HomeLifestyleDating & Relationships

Triangular theory: How to identify different types of love

Triangular theory: How to identify different types of love
Sterberg's triangular theory of love can help you find greater clarity in your relationships and work out if the love you are receiving is working for you
Have you ever wondered why some loves feel different to others? Why some loves feel like a cosy sweater, while others feel like a ride on a merry-go-round? Why even the softest and most nourishing love can feel... incomplete? Thanks to psychologist Robert Sternberg, we have the answers to these valuable questions.
"Some of us call love a feeling, while others call it a verb"
Many of us find it difficult to define love. Some of us call love a feeling, while others call it a verb. Many of us are told not to overthink it because we’ll just know when love has located us.
Magical as this sounds, the vagueness of the former statement and the indefinable quality of love can leave us wondering, what is love? What types of love exist out there? And how do we know when we’ve found it?

What is Sternberg's triangular theory of love?

Sternberg argued that there are seven different kinds of love made up of a mix of three compoenents: intimacy, passion and commitment
Robert Sternberg coined the triangular theory of love in the 1980s, and studies since then have confirmed the validity of this theory. Sternberg asserted that there are three components of love—intimacy, passion and commitment.
Intimacy is characterised by closeness, vulnerability and companionship. Passion is characterised by desire, excitement, romance and physical intimacy. And finally, commitment is characterised by loyalty, a commitment to the other person’s needs, and shared goals.
"Sternberg asserted that there are three components of love—intimacy, passion and commitment"
Sternberg also asserted that our relationships are typically composed of two or more ingredients from the three components of love. Each pair is a type of love that consists of certain characteristics. The seven types of love are:
Dating Web 960x200_2

Friendship

Component: Intimacy
Friendship is characterised by closeness and companionship, and lacks in passion and commitment. This is what we may feel for a new friend or someone we have friend-zoned.

Infatuation

Component: Passion
Infatuation is characterised by lust and lacks in intimacy and commitment. This is what we feel for a crush or a new love interest. Intimacy may occur at a later stage, or the attraction may fade altogether.

Empty love

Component: Commitment
Empty love is characterised by a long-term commitment to a relationship that lacks in intimacy and passion. An arranged marriage may start off with empty love and blossom into a different type of love later on.

Romantic love

Components: Intimacy and passion
Romantic love is characterised by closeness or feelings of fondness, lust, and a lack of commitment. This manifests as a friends-with-benefits or situationship, which may or may not blossom into a committed relationship.
Oftentimes one party may want more while the other doesn’t, which leads to the dissolving of the relationship.

Compassionate love

Components: Intimacy and commitment
Compassionate love is characterised by closeness or feelings of fondness, a commitment to one another, and a lack of passion. Long-term platonic and familial relationships fall under this category. Couples who have been married for years and have had their passion dwindle also fall into this category.
Compassionate love mostly manifests as the relationship where one party is aware that the relationship looks good on paper but simply lacks the excitement needed for a great love affair. Some relationships like this last because the parties place more value on companionship and commitment, while others don’t.

Fatuous love

Components: Passion and commitment
Fatuous love is characterised by lust and a commitment to one another but lacks in intimacy.
Couples in this sort of relationship may be obsessed with each other and committed to each other but may not know each other very well or get along very well. Most toxic relationships are comprised of passion and commitment.
This type of love may manifest as people getting married after only a few weeks or months of dating. This sort of relationship tends to combust at some point as a result of the lack of fondness for the other, although some do last with the aid of therapy.

Consummate love

Components: Intimacy, passion and commitment
Consummate love is characterised by companionship, romance, satisfying sex, shared goals and a commitment to each other’s needs. This is the ideal type of love that everyone should aspire to have.
Consummate love is difficult to find and even more difficult to maintain, but people with this type of love report higher levels of satisfaction.

How to use the triangular theory of love

The triangular theory of love can help you work out whether the kind of love you are receiving is working for you
The importance of each component will vary from person to person; someone may prioritise companionship and commitment, while another person may prioritise passion and commitment.
It is also possible for one person to experience two components while the party experiences all three with them. This doesn’t have to be cataclysmic, however it can cause problems.
The amount required of each component will also differ from one relationship to another and fluctuate over time. The fluctuation doesn’t have to be a bad thing, being aware of this can help you recognise when a certain component needs to be injected in order to revitalise the relationship.
"Someone may prioritise companionship and commitment, while another person may prioritise passion and commitment"
If you’re seeing someone new, the triangular theory of love can help you determine what type of love you’re experiencing, what stage you’re at, and possible next steps you can take.
If you’re in a long-term relationship, it may be beneficial to ask yourself if the relationship you’re in is working for you, whether you need more, or if you need a certain component reinjected.
Look into more theories on love with The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, available on Amazon.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.