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

Handout 2: The Triangular Theory Of Love

In his essay "Triangulating Love," Robert J. Sternberg, professor of psychology at Tufts University, describes love in a way that may be particularly helpful to Principled Commitment participants. His triangular theory of love focuses not on the reasons for love, but on how love relationships can be described in terms of three components: passion, intimacy, and decision/commitment.


Passion refers to the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation in a loving relationship. Although sexual needs form the main part of passion in many relationships, other needs may also contribute to the experience of passion. These can include needs for self-esteem, affiliation with others, dominance over others, submission to others, and self-actualization.


Intimacy refers to close, connected, and bonded feelings in loving relationships. Sternberg and S. Grajeck have written an article called "The Nature of Love," in which they identify ten signs of intimacy in a close relationship:

  • Desiring to promote the welfare of the loved one
  • Experiencing happiness with the loved one
  • Having high regard for the loved one
  • Being able to count on the loved one in times of need
  • Mutual understanding with the loved one
  • Sharing one's self and one's possessions with the loved one
  • Receiving emotional support from the loved one
  • Giving emotional support to the loved one
  • Having intimate communication with the loved one
  • Valuing the loved one in one's life


The "decision/commitment" component has both short-term and long-term aspects. In the short term, a person decides that he/she loves someone. In the long term, a person commits to maintaining that love. These two aspects do not necessarily go together, for a decision to love does not necessarily imply a commitment to that love. Similarly, many people are committed to the love of another person without necessarily even admitting that they love or are in love with that person. Most often, however, decision will precede commitment.