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Sternberg Theory of Love and Expectations from Genders

The triangular of love theory, also known as "The Sternberg Theory of Love" is a theory that explains the topic of love related to an interpersonal relationship. This theory was developed by a well-known psychologist, Robert Sternberg. According to Sternberg (1986-1988), there are three types of love or component of love in the universe known as; Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment. Sternberg further explains relationships that are based on just one element or component of love as described above has a lesser chance to survive life challenges as compared to other types of relationships that are based on two or all three elements or components of love (Sternberg, R. J., 1986-1988).

He also points out different combinations of love types or relationships types that can be made with those three components of love. Below, we will explore them separately:


Based on Sternberg’s theory of love, intimacy is described as the feeling of attachment, closeness, and connectedness. However, despite the level of attachment, closeness, and connectedness that may involve in this type of relationship it is not strong enough to be classified as long-term relationships or commitment, it is more like a true friendship than anything else and also, contrary to society, intimacy doesn't really mean sexuality (Argosy University, 2015 and Sternberg, R. J., 1986-1988).

(Infatuated Love/Passion)

The second component is known as "Infatuated Love" or "Passion", also known as "Love at First Sight." According to Sternberg theory, this involves depth and intense feeling. It usually occurs when a person romantically loves another person. Infatuated love type encompasses both romantic and sexual attraction. As a result, commitment comes into play and tie the romantic and sexual attraction together. As the sexual attraction fades away, so will be the commitment (s). This means, without strong and healthy commitment, this type of love can't stand on its own and risk disappearing over time.

(Empty Love/Commitment Alone)

This type of love involves relationships that are based on commitments alone, intimacy and passion are totally absent. According to the Sternberg's theory, there could be many reasons for relationships to become this way over time; either the relationship has deteriorated over time, as a result, both intimacy and passion cease to exist between that couple or a situation where one or both individuals are being forced to marry one another.

In fact, according to Sternberg's triangular of love, even strong relationships can lead to empty love stage if not being kept healthy, well-manitained and well-managed emotionally and romantically at all time (Sternberg, R. J., 1986-1988).

(Romantic Love)

Romantic love is the type of love where passion and intimacy come in play. Romantic love is when both partners are bounded emotionally and physically to one another through passionate arousal. This type of relationship often leads to marriages and sometimes a long-lasting relationship. However, Sternberg points out that, without strong and healthy commitments, this type of relationship can easily be broken by life challenges as time goes by. It's not because both partners didn't really love each other, but because strong and healthy commitments were absent.

Keeping a romantic relationship in good shape through the years takes a lot of work and efforts from both partners, not just one. They both have to be committed to the same thing, the well-being of the relationship. If it's only one of them who is doing all the effort to keep that relationship alive, the relationship is doomed to end regardless what your preacher or anyone else may say, because one partner is actually over benefiting from the relationship wile the other is under benefiting.

Every time a situation like this presents itself in a relationship, the partner who's under benefiting from the relationship will eventually end up feeling burned-out both emotionally and psychologically.

(Compassionate Love)

This type of love is not as same as having compassion for others, they are entirely two totally different things. Compassionate love on this angle is characterized by two components In Sternberg's triangular of love; intimacy and commitment.

And, just like romantic love type, compassionate love often leads to marriage as well. However, over time, the passion may go out of the relationship, while a strong commitment and deep affection stay in play in that relationship. Compassionate love is very similar to friendship but stronger due to the fact that it involves strong and healthy commitments to one another.

(Fatuous Love)

Fatuous love is the combination of commitment and passion but without intimacy. This type of relationship usually do not last for long and always leads to bitterness and a very nasty divorce or separation where one partner will go above and beyond trying to hurt and make the other partner's life a living hell.

This type of relationship is very unhealthy and can easily lead to passionate crimes (Sternberg, R. J., 1986-1988).

(Consummate Love)

When observing Robert Sternberg’s triangular of love, consummate love sits at the very center of it. This is what true love feels like, but unfortunately, only a few of us will experience that type of love.

According to Sternberg, in this type of relationship or love category, all three components of love which are; intimacy, passion, and commitment are in play. According to Sternberg, couples who find themselves in that category continue to enjoy each other's company and cannot imagine being separated from one another even in their golden years. This type of relationship is known as the strongest, the healthiest, and the long-lasting one of all relationship types (Argosy University, 2015 and Sternberg, R. J., 1986-1988).

Sternberg Theory of love versus Social Expectations of gender or norms in dating:

When comparing the triangular of love with the normal practice of dating in society, it is clear that social expectations or societal norms represent serious barriers for women to openly express their true feeling toward a guy, by fear of being label negatively. Many women if not all women are aware of the old saying “let the guy make the first move.” Many societies expect men to initiate dating, not women. As a result, regardless of how strong that woman’s feeling might be for that special guy, she may keep it inside in order not to be labeled negatively by society.

According to social norms, a man is expected to control the dating process from the beginning all the way to starting a new relationship with that woman in question. He is expected to buy flowers, to ask the lady out, to decide if and when he should get engaged with that woman. While the only expectation from the woman is to wait until the guy decides to whatever he is expected to do according to societal norms. It's like societal factors put women in a situation where they cannot really express their true passion, feeling of intimacy and commitment until the guy decides first and that's not a good thing at all (Frustration buildups).

Intimacy, passion, and commitment have nothing to do with gender and should not be controlled by any social norm or expectation. We live in an electronic era where technology controls everything, including dating. People go online to find their mates, etc. Sometimes, it gives the impression of how true or sincere that love can be, when assessed it on the triangular of love constructed by Sternberg.

This, in my opinion, explain the reason why most of these type of relationships do not last long, due to the fact that they have not been built on a strong foundation that involves intimacy, passion, and strong and healthy commitment.

In fact, in many societies around the world, parents are often the ones who decide who their sons or daughters should marry, without taking into account their son's or daughter's feeling. Such relationships can be categorized as explained previously as "Empty Love" where there is no passion or intimacy. The only thing that exists in such relationships is commitment. As a result, the relationship will eventually fail. It should not be a parent’s role to decide or dictate their sons or daughters who they should marry, they can give advice but this matter remains a personal one that should only be decided by both individuals who consider building a life together.

According to Sternberg theory of love, both men and women have both the same ability to develop intimacy, passion, and commitment. This means; both men and women should be able to initiate dating, taking his/her partner out, etc. without being judged by society on a negative angle.

And when it comes to parents, they should not force anyone to be with anyone, they're welcome to give advice, but in order for true intimacy and passion to take place in the relationship that may lead to strong and healthy commitments between both partners as explained by Robert Sternberg's theory, they should not be forced to marry anyone, just let them decide for themselves.

A relationship where intimacy, passion, and commitment are all in play (Consummate Love) can never grow old and one can never get enough of the other because of the continuous chemistry between them. Life with him/her means everything to you, while life without him/her, will never make sense to you no matter how hard you may try to ignore it.


Argosy University (2015). Relationships. Gender: Psychological Perspectives, 5th Edition. Data Retrieved on 04/21/2015, from:

Ira Israel (2013). Dating, Mating & Gender Roles in the Loneliest City on Planet Earth. Data Retrieved on 04/21/2015, from:

Sternberg, R. J. (1986) A triangular theory of love. Retrieved on 04/21/2015, from: Psychological Review, 93, 119-135.

Sternberg, R. J. (1988) The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment, retrieved on 04/21/2015, from: Basic Books (ISBN 0465087469)

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