By: Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, M.S.relationship advice

Relationships are complex. If you are in a relationship, you were once in a relationship, or your Facebook status says it’s complicated; you do not need an author informing you that relationships are complicated. The Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love helps us understand the complexities of relationships. It give us a sense of what type of relationship we are in and when we look at a relationship from the lens of the Triangular Theory, we can understand when it is time to bow out of a relationship that is no longer working. The three stages of the Triangle Love Theory are intimacy, passion, and commitment.

Passion often begins in the dating stage. The person is filled with feelings of intense emotional and physical attraction, an infatuation with the other, powerful excitement about everything the other does or says, and a desire to spend an endless amount of time together. Passion is also the eroticism in a relationship; the excitement of spending time together, the sexual attraction, and the desire for one another. A relationship with only passion is an infatuation. The partners are going to need more in order to survive basic relationship challenges.

Intimacy is when two partners are comfortably settled-in. They have a routine, a form of predictability, an attachment, and a bond with the other. The same as passion, intimacy on its own is not enough. A relationship with only intimacy is known as “liking.” These relationships often have limited sexual expression.

Commitment is when both partners are emotionally and physically committed to one another. Being in a marital relationship does not automatically guarantee commitment. Couples begin their marriage with the intentions of commitment. At times, one partner is either consciously or subconsciously no longer committed to their partner and the relationship. A relationship with only the commitment component is considered empty of love. Perhaps the relationship started with passion and intimacy but those elements faded away overtime. It often takes a while for couples to come to the realization that all the relationship has is commitment. We tend to measure the success of relationships according to commitment. A committed couple is assessed as a successful couple. So we self assess, “I am still in this relationship, therefore, it must be working.” 

Each individual component is, nice, fun, useful, and enjoyable. The question is, how long will it work? Can a relationship with only intimacy survive without commitment? Is passion enough, or do you need more?

Romantic movies and books like using the passion, intimacy, and then commitment model. Yet, many relationships can begin either at intimacy or commitment. When the relationship first begins it can start in either of the three stages, intimacy, passion, or commitment. In order for the triangle of love to become solid and secure, the relationship needs to move into the next two stages.

A relationship with only intimacy and passion is what we know as romantic love. Romantic love is often the beginning stages of a relationship before the partners decide to commit. Affairs are another example of romantic love. The couple shares passion and intimacy, but no commitment to each other, since both of them will be going back home to their “committed” relationship.

Then there are relationships where there is commitment and passion, this is known as fatuous love or childish love. The couple has decided to commit because of their intense excitement about each other but they have not yet found their groove of intimacy. These are the shot-gun weddings or young teenagers marrying their first love.

Compassionate love is often the couple that has been together for many years. There is intimacy and there is commitment, but passion has faded. Some relationships never brush shoulders with the passion stage. These relationships have commitment and intimacy. Their comfort with each other and the commitment is what keeps these couples together.

A relationship that has all three categories is called consummate love or complete love. Reaching consummate love is the ultimate goal of long-term relationships. Even when a relationship is at consummate love, relationships wax and wane. A relationship will not be in all three stages every single day, forever and ever. The relationship will shift between the components of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Sometimes the relationship has two of the components and sometimes only one component. The most important factor is that the relationship has its base at consummate love.

The triangle of love does not tell you about the longevity of the relationship, longevity of your relationship is up to you. The question to ask is; are all my needs being met? When a relationship is only in one category for an extended period of time, can we truly call this a love relationship? It is important to self-reflect about your relationship and ask yourself which component needs some sprucing up. What are ways that you can invest in your relationship so that it remains as consummate love?

Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, M.S.
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