The triangular theory of love explains the topic of love in an interpersonal
relationship. Psychologist Robert Sternberg’s theory describes types of love
based on three different scales: intimacy, passion, and commitment. It is
important to recognize that a relationship based on a single element is less
likely to survive than one based on two or more.
Different stages and types of love can be explained as different combinations
of these three elements. For example, the relative emphasis of each
component changes over time as an adult romantic relationship develops.
Types of Love Combinations of Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment:
Intimacy Passion Commitment
Liking or Friendship includes: X
Infatuation includes: X
Empty love includes: X
Romantic Love includes: X X
Companionate love includes: X X
Fatuous love includes: X X
Consummate love includes: X X X
1. Liking in this case is not used in a trivial sense. Sternberg says that this
intimate liking characterizes true friendships, in which a person feels a
bondedness, a warmth, and a closeness with another but not intense
passion or long-term commitment.
2. Infatuated love is often what is felt as "love at first sight." But without the
intimacy and the commitment components of love, infatuated love may
3. Empty love: Sometimes, a stronger love deteriorates into empty love, in
which the commitment remains, but the intimacy and passion have died.
In cultures in which arranged marriages are common, relationships often
begin as empty love.
4. Romantic love: Romantic lovers are bonded emotionally (as in liking) and
physically through passionate arousal.
5. Companionate love is often found in marriages in which the passion has
gone out of the relationship, but a deep affection and commitment
remain. Companionate love is generally a personal relation you build with
somebody you share your life with, but with no sexual or physical desire.
It is stronger than friendship because of the extra element of
commitment. The love ideally shared between family members is a form
of companionate love, as is the love between deep friends or those who
spend a lot of time together in any asexual but friendly relationship.
6. Fatuous love can be exemplified by a whirlwind courtship and marriage
in which a commitment is motivated largely by passion, without the
stabilizing influence of intimacy.
7. Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing the ideal
relationship toward which many people strive but which apparently few
achieve. 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" (1987, p.341). Consummate love
may not be permanent. For example, if passion is lost over time, it may
change into companionate love.
The balance among Sternberg’s three aspects of love is likely to shift through
the course of a relationship. A strong dose of all three components-found in
consummate love-typifies, for many of us, an ideal relationship. However,
time alone does not cause intimacy, passion, and commitment to occur and
grow. Knowing about these components of love may help couples avoid
pitfalls in their relationship, work on the areas that need improvement or
help them recognize the phase of their relationship.
Sternberg, R. J. (1988) The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment