The seven types of love: exploring the Triangular Theory of Love
But does that mean that we’ve found just one definitive thing to call love? Psychologist Robert J Sternberg doesn’t think so. In fact, as his Triangular Theory of Love shows, there are actually seven types of love.
What is the Triangular Theory of Love?
Renowned psychologist Robert J Sternberg first put forward his Triangular Theory of Love in 1985. Based off of his psychological research at Yale University, this theory seeks to define different elements of interpersonal relationships and to illustrate how these can combine to form the seven types of the thing we call love.
The theory itself is straightforward. It starts with the three main components that Sternberg says lie at the heart of most human relationships: passion, commitment, and intimacy. Taken individually, these components form the three simplest forms of love – passion alone brings infatuation, intimacy alone equals liking, and commitment alone means empty love.
The triangular part of the theory comes from the fact that you can combine any two of these components to form more complex types of love – each combination forming a different side of a triangle. When you have a relationship that combines passion and intimacy, for instance, you get romantic love. Intimacy plus commitment gives you companionate love, while fatuous love is born when commitment meets passion.
And then there’s consummate love, which is the combination of all three components. It's often seen as the ideal form of love, for by mixing the fire of passion, the comfort of intimacy, and the security of commitment, you can form a healthy, happy, lasting romantic relationship. It's important to note that this triangle doesn't have to be an equilateral shape (indeed, the three components are rarely present in equal measures) – all that matters is that the relationship has some levels of all three components.
Explaining the seven types of love
So, the Triangular Theory of Love says that love can take a number of forms, each of which is made up of one or more love components. But what do terms like ‘romantic love,’ ‘companionate love,’ and ‘consummate love’ actually mean? What are the seven types of love?
Passion is a love component that many of us are familiar with. It’s responsible for the wildly beating heart, the flip-flops in the stomach, that feeling of love at first sight. Of course, when it’s just passion alone, there’s none of the true knowing that comes with intimacy nor the steadfastness of commitment – so what you end up with is less nuanced than some other types of love. The best description for passion on its own is thus infatuation.
- Read more: can fast feelings equal real love? Find out the truth about love at first sight
Next up is intimacy. Unlike passion, intimacy can be a solely platonic feeling – it’s that sense of familiarity and friendship that comes with meeting someone you really get on with, someone you can be your true self around. It is certainly a great component to have in romantic relationships, but on its own, without passion or commitment, it’s more likely to result in friendship – or, as the Triangular Theory of Love puts it, liking.
- Read more: Want to develop this component? Here's how to build emotional intimacy in your relationship
Empty Love (Commitment)
Thirdly we have commitment, the active steps taken to preserve a relationship. It’s an essential part of any lasting love, but, when devoid of intimacy and passion, it’s a part that can feel more like a duty than a romantic choice. Often, a long-term relationship that has lost all passion and intimacy will hover in this ‘empty love’ stage before ending, but as Sternberg points out, love can begin here too: in an arranged marriage, for instance, the commitment often comes first.
- Read more: Want to move on from an empty love relationship? Learn more about dating after divorce
As passion, intimacy, and commitment are the simplest components of the Triangular Theory of Love, relationships that have only one of these three points tend to be more basic as well. However, when you combine components, it gets more complicated (and more interesting!):