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The Love Triangle October 27, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Love, Relationship.
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The Love TriangleHow many of you are thinking about the love triangle in your relationship? No, I don’t mean a ménage a trois. Where is your mind? I mean Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. There is a big difference. But hey, whatever makes you happy 😉

Over the past five years or so, I have made an unofficial attempt to research the elusive feeling called love. I have talked to colleagues, struck up conversations in bars and coffee houses, and interviewed friends. Hell, I have even contacted ex-lovers. What have I discovered? Absolutely nothing except for the fact that everyone has a different interpretation and experience with love. There is no common thread. There is no magic formula.  In fact, most of my research found more pain and hurt than joy and happiness.

In order to find some grounding on this topic, I turned to Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. This is an excellent model to map out various kinds of relationships from empty love to consummate love.  Sternberg maps out the various relations on a triangle grid with each corner representing the three elements of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Each element alone cannot support a healthy relationship.  For example, passion can only support infatuation and even though many intimate relationships begin this way, they will more than likely wither quickly without intimacy or commitment.

The more elements that are present in a relationship, the more stable and deep the relationship is. For example, if a relationship lies on the side of the triangle representing passion+intimacy, this equates to romantic love and manifests in an intense physical and deeply emotional connection.  However, without the third element – commitment, it may lack the staying power to survive. If a couple has commitment+intimacy, this is companionate love. Sexual desire is lacking in such a relationship and is often seen in marriages where the passion has ended but the commitment and deep affection that remain are enough for the couple to remain together. Companionate love is also commonly seen in platonic friendships.

If lovers are lucky enough to have all three elements in their relationship; passion+intimacy+commitment, this adds up to consummate love (the center of the triangle.) This is the complete form of love that most couples strive for.

In all, the theory rationalizes seven different types of love. Sternberg cautions that even consummate love is not permanent. Couples can move from one type to the other and it takes work in any situation for love to last.

Recently, I had an in-depth discussion with a friend about what a person would settle for in a relationship. Can one of the sides of the triangle be enough for some? Would some be happy in just one of the corners? Maybe. If that is the case, then there is less to strive for in a relationship. But I would speculate that there would be less rewards as well. Maybe many of us are still single because we won’t settle on anything less than consummate love. We want it all and would rather be single than to have to settle for anything less.

What is your love triangle?

Want more information?

Sternberg, R. (1988). The triangle of love: Intimacy, passion, commitment. NY: Basic Books.

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