A love triangle is something we all have, and, no, it’s not the kind of triangle you might be envisioning.
For couples in a relationship, love can be broken down into three concepts that represent corners of a triangle as described in Robert Sternberg’s “Triangle Theory of Love.”
These corners are Passion, Intimacy, and Commitment. Through these three simplified concepts, we can comprehend, navigate, and even grow our loving relationships.
It can be thought of as emotional reactivity, physical arousal, excitement. We experience the feelings associated with passion as visceral and deep-rooted. Passion can be strong sexual or romantic feelings, strong feeling such as anger or fear, or an enthusiastic zeal.
This can be understood as a general interconnectedness we feel with someone, the level of closeness/comfort we feel with another. There are many types of intimacy including physical (both sexual and non-sexual), emotional (feeling of closeness), intellectual (shared ideas), professional (work related), spiritual (involves similar existential and/or religious view), recreational (involves doing pleasurable things together), artistic (shared sense of beauty), etc.
This component is more cognitive or “cold," but often the necessary foundation of a relationship without which passion and intimacy are lost. A couple makes certain culturally and value based agreed upon promises to each other regarding exclusivity. Exclusivity may manifest in may ways including sexual fidelity, engagement / marriage / commitment ceremonies, intimacy and emotional fidelity, etc. Prioritizing and protecting the couple relationship on a daily basis is a manifestation of commitment.
An Unequal Triangle
If these three corners are given equal attention and energy from each person in the couple, the relationship is healthy, but if one side or two sides are dismissed, it creates relationship problems.
- Only Passion = infatuated love (e.g. an affair)
- Only Commitment = empty love (e.g. lost spark and business-like)
- Only Intimacy = liking (‘friend-zone’)
- Commitment + Intimacy = compassionate love (innate/visceral attraction gone)
- Commitment + Passion = fatuous love (simple, shallow)
- Intimacy + Passion = romantic love (‘don juan-ism’, often infidelity manifests)
Whether we are in a new relationship or celebrating our 25th anniversary, it’s important to take review the corners of your relationship triangle. By identifying which component needs enhancement, a couple can actively make changes to significantly strengthen the relationship.