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  • Writer's pictureNay

Nay Says: A Triangular Theory of Love

Established and renowned psychologist Robert J. Sternberg attempts to explain love in a way that is reasonably understood and useful for research purposes.

Love is an abstract construct that is difficult to measure and describe across different samples. Through his own work and previous research, Sternberg determined that love buckles down to three major components: Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment.

Intimacy signifies emotional connectedness and perceived closeness. Passion represents sex and other physical expressions, which are more biologically driven. Commitment incorporates decisiveness and relationship duration.

Sternberg believes these three components do just collectively embody love, but explain love in many ways by seeing each component as a point on a triangle. Some relationships may fall on different areas of the triangle, representing varying degrees of intimacy, passion, and commitment.

· Nonlove, represents the absence of intimacy, passion, and commitment

· Liking, represents intimacy, absent of passion and commitment

· Infatuated Love, represents passion, absent of intimacy and commitment

· Empty Love, represents commitment, absent of intimacy and passion

· Romantic Love, represents varying degrees of intimacy and passion, absent of commitment

· Companionate Love, represents varying degrees of intimacy and commitment, absence of passion

· Fatuous Love, represents varying degrees of passion and commitment, absent of intimacy

· Consummate Love, represents the presence of intimacy, passion, and commitment

Nay Says

This study is widely cited by many people, including myself. I find it fundamentally useful in understanding love. Sternberg efficiently explains the Triangular Theory of Love in a way that allows psychologists to research, and for the public to interpret and apply to their own personal relationships.

Of course, Sternberg considers his assessment as only a theory, and even incomplete. And I agree, relationships have become a lot more complex and nuanced since this article was published over thirty years ago. However, I think a lot of aspects of relationships can be boiled down to these three components. Sternberg also relates his theory to preexisting theories on love, as well as tries to explain his theory geometrically, furthermore providing evidence that love is still an abstract construct.

But I would implore readers to take this information and the article as a whole as a resource for understanding the dynamics of relationships. For future researchers, I think components such as intention, communication, and preference should be considered when trying to further understand love in a measurable and quantifiable way. Nonetheless, the Triangular Theory of Love is worth continuous attention.

Photo Credit: Florian Pérennès

For more information on this study, which is public domain:

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93(2), 119-135.


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