Have you ever wondered what true love consisted of? How do we define love? Love is a very complex topic that many still struggle to wrap their head around. However, one psychologist, Robert Sternberg, attempted to define different types of love and explain the similarities and differences among love relationships through his triangular theory of love.

According to Sternberg, love has three essential components—passion, intimacy and commitment—the combination of which is often presented as the Western ideal for ‘true love’.

Passion refers to the expression of desires and needs for self-esteem, nurturance, affiliation, dominance, submission and sexual fulfillment. This is the excitement or energy of the relationship (the “Wow! I’m so hot for you” feeling), including feelings of physical attraction, romance and arousal. For many, this is the phase most often associated with ‘falling in love’ and is experienced by many people as intense and euphoric.

Intimacy refers to feelings in a relationship that promote closeness, bondedness and connectedness. It includes self-disclosing communication with the loved one, desiring to promote the person’s welfare, experiencing happiness with them, holding the person in high regard, being able to count on them in times of need, having mutual understanding, sharing one-self and one’s possessions with them, receiving and giving emotional support, and valuing the loved on.

Commitment includes both short-term and long-term commitment. Short-term refers to a commitment to love and long-term to a commitment to maintain that love.


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There are seven possibilities as seen in the triangle:

1. Liking: This is intimacy without passion or commitment. This describes many friendships.

2. Infatuation: Passion without intimacy or commitment. ‘Love at first sight’ falls into this category as does an infatuation with an unrealistic partner. Infatuation can be long lasting, but only if its unrequited.

3. Empty Love: Commitment without intimacy or passion. This is a long-term relationship that has lost the intimacy and passion it once had. The partners stay married because of their commitment to each other rather than because of their feelings towards another. Arranged marriages could begin with empty love but develop into intimacy and passion later.

4. Romantic Love: Intimacy and passion without commitment. This is the addition of physical attraction to liking.

5. Companionate Love: Intimacy and commitment without passion. This is usually a long-term relationship in which physical attraction has waned.

6. Fatuous Love: Passion and commitment without intimacy. This is a ‘whirlwind’ romance, often associated with Hollywood or with quick commitment rebound. Such a relationship is not likely to last, unfortunately.

7. Consummate Love: This includes intimacy, passion and commitment. This is what most of us are searching for: A balance of all the essential components in equal measure. It is the strongest form of love. It is hard to attain, and once you have it, it takes work to maintain.

So there you have it. Now you know the important components that you need in order to achieve true love. Don’t you worry, your Prince Charming might just be around the corner.

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Text: Irina Bondar