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Intimacy, Passion, Commitment : the Three Corners of Love

24 March 2008

The Psychologist Robert Sternberg has developed a "Triangular Theory of Love" within which all our experiences of love can be explained. Dr Sternberg's triangle has three main elements (the corners) which are Commitment, Intimacy and Passion. All our experience of love can be explained through the strength or otherwise of Commitment, Intimacy and Passion in our relationships.

Before describing the triangle and it's meaning further, we should first describe what Sternberg means by Commitment, Intimacy and Passion.

  • Commitment is your willingness to stay with a certain person, to see things through with them. Our bonds with out family often demonstrate high levels of commitment.
  • Intimacy is how connected, bonded and close you feel to someone. It's the friendship part of the relationship - how well you know that person, their hopes, dreams and fears.
  • Passion relates to your attraction to a person in a romantic and erotic sense.

The Triangle of love and what it means

Triangular Theory of love

According to Dr Sternberg every love relationship falls somewhere within the triangle since all love relationships are made up from the same basic mix of Commitment, Intimacy and Passion. Your experience of love will depend on the relative strength or weakness of each of those elements. Toward the center of the triangle is an area, the sweet-spot, where commitment, intimacy and passion are balanced.

The amount of love you feel in a relationship depends on the size of the triangle - the bigger the triangle, the more love.

Where is your relationship in the triangle of love?

Try to imagine where your current relationship is within the diagram above. Where did it start? Maybe it began in the Passion corner and slowly moved to the sweet spot in the center of the triangle where passion, commitment and intimacy are evenly balanced.

Perhaps your relationship started out as friendship that became a committed friendship and then slowly moved toward passion?

We all have different pathways to love and over time we can expect the place our relationship holds in the triangle to move. Perhaps over the years it will move further from passion and more towards intimacy and commitment. If we have children we might see a decrease in passion for a time as the stresses of raising children dampen our energy and opportunities for eros, only later to spring back toward passion when the children have flown the nest.

In the next part we'll talk about the seven types of love that are identified in Dr Sternberg's triangular theory of love and what you can do to move your relationship back toward the sweet-spot in the middle of the triangle, to the zone that Sterberg calls "Consummate Love".

Read more about Sternbergs Triangular Theory of Love at Wikipedia.


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