Prosocial Behavior

STERNBERG’S TRIANGULAR THEORY OF LOVE

We typically love the people with whom we form relationships, but the type of love we have for our family, friends, and lovers differs. Robert Sternberg (1986) proposed that there are three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. These three components form a triangle that defines multiple types of love: this is known as Sternberg’s triangular theory of love (Figure). Intimacy is the sharing of details and intimate thoughts and emotions. Passion is the physical attraction—the flame in the fire. Commitment is standing by the person—the “in sickness and health” part of the relationship.

Diagram shows a triangle. The interior of the triangle is labeled, “Consummate love; intimacy + passion + commitment.” The peak of the triangle is labeled, “Liking; intimacy.” The left side of the triangle is labeled, “Romantic love; passion + intimacy.” The right side of the triangle is labeled, “Companionate love; intimacy + commitment.” The bottom left corner of the triangle is labeled, “Infatuation; passion.” The bottom side of the triangle is labeled, “Fatuous love; passion + commitment.” The bottom right corner of the triangle is labeled, “Empty love; commitment.”
According to Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, seven types of love can be described from combinations of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. (credit: modification of work by “Lnesa”/Wikimedia Commons)

Sternberg (1986) states that a healthy relationship will have all three components of love—intimacy, passion, and commitment—which is described as consummate love (Figure). However, different aspects of love might be more prevalent at different life stages. Other forms of love include liking, which is defined as having intimacy but no passion or commitment. Infatuation is the presence of passion without intimacy or commitment. Empty love is having commitment without intimacy or passion. Companionate love, which is characteristic of close friendships and family relationships, consists of intimacy and commitment but no passion. Romantic love is defined by having passion and intimacy, but no commitment. Finally, fatuous love is defined by having passion and commitment, but no intimacy, such as a long term sexual love affair. Can you describe other examples of relationships that fit these different types of love?

Photograph shows a couple embracing and kissing next to a waterfall.
According to Sternberg, consummate love describes a healthy relationship containing intimacy, passion, and commitment. (credit: Kerry Ceszyk)