The Triangular Theory of Love

 April 28, 2019

The Love Triad

In general, then, the components are separable, but interactive with each other.  Although all three components are important parts of loving relationships, their importance may differ from one relationship to another, or over time within a given relationship.

Indeed, different kinds of love can be generated by limiting cases of different combinations of the components.


The three components of love generate eight possible kinds of love when considered in combination.

It is important to realize that these kinds of love are, in fact, limiting cases: No relationship is likely to be a pure case of any of them.

1) Non love refers simply to the absence of all three components of love.

2) Liking results when one experiences only the intimacy component of love in the absence of the passion and decision/commitment components. 

3) Infatuated love results from the experiencing of the passion component in the absence of the other components of love.

4) Empty love emanates from the decision that one loves another and is committed to that love in the absence of both the intimacy and passion components of love.

5) Romantic love derives from a combination of the intimacy and passion components. 

6) Companionate love derives from a combination of the intimacy and decision/commitment components of love.   

7) Fatuous love results from the combination of the passion and decision/commitment components in the absence of the intimacy component. 

8) Consummate, or complete love, results from the full combination of all three components.


The geometry of the “love triangle” depends upon two factors:  amount of love and balance of love.

Differences in amounts of love are represented by differing areas of the love triangle:  The greater the amount of love, the greater the area of the triangle. 

Differences in balances of the three kinds of love are represented by differing shapes of triangles.  For example, balanced love (roughly equal amounts of each component) is represented by an equilateral triangle.


Love does not involve only a single triangle.

Rather, it involves a great number of triangles, only some of which are of major theoretical and practical interest.  For example, it is possible to contrast real versus ideal triangles.  One has not only a triangle representing his or her love for the other, but also a triangle representing an ideal other for that relationship.

Finally, it is important to distinguish between triangles of feelings and triangles of action.

This theory and its implications thus provides an important frame of reference in love. However it is to be noted that each couple and each individual experiences love differently both in intensity and quality.



  • Sternberg, R. J., & Grajek, S. (1984). The nature of love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 312–329.

  • Sternberg, R. J., & Barnes, M. (1985). Real and ideal others in romantic relationships: Is four a crowd? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1586–1608.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119–135.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1987). Liking versus loving: A comparative evaluation of theories. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 331–345.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1988). Triangulating love. In R. J. Sternberg & M. Barnes (Eds.), The psychology of love (pp. 119–138). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1988). The triangle of love. New York: Basic.


Related Video: 9 Differences Between True Love And Emotional Dependency

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