The Psychology of Love

As February is known as the month of love, there is not better chance than to talk about it now! Within psychology, there are many theories and different understandings of how love works within the brain and within one’s behavior. A particularly interesting theory is that of psychologist Robert Sternberg, entitled Triangular Theory of Love:

In this said theory, Sternberg discusses the three corners of the triangle. The first corner is intimacy, which refers the warmth brought by the close bond and connectedness of a relationship.   The second is passion, with attributes of physical attraction and of the drive for romance. And the third is commitment, simply put, the dedication and choice towards a relationship each and every day.

Each of these three characteristics combine to suggest a certain style of love. In the above chart, you can see these different combinations, where only two corners combine to form a style of love. Each of these lacks the third dimension, marking an issue that you may be facing in a relationship. You may also only have one aspect of love, which excludes two of the important ingredients to make your love ideal.

This “ideal” love is called consummate love, where intimacy, passion, and commitment are experienced fully and helps a relationship be fulfilling or rewarding. Sternberg theorizes that this love is the most whole love you can have and is what people should aim for in their relationships in order to fully love someone.

The combination of intimacy and commitment forms companionate love which is ideal for non-romantic family members and friends, as it lacks the sexual aspect of passion. For a romantic relationship, it might imply that there is no sexual desire or an issue with sexual connectiveness that may need to be approached in order to aim for consummate love.

Romantic love suggests that commitment issues may be in place. There may be emotional and sexual closeness, but the active choice toward maintaining the relationship may be lacking. If you feel that commitment is an issue in a relationship, you should evaluate your feelings about this person or discuss the subject further with your partner. It may cause anxiety for you if you are not sure where the relationship stands for the future.

The final combination is fatuous love, which only contains passion and commitment. It often refers to a quickly formed romance that disregards the friendship intimacy required for maintaining a relationship. You may not know a lot about your partner, but still feel very connected with them. It may be important to take a step back and really figure out your partner, to make sure that you have longer term compatibility in the important aspects.

Lastly, there are the three singular corners. If you feel infatuation, you may feel like you are very into or passionate about a partner, but not have any commitment or intimacy. You might not know them well but feel head over heels for them. While this is how many relationships start, it is important to ground yourself and the relationship with the two missing corners in order to make a lasting relationship.

If you are focused just on commitment, it is referred to empty love. Oftentimes this is a relationship that stays together for financial or family reasons as it lacks passion or intimacy. There is not friendship, love, or closeness with that person. If you feel this fits you, you should reevaluate what you are looking for in a partner. Is who you are with currently worth fixing the relationship with or would you be happier finding someone who fits you better? Empty love is a difficult situation and it can be degrading to your mental wellbeing.

The third corner is intimacy, or liking. This typically applies to friendships! It may be a closer acquaintance that you have not formed a tight bond with yet. If this is something you are interested in, you should pursue more time with them and learn more about them. This can lead towards forming a more committed relationship that is more fulfilling to the both of you.

This is an interesting theory to look at in all the relationships in your life. Hopefully you find yourself relating to healthy relationships or this has provided better insight on how to better those relationships. Love is a wonderful thing that bonds us together and keeps us mentally healthy. As humans, we are social beings who need fulfilling relationships around us.

Written by Emma, Undergrad Intern 2021

If you would like to speak to a professional counselor or psychologist about this and are in the Chicago area, please feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.

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