Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Principled Commitment: An Adult Program on Building Strong Relationships

Activity 3: The Many Facets Of Love

Activity time: 35 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint sheet with triangle diagram (see Preparation)
  • Newsprint sheet with list of questions (see Preparation)
  • Easel
  • Copies of Handout 2: The Triangular Theory of Love (one per participant)

Preparation for Activity

  • Study Handout 2, The Triangular Theory of Love, to familiarize yourself with its concepts.
  • On a sheet of newsprint, draw the simple triangle diagram as shown in Handout 2, The Triangular Theory of Love.
  • On another sheet of newsprint, write the following questions:
    • What shape of triangle would represent your present relationship with your partner?
    • What shape would represent your relationship when it began?
    • Would you like to increase or maintain the passion, intimacy, or commitment you offer the relationship? If so, write down some ways you would like to do that.

Description of Activity

Focus the activity with these or similar words:

The ancient Greeks identified three types of love: Eros, the passionate love between lovers; Philos, the love among close friends; and Agape, the love for the greater society or greater good. The manifestation of all three forms of love can help a healthy relationship grow.

Remembering how to love, and acknowledging the need to give and to receive love, is the basis for all affirming human relationships. Love can transform a hurting world.

Often, when we think of being in a relationship, we think of only the romantic form of love. But truly healthy relationships exhibit all kinds of love - love for oneself, for children and family, for dear friends, romantic love and intimacy, and compassion for the greater world's needs.

Invite participants to reflect on the connections between love for self, partner, and others. Ask:

  • How does love for self relate to love for a partner? Love for children? Family? Friends? The greater world?
  • Taking all of these types of love into account, how would you define "love"?

Display the newsprint sheet on which you drew the triangle diagram. Explain the triangle theory using these or similar words:

Contemporary psychologists have tried to define love, and it's difficult to do - there are many kinds of love and many expressions. A psychologist named Robert Sternberg created a model for understanding love: a "triangular theory."

This theory conceives of love as having three components: intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment. They are represented by the three points of a triangle. Intimacy refers to feelings of close connection and bonding. Passion refers to the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual desire. Decision/commitment is about deciding to love someone and then committing to maintain that relationship.

In this diagram, the sides of the triangle are equal. But in our relationships, the three components of love are not always equal in strength. For example, love may be high in passion and intimacy but low on commitment. Or a relationship might be held together primarily by commitment and intimacy, while passion is low.

We can draw triangles of different shapes to represent relationships with different levels of intimacy, passion, and commitment. If intimacy is high, then the distance from the center to that point of the triangle is long. If passion is low, then the distance from the center to that point of the triangle is short.

In this model, the triangles can change shape over time, even in the same relationship. For example, in the beginning a relationship might be high in passion, low in intimacy, and low in commitment. Five years later, it might be high in commitment, high in intimacy, and low in passion. Ten years down the road, it might be high in commitment and passion but low in intimacy.

Couples often strive for "consummate love" - love that is high in all three areas. Consummate love is achieved from time to time, but it is hard to maintain. Stresses can decrease our passion. Overwhelming demands can decrease our intimacy. Events may cause us to think about the reasons for our commitment. Thus love, while constant, can change shape throughout a relationship.

Distribute Handout 2, The Triangular Theory of Love. Allow a few minutes for participants to review the triangles and descriptions of the components.

Display the newsprint sheet with the list of questions you prepared ahead of time. Invite participants to reflect individually on the shapes of their own relationship's triangle over time and on ways to increase or maintain the passion, intimacy, or commitment they offer the relationship.

After allowing about five minutes for reflection, re-gather participants. Ask:

  • What was it like to think about love in this way?
  • Would anyone like to share how the shape of your triangle has changed over time?