What is love? According to McClelland (1986) “the mainstream view of love is that it is a state that arises from people mutually reinforcing each other or providing benefits to each other”. This is just one view and love is not that easy to define in one statement. The meaning of love is vast and there are a number of psychological theories that try to define and establish what this concept is. Being in love implies sexual desire and excitement, “ the common expression that people use to describe their passionate desires for one another” (Martin, Carlson & Buskist, p 758). In order to examine the question as to how have social psychologist researched ‘being in love’, it will be necessary to discuss some of the theories that have been put forward, and look at their interpretation of the concept of ‘love’. The works of Robert Sternberg (1986,), John Lee (1973) Carlos Yela (1996) and Hatfield & Walster (1978) will be referred to in exploring the question of being in love
Psychologist and Social Scientist Robert Sternberg (1986) proposed his triangular theory which categorised love relationships into three “orthogonal dimensions” which are intimacy, passion and commitment/decision commitment. Sternberg (1986) argues that without these three dimensions, you don’t have love. “Each dimension contributes to the quality of love in a relationship. The quality of a relationship is represented by the relative magnitude of each component” (Hassebrauck & Buhl, 1996). The first component, intimacy, refers to the feeling of warmth, closeness, of bonding and of connectedness with someone in a loving relationship. Intimacy comes about when information or secrets are shared between two people and no one else. The second element is passion. Passion leads to romance, which is an essential element, according to Sternberg, in a love relationship. Passion involves sexual consummation and physical attraction. The third element, commitment/decision commitment is a choice that is made by an individual to remain committed in a relationship. Although Sternberg theorized that the three elements are necessary to have love, he also went on to show that when one or more elements are missing, many variations of love are derived. Sternberg came up with seven different kinds of love that are liking, infatuation, empty love, romantic love, compassionate love, fatuous love and consummate love. These seven variations form his triangle. One is able to easily identify the kind of love that is being expressed by looking at the mixture of elements that it is made up of.
Carlos Yela (1996) proposed a structural theoretical model of love, which introduces some variations of Sternberg’s Triangular Theory model (1986). This was done to verify the usefulness of Sternberg’s theory to try to prove his four components: Erotic Passion, Romantic Passion, Intimacy and Commitment. The dynamic side of the model was tested and the results conclude that Sternberg’s model can be used as an explanation for love.
Some weaknesses of Sternberg’s theory (1986) are that outside of the western world, it is invalid, as a different value system exists in non-western societies where the components of love are not emphasized by intimacy, passion and commitment. Thus this theory cannot be applied across cultures. Also, according to Acker and Davis (1992), there were many gaps in his research in that firstly, the population was not widely represented, as these were graduates and under graduates with ages ranging from 18 – 28 years. Also, the time frames on which this theory is based, where Sternberg states that as commitment speeds up, intimacy grows and where intimacy declines over time, is not mentioned.
John Lee’s (1973) book ‘The Colors of Love’ used an analogy of colour wheel as a “conceptual scaffold” to compare his Love Styles. He went on to state that just as there are three primary colours on the wheel,...