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The triangular theory of love characterizes love in an interpersonal relationship on three different scales: intimacy, passion, and commitment. 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. According to the author of the theory, psychologist Robert Sternberg, a relationship based on a single element is less likely to survive than one based on two or more.
The Seven Forms of Love
Combinations of intimacy, passion, and commitment Intimacy Passion Commitment Liking or friendship x Infatuation or limerence x Empty love x Romantic love x x Companionate love x x Fatuous love x x Consummate love x x x
- Liking 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 often what is felt as "love at first sight." But without the intimacy and the commitment components of love, infatuated love may disappear suddenly.
- Empty love: Sometimes, a stronger love deteriorates into empty love, in which the commitment remains, but the intimacy and passion have died. In cultures in which arranged marriages are common, relationships often begin as empty love.
- Romantic love: Romantic lovers are bonded emotionally (as in liking) and physically through passionate arousal.
- Companionate love is often found in marriages in which the passion has gone out of the relationship, but a deep affection and commitment remain. Companionate love is generally a personal relation you build with somebody you share your life with, but with no sexual or physical desire. It is stronger than friendship because of the extra element of commitment. The love ideally shared between family members is a form of companionate love, as is the love between deep friends or those who spend a lot of time together in any asexual but friendly relationship.
- 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.
- Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing the ideal relationship toward which many people strive but which apparently few achieve. 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). Consummate love may not be permanent. For example, if passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love.
- Sternberg, R. J. (1986) A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119-135.
- Sternberg, R. J. (1988) The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment, Basic Books (ISBN 0465087469)...
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