In detail

Sternberg's triangular theory of love

Sternberg's triangular theory of love

What is love? It is one of the most complicated questions we can face. Finding an adequate response to such an abstract concept is a difficult task. However, there are many authors who have accepted the challenge since the origins of humanity. Plato's banquet is a good example of that. On the other hand, from psychology, one of the best known and traditional theories about this feeling is Sternberg's triangular theory of love. Let's go deeper into it.


  • 1 Love according to Robert Sternberg
  • 2 The triangular theory of love
  • 3 The types of love in the triangular theory of love

Love according to Robert Sternberg

Love is one of the most intense and stable emotions according to the American psychologist Robert Sternberg. Thanks to him we can feel like the most extraordinary and happy people but also as the most despicable and sad people. It is what love has. It can take us from the surface to the top in a matter of seconds, but also in the opposite direction. In fact, despair for love can go so far that lies and deception can become their allies.

Love can overwhelm anyone regardless of age, says Sternberg. Therefore, most of his research is focused on analyzing and evaluating the components that underlie love. In fact, his first approach to this feeling was in the late eighties with the presentation of his triangular theory of love. Later, developed a new perspective from the beginning of narrative therapy. One of his most famous works with this vision is "Love is like a story. A new theory about relationships"In it, he explains that we have a tendency to fall in love with those people whose love stories or conceptions are similar to ours, but with certain differences that help us perform complementary roles. He also points out the importance of knowing what the ideal stories are about the love and relationships of the other, to understand the origin of many love conflicts.

The triangular theory of love

According to Robert Sternberg's triangular theory of love, There are three basic components that make up love relationships: intimacy, passion and commitment. In fact, although this theory is validated in different cultural and social contexts, depending on some factors such as relationship, historical moment, geographical location and cultural influences, one component or another will be more important. The result of this combination results in a specific type of love.

Before knowing the different types of love explained by this theory, it is necessary that we thoroughly know each of its components. These symbolize the corners of the triangle that is represented when explaining the theory and that as we have said before, depending on their combination they lead to one type of love or another.


It is the feeling of closeness, affection and union with the other, without the passion or desire for long-term commitment. It is related to the feelings of proximity, connection and bonding that are promoted in a relationship.


They are the intense desire for union with the couple and to a lesser extent, sexual desire, although this does not necessarily have to be physical. Passion is that "love at first sight." A state of intense desire for union with the other promoted by the experimentation of physical and mental excitement. In addition, passion feeds on intimacy, although in some cases they oppose. A difference of this component in relation to intimacy and commitment is that it thrives on the basis of intermittent reinforcement.


It refers to the decision and willingness to maintain the link, along with the feeling of responsibility. This component consists of two aspects in relation to a temporal variable. In the short term it corresponds to the decision to love the other and in the long term to the commitment to maintain that link, make plans for the future and work to achieve them.

On the other hand, Sternberg points out that Each of these components evolve differently over time. Intimacy develops gradually as the relationship progresses and can continue to grow, although it is in its beginnings when it does so faster. The passion grows vertiginously, intensely and quickly in its beginnings but with the passage of time decreases, reaching stabilize at moderate levels. Finally, the commitment tends to grow slowly and stabilizes when the rewards and costs of the relationship appear clearly.

The types of love in the triangular theory of love

The triangular theory of love affirms that different types of love arise depending on the combination of these three components and which of them have more weight than others. Thus, up to seven types of love are distinguished.


This type of love is the result of the experimentation of the intimacy component alone or to a greater extent than the rest. It refers to a true friendship relationship. The members of the relationship feel close and confident, but there is no desire to have intimate relationships or to commit.

Infatuation or crush

In this case passion is the central and unique component, there is neither intimacy nor commitment. It is the typical "love at first sight or crush". It usually defines short and superficial relationships but of great intensity. It corresponds to a romance or the beginning of a relationship, in which there is a great desire to have intimate relationships but there is still not enough intimacy, neither trust nor commitment.

Empty love

In empty love the main component is commitment. No intimacy or passion is experienced, despite the decision to love and be with the other. Examples of this are convenience relationships or long-term relationships.

Romantic love or crush

It occurs when intimacy and passion predominate in the relationship, But not the commitment. There are intense feelings of attraction and excitement towards the other, along with a feeling of trust and closeness.

Romantic love is that state of reverie and idealism in which the other occupies almost all thoughts and is considered a perfect being. This love can be transformed later if the commitment component appears or get undone over time.

Fatuous love

This type of love is characterized by the presence of passion and commitment, But not privacy. It is a shallow commitment, in which there is the desire and excitement of living intimate experiences, but a true connection with the other is not experienced. That is, the commitment is motivated by passion without the stabilizing influence of intimacy. An example of this type of love is "lightning weddings."

Love mate

In love, intimacy and commitment are united, but without the existence of passion. It is the kind of love of lasting relationships, in which desire and excitement are lacking but one enjoys company and affection for the other. It is a love present in the great relations of friendship and in mature couples.

Consummate love or perfect love

This type of love combines the three components: intimacy, passion and commitment. It is complete love. It represents the ideal relationship that almost everyone wants, but few reach and maintain, according to Sternberg. This type of love emphasizes the importance of translating feelings and different components of love into actions. Now, despite being the perfect love this does not imply that it has to be permanent. For example, if passion decreases or is lost over time, it can be transformed into companion love.

In addition, Sternberg points out that there are other relationships in which none of the three components listed appear, but are maintained by other types of variables. These are forms of "no love."

As we can see, according to the triangular theory of love, the balance of the three components can change over time, transforming relationships into one or another type of love. Knowing them and knowing how they relate can help us make the necessary decision for our relationship.

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