Theories abound speculating on the psychological aspects of relationships, one of the most popular being Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. A psychologist at Tufts University, Robert J. Sternberg proposed that three elements comprise interpersonal love: intimacy, passion and commitment. Each element combines in a specific way to form the basis of a particular kind of love.iso 45003
The first element, intimacy, is driven by emotion and involves a high level of trust between two people. The second element, passion, deals with lust or sexual attraction and is considered fleeting. Finally, the third element of commitment enters into consideration, which is classified as a conscious effort to maintain a relationship.
Now onto the theory itself; as its name suggests, each of these three elements is pictured as a point on a triangle. Now imagine that each of the three points was pulling away from the other two, constantly attempting to warp the perfect triangle. Sternberg believed that if all three elements of the triangle are of equal measure then the love bond is strong. But if the triangle displays unequal sides, then the relationship is either poor or falls into a specific category besides the ideal.
A relationship with all three elements equal in strength is what Sternberg termed “consummate love.” This is generally the ideal form of love. Sternberg defined six forms of love that all feature one or two of the points on the triangle, featuring one element that reigns supreme over the other two, while in the complex, two elements crowd out the weaker third.
The forms of love are as follows. When intimacy exists without passion or commitment, the result is friendship. When passion alone dominates, infatuation and lust is the result. When only commitment is present with no underlying physical or emotional desire, empty love exists.
When the dominant forces in the triangle are intimacy and passion, the result is romantic love, which though powerful is also fleeting. When intimacy and commitment overshadow passion, the love is considered the companionate kind, such as a familial relationship. The last form of love happens when passion and commitment combine with a lack of intimacy, which makes the love meaningless.
All forms of love are significant and important to a person’s psychological health. Friendship, for instance, is valuable for mental health, and certainly, companionate love is valued among siblings. But it should remain apparent that the triangle is not static, but ever-changing.