My obsession with triangles continues. I see them everywhere, even in my theories of love.
Today I want to cover Sternberg’s Triangular Theory. Similar to Lee’s Colors of Love, this theory tries to explain different types of love by reducing loving relationships to a few fundamental elements and building from there. The triangular theory assumes there are three basic components, that can be used alone or in combination, to describe romantic partnerships. The three variables are:
1. Passion – sexual excitement, feelings of euphoria, infatuation, and physiological arousal.
2. Intimacy – closeness, feeling loved, shared disclosure, empathy, support and sharing.
3. Commitment – wanting to be with the other person, being loyal, long-term relationships.
I found this checklist of items that might help you determine which of these items, if any, you feel for people you love. I think you’re supposed to score it from 1-10 ( Likert scale if I remember psych 101 correctly) and then add stuff up and see which categories you score highest in.
1. I am actively supportive of _____’s well-being.
2. I have a warm relationship with _____.
3. I am able to count on _____ in times of need.
4. _____ is able to count on me in times of need.
5. I am willing to share myself and my possessions with _____.
6. I receive considerable emotional support from _____.
7. I give considerable emotional support to _____.
8. I communicate well with _____.
9. I value _____ greatly in my life.
10. I feel close to _____.
11. I have a comfortable relationship with _____.
12. I feel that I really understand _____.
13. I feel that _____ really understands me.
14. I feel that I can really trust _____.
15. I share deeply personal information about myself with _____.
16. Just seeing _____ excites me.
17. I find myself thinking about _____ frequently during the day.
18. My relationship with _____ is very romantic.
19. I find _____ to be very personally attractive.
20. I idealize _____.
21. I cannot imagine another person making me as happy as _____ does.
22. I would rather be with _____ than with anyone else.
23. There is nothing more important to me than my relationship with _____.
24. I especially like physical contact with _____.
25. There is something almost “magical” about my relationship with _____.
26. I adore _____.
27. I cannot imagine life without _____.
28. My relationship with _____ is passionate.
29. When I see romantic movies or read romantic books I think of _____.
30. I fantasize about _____.
31. I know that I care about _____.
32. I am committed to maintaining my relationship with _____.
33. Because of my commitment to _____, I would not let other people come between
34. I have confidence in the stability of my relationship with _____.
35. I could not let anything get in the way of my commitment to _____.
36. I expect my love for _____ to last for the rest of my life.
37. I will always have a strong responsibility for _____.
38. I view my commitment to _____ as a solid one.
39. I cannot imagine ending my relationship with _____.
40. I am certain of my love for _____.
41. I view my relationship with _____ as permanent.
42. I view my relationship with _____ as a good decision.
43. I feel a sense of responsibility toward _____.
44. I plan to continue in my relationship with _____.
45. Even when _____ is hard to deal with, I remain committed to our relationship.
From the illustration below you’ll notice that this theory creates eight possible types of loving relationships. Nine if you count nonlove. Ha.
- Nonlove ‘refers simply to the absence of all three components of love. Nonlove characterizes the large majority of our personal relationships, which are simply casual interactions’.
- Liking/friendship is ‘used here in a nontrivial sense. Rather, it refers to the set of feelings one experiences in relationships that can truly be characterized as friendship. One feels closeness, bondedness, and warmth toward the other, without feelings of intense passion or long-term commitment’.
- Infatuated love: ‘infatuation results from the experiencing of passionate arousal in the absence of intimacy and decision/commitment. Romantic relationships often start out as infatuated love and become romantic love as intimacy develops over time. Without developing intimacy or commitment, infatuated love may disappear suddenly.
- Empty love is characterized by commitment without intimacy or passion. A stronger love may deteriorate into empty love. In an arranged marriage, the spouses’ relationship may begin as empty love and develop into another form, indicating ‘how empty love need not be the terminal state of a long-term relationship…[but] the beginning rather than the end’.
- Romantic love ‘derives from a combination of the intimate and passionate components of love…romantic lovers are not only drawn physically to each other but are also bonded emotionally’ – bonded both intimately and passionately, but without sustaining commitment.
- Companionate love is an intimate, non-passionate type of love that is stronger than friendship because of the element of long-term commitment. ‘This type of love is observed in long-term marriages where passion is no longer present’ but where a deep affection and commitment remain. The love ideally shared between family members is a form of companionate love, as is the love between close friends who have a platonic but strong friendship.
- Fatuous love can be exemplified by a whirlwind courtship and marriage – ‘fatuous in the sense that a commitment is made on the basis of passion without the stabilizing influence of intimate involvement’.
- Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing an ideal relationship toward which people strive. Of the seven varieties of love, consummate love is theorized to be that love associated with the “perfect couple.” According to Sternberg, these couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they cannot imagine themselves happier over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their few difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other. However, Sternberg cautions that maintaining a consummate love may be even harder than achieving it. He stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. “Without expression,” he warns, “even the greatest of loves can die”. Thus, consummate love may not be permanent. If passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love.
The triangular theory has taken us from Lee’s six possible types of love (Eros, Ludos, Storge, Mania, Pragma, and Agape) to eight possible permutations. Still a little skimpy if you ask me. I’m keeping my eye out for a theory that feels more reflective of individual differences, and non-traditional loving arrangements. Turns out there are some triangles I’m not crazy about.
Love and Enjoy!