no commitment.
You eat watermelons together and wonder where you stand…
Many long-term marriages are a case of companionate love — it is a situation where passion is no longer present, but the relationship is stronger than friendship because of the long-term commitment.
As companions, you can do lots of cool stuff together. Like this…
Finally, we have the last type of love — fatuous love. It is a relationship where passion and commitment are present, but there is no intimacy (yet).
It might be hard to imagine that type of situation, but think of “love at first sight” cases — they are cases of fatuous love. People who barely know each other get carried away in passion and marry. They may or may not develop intimacy — or real liking — later.
And that’s about it for the triangular theory of love. To recap, we have eight situations — non-love and seven types of love. According to Sternberg, the best type of love is consummate love where all three components (intimacy/liking, commitment and passion) are present. The rest, according to the theory, are less complete but they too can have a chance.
Now that you know about the seven types of love, you can test your own relationship and see how you can make it more satisfying.