The Triangular Theory Of Love Tells Us The Keys To A Successful Relationship

People frequently lament the fact that relationships don't come with instruction manuals or precise formulas for success. According to psychologist Robert Sternberg, however, this isn't necessarily the case. His triangular theory of love divides the essence of ideal love into three key pillars required to uphold any healthy long-term romantic relationship. When all three pillars aren't accounted for, according to the theory, the result will be one of several types of love that do not meet the requirements for ideal love.


While the triangular theory of love was introduced by Sternberg way back in 1986, it has recently been making waves on TikTok, which has introduced the theory to a whole new demographic. If you're interested in examining your own relationship under a new lens or looking for a light to guide you toward ideal love on your dating journey, here is everything you'll need to know about the triangular theory of love. 


In the context of the triangular theory of love, intimacy does not refer to sex or physical closeness. It purely consists of emotional intimacy. When emotional intimacy exists between two people, they will feel a deep sense of connection, liking, attachment, and trust. They may even feel that their emotional well-being is somewhat intertwined with the other person's and struggle to retain a sense of happiness if their loved one is in pain or distress.


When intimacy exists without passion or commitment, it is reduced to merely an emotional bond. You may have this feeling when you experience a short-lived companionship with a trusted teacher, counselor, or mentor who takes a special interest in your life as a child or teenager. There is no romantic interest involved and no commitment to making the relationship last. It is simply a temporary sense of emotional closeness with another person that naturally dissipates over time. 


The passion side of the triangular theory of love is where you'll find physical attraction, sexual intimacy, and infatuation. This is the feeling you get when you meet someone new and experience the sensation of "sparks" of chemistry flying. You may develop a "crush" on the other person and find yourself unable to resist thinking or even fantasizing about them.


If the object of your passion feels the same way you do, you may find yourself in a brief, intense relationship based on sex and/or physical intimacy. Passion without intimacy or commitment is the fuel that fires one-night stands, friends with benefits, and situationships. Since there is no commitment to developing or protecting a loving relationship and no intimacy to encourage an investment in the well-being of the other person, the flame generally burns out very quickly when it becomes clear that the relationship isn't meeting all the partners' needs. 


According to Robert Sternberg's theory, commitment is a sense of dedication to developing, protecting, and maintaining a particular relationship. A sense of commitment tends to build over time, as intimacy grows and the mutual bond between the partners becomes more highly valued. This is what you may experience when you've been in a relationship for a few months or a year and decide that it is "the one" for you and cement your intention to foster it. 


A relationship that features commitment without intimacy or passion is often experienced as obligation or empty love. This type of obligation is often felt between family members and spouses who have resolved to stay in a marriage for reasons other than love, such as raising children together. It may also be experienced by partners who are pressured by their families or cultures to enter into marriage before they have developed intimacy or passion. 

Two-sided love types

When a relationship features two sides of the triangular theory of love's triangle but is missing one, it forms one of the theory's two-sided types of love. When intimacy exists with commitment but without passion, the result is companionate love. This type of love is developed between two people who are deeply bonded long-term companions. There is no romantic interest but both parties are dedicated to the relationship. A relationship that features both commitment and passion but lacks intimacy is defined by the theory as fatuous love. In this type of pairing, two partners may rush into a serious relationship or marriage based on intense mutual physical attraction and commitment to being together. However, the coupling will lack a deep emotional bond. 


Passion and intimacy without commitment often breed a very deep, even life-changing relationship that is relatively brief. The partners feel intense levels of connection both physically and emotionally but are not dedicated to developing the relationship. It's important to note that a relationship may start out as a two-sided love and, over time, build the third side. No relationship is doomed when both partners are willing to put in the work to improve it.