The 3 Components of True Love, According To One Psychological Theory

According to Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, there are three ingredients for true love

Psychologist and professor Robert Sternberg, Ph.D.’s triangular theory of love proposes that true/consummate love is a product of three components: intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment. Although these three components are distinct, when they are combined they form the different types of love. Taking this further, as previously stated, a combination of all three elements is believed to result in true love. In addition to this love, however, there are seven other types of love that can be felt depending on the strength of the components.

In his 1997 paper ‘Construct validation of a triangular love scale’, Sternberg explains the 3 components of love: 

1. Intimacy 

This is the element which is responsible for the warmth that is felt when you are in a relationship. Sternberg writes that ‘intimacy refers to feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships’. Of course, this means that a relationship which has this element can be platonic, not just romantic.

2. Passion

Passion, according to Sternberg’s paper, ‘refers to the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, sexual consummation, and related phenomena in loving relationships’. Unsurprisingly, in order to have true love, this needs to be present.

3. Decision/Commitment

Sternberg writes that in the short term, this component refers ‘to the decision that one loves a certain other, and in the long-term, to one’s commitment to maintain that love’. However, it is important to note that decision and commitment do not go together as one can decide to love without wanting commitment and similarly, another might be committed to a relationship without ‘acknowledging that one loves the other person in the relationship.’

A combination of all three is required to have true, consummate love.

It is interesting that the various combinations of these 3 components create eight different types of love. Taking this further, according to Sternberg these are the eight combinations of love:

  • None of the three: Non-love
  • Intimacy: Friendship
  • Passion: Infatuated love
  • Commitment: Empty love
  • Intimacy + passion: Romantic love
  • Intimacy + commitment: Companionate love
  • Passion + commitment: Foolish or fatuous love
  • Intimacy + passion + commitment: True and consummate love

Every relationship has its own balance of these three components.

That is to say, different relationships can highlight different aspects: ‘If you feel like friendship dominates, you may be specializing in intimacy. If you feel like sex dominates, you may be experiencing infatuated love, and so forth.’ Ultimately, Sternberg’s triangular theory of love can give you insight into what type of love you feel and have in your relationship.

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