Everyone has, at some point, been fascinated by love or the phenomenon of being in love. Artists and poets have tried to capture it in their creations. Scientists have explained it by studying neurochemicals in the brain. Psychologist Robert Sternberg theorized that love is a triangle with three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Three Components of Love
Intimacy refers to the feeling of connectedness and attachment you have with someone. When you feel at ease around them, it usually means you have an intimate bond with them.
Passion, the second component, is about the physical and emotional stimulation of love. For example, when you feel excited every time you see your loved one, that means you have passionate feelings for your partner.
Lastly, commitment refers to the conscious decision to be together. Commitment is both short term—such as making a decision to become exclusive partners—and long term—such as getting married in a few years.
Kinds of Love
All three components of love exist in varying degrees within relationships. For example, some relationships are more passionate—toe-curling, heart-racing, and exciting. On the other hand, other relationships emphasize commitment, where the focus is no longer how you make each other feel but what you want to be together. According to Sternberg, there are several kinds of love.
Nonlove means all three components of love—intimacy, passion, and commitment—are absent. Nonlove can describe most of our relationships with co-workers or classmates that we don’t know very well but say hello to when we pass them at work or school.
Friendship is what occurs when only intimacy is present. There’s no fiery passion or romantic commitment. However, you can confide in and trust each other.
3. Infatuated Love
This type of love is centered on passion. Infatuated love is focused on your physical attraction to someone. Having a crush on someone can be infatuated love. Without intimacy or commitment, this kind of love usually tends to die down after a while.
4. Empty Love
Empty love means that only commitment is present. Empty love occurs sometimes in marriages that are only held together by the marriage contract and not much else. While it sounds negative, other components of love, such as intimacy, can be developed over time.
5. Romantic Love
Romantic love is the result of intimacy and passion. More than physical compatibility, you also have a strong emotional connection. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, this kind of love is usually present.
6. Companionate Love
Companionate love is a combination of intimacy and commitment, but no passion. This is usually present in family members and old couples who have been married for a long time.
7. Fatuous Love
Passion + commitment = fatuous love. This is the kind of whirlwind romance of people who are full of desire, attraction, and rush into a commitment without building a foundation of intimacy first.
8. Consummate Love
Finally, consummate love has all three components. It has the attraction and chemistry of passion, the comfort and warmth of intimacy, and the certainty of a solid commitment. This is likely the ideal relationship between couples. Couples with consummate love are open to each other, and they overcome their problems together.
Sternberg stressed that the kinds of love are not static. Feelings change and develop together with relationships. You could have consummate love but passion may eventually wane, changing your loving relationship to companionship. If you’re starting at the point of friendship, that doesn’t mean you can’t eventually arrive at something more romantic.
Like everything in life, relationships need to be cultivated. If there’s anything to take away from Sternberg’s theory it’s that love takes work to nurture and to flourish.