Triangular theory of Love


Triangular theory of Love

Sternberg’s three part theory of love’s essential ingredients captured The Varieties of Love (Sternberg 1986, 1987). In Sternberg’s model, intimacy, passion and commitment each represent one side of a triangle describing the love shared by the two people. That is why it is called as Triangular theory of Love.

  1. Intimacy refers to mutual understanding, warm affection and mutual concern for the other’s welfare.
  2. Passion means strong emotion, excitement, and physiological arousal, often tied to sexual desire and attraction.
  3. Commitment is the conscious decision to stay in a relationship for the long time. It includes sense of devotion to the relationship and a willingness to work on maintaining it.

Love comes in many shapes and sizes. Love is a complex emotion involving strong feelings of affection and tenderness for the love object, pleasurable sensations in his or her presence, devotion to his or her well-being, and sensitivity to his or her reactions to oneself.

One of the most basic distinction is between passionate or romantic love and companionate love. By putting together different combinations of the three ingredients, Sternberg describes different varieties of love in the triangular theory of love. Also the specific components of romantic and companionate love.

Passionate or romantic love typically involves strong sexual attraction, infatuation, total absorption, exclusivity. 

On the other hand, Companionate love, built on a special kind of loving friendship. It involves less emotional, calmer and more serene than passionate love.

Romantic Love (Intimacy 1 Passion).

High intimacy and passion describe romantic love in Sternberg’s model. It may be strange not to include commitment, but Sternberg argues that commitment is not a defining feature of romantic love. For example, a summer romance may involve intimate mutual disclosure and strong passion, but no commitment to continue the relationship at summer’s end.

Companionate Love (Intimacy 1 Commitment).

Companionate love is a slow- developing love, built on high intimacy and strong commitment. When youthful passions fade in a marriage, companionate love, based on deep, affectionate friendship provides a solid foundation for a lasting and successful relationship.

Fatuous love (Passion+ Commitment) and Infatuated Love (Passion Only).

Both of these types regarded as a form of immature, blind or unreasonable love built on passion. Fatuous love combines high passion and commitment with an absence of intimacy. This would describe people who hardly know each other, but caught up in whirlwind passionate romance. Their commitment is based on passion and sustained solely by passion. As passion in likely to fade with time, fatuous love relationships are unlikely to last.

The same is for infatuated love based only on passion, without intimacy or commitment. This might describe teen romance in which sexual passion is taken for love or a one night sexual affair between people who barely know each other. They also have no intention of developing a relationship. Infatuated love may also describe the sense of awe, adoration, and sex related feelings that some people have for their favorite movie or music celebrity.

Empty love (Commitment only)

No passion, no intimacy, just a commitment to stay together. Appropriately called Empty love. This would describe an emotionally “dead” relationship that both members find some reason to continue. Reasons might include things such as convenience, financial benefits or a sense of obligation or duty.

Consummate love (Intimacy + Passion+ Commitment).

Consummate or complete love is marked by high intimacy, passion and commitment. It is a form if love that many people desire, but Sternberg is doubtful that it can be sustained. People’s understanding of love’s primary features and the differences among various types id relationships appear to fit well with the intimacy/ passion/ commitment conception.

Sternberg’s Triangular theory of Love received good empirical support. Of love’s many varieties, romantic and companionate love, involving varying degrees and combinations of romance/ passion and friendship see the most basic and widely applicable way to think about differences in our closest relationships.

Friendship and Romantic Love

Liking and loving, friendship and romance overlap considerably (Rubin, 1973). We love our good friends and like our romantic partner. Being in love means romantic love, involving strong sexual desire and attraction. Telling a romantic partner “let’s just be friends” or “I love you, but I am not in love with you” usually signals the end of a romance because sexual attraction and desire are wear or absent.

Romantic love includes fascination, passion, infatuation, sexual desire and a more total absorption in the relationship. Our friendships are less emotionally intense partly because they do not typically involve sexual intimacy.

In addition, to emotional intensity, friendship and romantic love are also distinguished by differences in clarity of rules governing the relationship, the  complexity of feeling, and the expectations concerning the emotional consequences of the relationship.

Clarity of Rules

These rules are kind of a widely shared test, that people use to evaluate their friendships. Friendship involves a set of obligations and rules defining what friends should do. However, if you fulfill these obligations and live by the rules, you pass the test of friendship. And if you don’t, you fail.

Rules of friendship

  • Supporting each other
  • Being a Trustworthy Confidant
  • To be a Source of Enjoyment and Humor
  • Being Tolerant and Accepting

Complexity of Feelings.

Romantic love involves more complex feelings, higher expectations than friendship. Further, we do not demand the same level of loyalty, faithfulness, and exclusivity of our friends that we do of our romantic partners.

Being someone’s good friend does not mean that you or your friend from being good friends with someone else. Among romantic and marital partners it is obviously a different story. Although, finding out your spouse went out on a dinner-movie “date” would probably be upsetting.

Showing strong interest in, or talking and joking with another person is not typically an affront to a good friend, But, if they interpret same behaviors  as flirtation, they may well get you in trouble with your romantic partner.


A final difference between friendship and love concerns emotional expectations. However, Historically, marriages were built more on practical matters having to do with finances, family relations and raising the children. Romantic love was important, but it was not the most significant foundation of marriage.

Moreover today, being in love is the primary basis of getting married and that maintaining love is an important requirement for staying married. However, Expectations of a marriage are to be personally fulfilling, life-long, and romantically and sexually satisfying.

Friends give us room to go through life on our own terms, pursuing our own unique talents and interests. In contrast, a strong mutual expectation of emotional fulfillment in a marriage intertwines each person’s happiness with the other’s.


Positive Psychology(2014), Steve R. Baumgardner, Marie K. Crothers, Pearson Education.

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