Psychology of Love – The Triangular Theory

Have you for once wondered why a friend whom you have known for years remain a friend with no romantic attachment, while you instantly feel romantic about someone whom you met only for a short while? Why does romantic love not always end up in commitment and can a relationship that just starts with pure commitment end up having romantic love?

Can psychological theories explain the all elusive feeling called love and answer our questions? Would theories  help us understand the direction a relationship is trending towards, or what is it that makes us feel a certain way in a relationship?

 To some extent we definitely could get answers from psychological theories  and one such theory is the “Triangular Theory of Love” that was first put forward by psychologist Robert Sternberg.

The theory considers three key aspects in a relationship – Intimacy, Passion and Commitment.  The first component intimacy is the feeling of attachment, closeness and connectedness. The second component is the passion, the firey depth and intense feeling you get when you like someone. The third one is Commitment – that ties the two together for short or long term.  Any relationship could have one of these attributes, two, or all the three at a given time. The type of love relationship we have, can be associated to the key factor(s) that bond us together. It could be a very close friendship where the key factor is “intimacy”, or a very strong infatuation where the driving factor is “passion”. Below are the different combination of the factors and the associated love types.

lovetriangle (1)

Romantic love  – Intimacy + passion

Companionate love –  intimacy + commitment

Factuous Love – Passion + Commitment

Infatuation – Passion alone

Liking – Intimacy alone

Empty love – Commitment alone

Consummate Love – Intimacy + Passion + Commitment

This theory also helps us understand how our relationship is progressing. When all the three factors co-exist in a relationship, it is called Consummate Love.

There are instances where arranged marriages that start off with just commitment, but trend towards having passion, and later builds intimacy. Hence an example of relationship that moves from empty love to factuous love to companionate love or even consummate love. Do all arranged marriages follow the pattern? Not necessarily  – It could just start and end as empty love.

There are love relationships that start with only passion (infatuation), later adds intimacy to become romantic love, and then leads to commitment. Similarly a friendship that just has intimacy, adds in commitment to become companionate love or adds in passion to become romantic love.


Its dangerous when a romantic or companionate love turns to empty love – This isn’t rare in our society but rather common where you hear people admitting that they are in the relationship just for the kids or the society.

It is very important that at the very least two of these factors co-exist at a given time, and the relationship  progresses towards adding the third one. If its reducing from three factors to two or then to one – its time for the couples to watch out and make sure they are addressing the problem. Ups and downs in a relationship are natural but if its just a downward spiral, it definitely needs attention.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Decci says:

    Reblogged this on The Life of Decci and commented:
    “This theory helps us understand how a certain relationship is progressing. When all the three factors co-exist in a relationship, it is the “Soul Relationship””

    Liked by 2 people

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