Among the many models of understanding love, Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love attempts to explain any and all kinds of love.

Love is something psychology constantly seeks to understand. Love is one of the most complex and confusing emotions and is shared by humans and animals across the world.

In an attempt to understand love, there have been many different theories of what love is, how we feel it and why we feel it. Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love is one of the many models which seeks to understand life’s most cherished emotion.

It was developed by Dr. Robert Sternberg in the late 1980s and is based on different elements of a loving relationship.

What Is Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love?

According to Sternberg, love is made up of a combination of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. This theory identifies eight different types of love. The difference between each kind of love is how much of each element is present in the relationship triangle.

In this article, we will explore the different kinds of love identified by Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love and how they are explained by the presence of each component, or lack thereof.

Let’s first have a look at the three elements:

What is Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love


Intimacy is the feeling of closeness between two people. It is a familiarity and bond felt in a long-term relationship or between a parent and a child.


Passion involves desire, physical attraction, and sexual chemistry.


Commitment is what causes people to remain connected with another person, through romance or through friendship. The decision to commit is what moves lust into love.

In the formation of different kinds of love, these elements will be present in varying degrees. It is the unique combination of these elements which makes each form different.

The Different Kinds of Love


Non-love is the absence of all three components in Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. These relationships are simple acquaintances you may interact with regularly but have no real relationship with. There is no attachment or intimacy. This is how all relationships begin before any of the three elements is present.


Friendship has a strong intimacy element but lacks passion and romantic commitment, although it may have friendly commitment. It should be noted that friendship can be the beginning of other kinds of love or simply love in itself. A Friendship enjoys a feeling of closeness and trust because intimacy is the most present element.


Infatuation comes with a strong feeling of lust and physical passion. It is not necessary to feel intimacy or commitment in an infatuation, although these may be present to some extent. Infatuation is usually a step on the way to romantic love as two people get to know each other.

Initial infatuation is the feeling of being crazy about someone and can develop into a deeper, meaningful relationship.

Empty Love

Empty love is a longstanding commitment but may be devoid of passion or intimacy. A strong, long-term relationship may fall into empty love over time as passions become softer. However, the opposite can happen in that two committed people may fall deeply in love.

Romantic Love

Romantic love enjoys all three elements from Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love but not completely. They are both passionate and intimate and the seeds of commitment have been sown. A couple in romantic love may not have been together for a very long time, but they certainly intend to be.

Companionate Love

Companionate love is deeply intimate and strongly committed but without passion. There is minimal or no desire between the two because there is no passion.

Close friends and family members share companionate love. It is stronger than friendship because there is a long-term element to the relationship which provides the commitment aspect of the triangle.

Fatuous Love

Fatuous love is much like infatuation but involves more of a commitment. These kinds of relationships have a whirlwind beginning and become committed very quickly.

The lack of intimacy makes them unstable so others tend to view the relationship as impulsive. These kinds of relationships will not be successful unless the intimacy in the relationship grows.

Consummate Love

Consummate love is the ultimate kind of love because this kind of love enjoys all three elements of the triangle in spades. Couples in consummate love enjoy passion throughout their relationships and are committed to facing any adversary together. These couples are the ones that last and some may call them ‘true love’.

Each relationship is unique and the only people who understand it are those who are in it. These kinds of love are not strict, a relationship may lie in between two as it begins to grow and change. Different elements of Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love are fulfilled or even removed as relationships move forward.

Sternberg’s theory works may help some to understand their relationship better, where its strengths lie and where may need improvement. Although this is only one model for explaining how we love, it is a powerful tool in understanding and improving your relationships.


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