BackReturn Home

Full Title: The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment
Author(s): Robert J. Sternberg
Publishing / Edition: Basic Books, Inc., 1988
Purchase; Read: Borrow the eBook from Internet Archive.

Content Review

Sternberg's "Triangle of Love" is based upon a lot of research (specific types of surveys) that he goes into throughout the book. I won't summarize all of this research here, but I would like to talk a little bit about what the model is and a few interesting connections that one can make based upon it...

According to the general model, there are three aspects to relationships: Passion, Intimacy, and Commitment.

Each of these can combine in different ways to change the nature of that relationship:

Photo Credit: Nathen's Miraculous Escape

• If there is only Passion, then it is an Infatuation.
• If there is only Intimacy, then it is a Liking.
• If there is only Commitment, then it is an Empty Love.

• If there is Passion + Commitment, then it is a Fatuous Love.
• If there is Intimacy + Passion, then it is a Romantic Love.
• If there is Commitment + Intimacy, then it is a Companionate Love.

• And finally, if there is Passion, Intimacy, and Commitment, then it is a Consummate Love.

The qualities can vary in their amount, and each person within the relationship can have more than one triangle. For example, a person can have a triangle for their ideal partner within their own mind, and another triangle for their interpretation of how their actual partner is. The triangles can match up with one another, and/or with those inside of their partner.

This three-fold pattern reminds me strongly of the "claddagh", an ancient Irish symbol associated with marriage:

The heart represents Love, the hands represent Friendship, and the crown represents Loyalty. These match up well with the elements of Passion, Intimacy, and Commitment within the triangle.

There might also be a biological connection. To quote the biological anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher:
We've evolved three distinctly different brain systems for mating and reproduction. One is the sex drive linked with testosterone in both men and women. The second is romantic love. We've been able to prove this is linked with the dopamine system in both men and women. That's what gives you the focus, the motivation, the obsession. And the third brain system is attachment, that sense of calm and security you can feel with a long-term partner.
So, to relate all three of them together:

Brain System + Main Neurochemical
Claddagh Symbol
Triangle of Love Model
Sex Drive ("Libido") + Testosterone
Heart representing Love
Romantic Attraction ("Reward System") + Dopamine
Hands representing Friendship
Attachment ("Pair Bonding") + Oxytocin
Crown representing Loyalty

This is an intriguing correspondence that points to the likelihood that such a way of looking at relationships says something important about the structure of relationships in general (i.e.: the division into three qualities is biologically meaningful and has a historical context).

Related Resources

Robert J. Sternberg - Love
This is the author's website, specifically the page on theories related to love.