Sternberg’s Triangular Theory – What was it?

Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love

The triangular theory of love is a theory of love developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg. The theory characterizes love within the context of interpersonal relationships by three different components:

  1. Intimacy – Which encompasses feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness.
  2. Passion – Which encompasses drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation.
  3. Commitment – Which encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, the shared achievements and plans made with that other.

The “amount” of love one experiences depends on the absolute strength of these three components; the “type” of love one experiences depends on their strengths relative to each other. 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. A relationship based on a single element is less likely to survive than one based on two or three elements.

Types of love:

  • Nonlove is the absence of all three of Sternberg’s components of love.
  • Liking/friendship 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.
  • Infatuated love is pure passion. Romantic relationships often start out as infatuated love and become romantic love as intimacy develops over time. However, without developing intimacy or commitment, infatuated love may disappear suddenly.
  • Empty love is characterized by commitment without intimacy or passion. Sometimes, a stronger love deteriorates into empty love. In cultures in which arranged marriages are common, relationships often begin as empty love and develop into one of the other forms with the passing of time.
  • Romantic love bonds individuals emotionally through intimacy and physically through passionate arousal.
  • Companionate love is an intimate, non-   passionate type of love that is stronger than friendship because of the element of long-term commitment. Sexual desire is not an element of companionate love. This type of love is often found in marriages in which the passion has gone out of the relationship but 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 in which a commitment is motivated largely by passion without the stabilizing influence of intimacy. A relationship, however, whereby an individual party agrees to sexual favors purely out of commitment issues, or is pressured/forced into sexual acts does not comprise Fatuous love, and instead tends more to Empty love.
  • 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, such couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they can not imagine themselves happy over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their few difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other.[1] 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” (1987, p. 341). Thus, consummate love may not be permanent. If passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love.

    Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love Scales

    By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.


    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.

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