Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love

· February 22, 2016

“The human heart is an instrument of many strings; the perfect connoisseur of men that knows how to make all of them vibrate like a good musician.”

-Charles Dickens-

Robert Sternberg is an American psychologist who launched an original theory about love and relationships. His proposals are known generically as the “Triangular Theory of Love.”

This theory states that for there to be true love there should be three components: passion, intimacy and commitment or decision. Each of these concepts is defined as follows:

  • Passion: high intensity sexual or romantic desire, accompanied by a strong tendency to seek a physical and/or emotional union with the other.
  • Intimacy: knowledge of the other and trust in who they are, what they do and what they feel. Closeness and concern for their well-being. The need for reconciliation and mutual revelation.
  • Decision or commitment: the will to maintain the link and a sense of responsibility towards it. The interest in overcoming adversity and maintaining affection beyond the temporary circumstances.

Based on this triad, Sternberg proposes the idea that there are seven ways to love, according to how they appear and how each of these three components is manifested. These categories are:


Loving relationships

They occur when there is intimacy between two people, but no passion or commitment. This form of love is characteristic of the relationships between friends. They are usually very lasting relationships even if there is no formal commitment involved.

Short-lived romance

Exists when passion appears, but there is no intimacy or commitment. It is characteristic of a so-called “love at first sight” and usually defines short and trivial relationships. As the name implies, the feeling can be of great intensity and persistence, but no depth.

Empty love

It is typical of relationships in which there is no longer passion nor intimacy, but is maintained by the commitment of both parties. It is a kind of bond or a stage, which often happens to couples who have been together for a long time.

Romantic love

In romantic love there is passion and intimacy, but no commitment. It’s “walking on air”, being captivated by the other, but without any actual willingness to give importance to the bond. This type of love usually disappears when faced with adversity or difficulties.

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Social love or company

This kind of love has intimacy and commitment, but no passion. Both enjoy each other’s company and have decided to maintain the link, despite not having any sexual or romantic desire. It is a typical form of love of great friends and more mature couples.

Foolish love

In these relationships there is a large amount of passion and a strong commitment, but it is not intimate. Generally, the decision to remain together is born of sexual or romantic desire, but not of confidence or support. This relationship is characteristic of people with great insecurities and dependencies.

Consummate love

It represents the ideal model of love, where all components are present: passion, intimacy and commitment.

Sternberg indicates that this type of love is rare. It is not difficult to find, but it is difficult to maintain. To achieve this, we must remember that affection must constantly expressed and must be reinforced.

Components and preferences

In an empirical study conducted by the University of Santiago de Compostela, it was concluded that both men and women particularly value the intimacy component in any relationship.

Regarding passion, many of the couples surveyed reported that it was difficult to find full harmony in passionate feelings. Sometimes men need it more and women less, or vice versa. Most also indicated that passion is lost over time.

Something similar happened with the commitment component in the study. It was not easy to find symmetry between two partners on this point. Apparently, over time women expect a higher level of commitment, while men do not.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia