A Triangular Theory of Love
This article presents a triangular theory of love. According to the theory, love has three components: (a) intimacy, which encompasses the feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness one experiences in loving relationships; (b) passion, which encompasses the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation; and (c) decision/commitment, which encompasses, in the short term, the decision that one loves another, and in the long term, the commitment to maintain that love. The amount of love one experiences depends on the absolute strength of these three components, and the kind of love one experiences depends on their strengths relative to each other. The three components interact with each other and with the actions that they produce and that produce them so as to form a number of different kinds of loving experiences. The triangular theory of love subsumes certain other theories and can account for a number of empirical findings in the research literature, as well as for a number of experiences with which many are familiar firsthand. It is proposed that the triangular theory provides a rather comprehensive basis for understanding many aspects of the love that underlies close relationships.
What does it mean "to love" someone? Does it always mean the same thing, and if not, in what ways do loves differ from each other? Why do certain loves seem to last, whereas others disappear almost as quickly as they are formed? This article seeks to answer these and other questions through a triangular theory of love. This tripartite theory deals both with the nature of love and with loves in various kinds of relationships. The presentation of the theory will be divided into three main parts. In the first part, the main tenets of the theory will be explained and discussed, and the theory will be compared with other theories of love. In the second part, the implications of the theory for close relationships and satisfaction in them will be described. In the third part, the theory will be shown to account for many of the empirical phenomena that have been observed with regard to love.
The Triangle of Love Three Components1
The triangular theory of love holds that love can be understood in terms of three components that together can be viewed as forming the vertices of a triangle. These three components are intimacy (the top vertex of the triangle), passion (the left-hand vertex of the triangle), and decision/commitment (the right-hand vertex of the triangle). (The assignment of components to vertices is arbitrary.) Each of these three terms can be used in many different ways, so it is important at the outset to clarify their meanings in the context of the present theory. I am grateful to Michael Barnes, Susan Grajek, and Sandra Wright for their collaborations in my empirical research on love, and to Ellen Berscheid, Keith Davis, Elaine Hatfield, Martin Hoffman, and George Levinger for their excellent comments on an earlier version of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert J. Sternberg, Department of Psychology, Yale University, Box 11A Yale Station, New Haven, Connecticut 06520.
The intimacy component refers to feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships. It thus includes within its purview those feelings that give rise, essentially, to the experience of warmth in a loving relationship. The passion component refers to the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, sexual consummation, and related phenomena in loving relationships. The passion component thus includes within its purview those sources of motivational and other forms of arousal that lead to the experience of passion in a loving relationship. The decision/commitment component refers to, in the short term, the decision that one loves someone else, and in the long term, the commitment to maintain that love. The...
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Received April 1, 1985 Revision received November 6, 1985
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