7 Types of Love and Sternberg’s Theory of Love

Types of Love
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Love is vital to our well-being. When asked to define love, people would have different responses based on how they experienced it in their lives.

Few researchers have proposed a functional theory on the concept of love. In the late 1980s, psychologist Dr Robert Sternberg developed a triangular theory of love to explain the concept.

This theory proposes that the degree of intimacy, passion and commitment experienced by people varies at any one moment in time.

Components/elements of Love

According to Dr Sternberg’s theory, the concept of love is portrayed as a love triangle that comprises three components or elements.

  • Intimacy: This involves the feelings of bondedness, connectedness and closeness.
  • Passion: which comprises of desires and feelings that lead to physical attraction, romance and sexual consummation.
  • Commitment/decision: this involves feelings that pushes someone to remain with a person and proceed towards achieving shared goals.

Finding a balance between the need for love and the psychological need for sexual satisfaction is essential, and the complete non-existence of all three components is termed non-love.

Types of Love

The three elements of love interact in a systemic method, one functioning with the help of the other. The presence of one component or a mixture of two or more elements produces seven types of love experiences. These seven types of love could change throughout the relationship.


Friendship love can be the foundation of other types of love. This love when the liking or intimacy component is present, but feelings of commitment or passion in the romantic sense are absent.


Infatuation love is marked by the feeling of physical passion and lust without liking and commitment. There has not been ample time for the development of intimacy, romantic love or consummate love.

The other kinds of love may eventually develop once the infatuation phase fades out. The initial infatuation is often so intense that the persons involved can “carry a touch” for each other, not entirely certain if they possess what it takes to sustain a more profound and lasting love.

Empty love

This type of love is marked by commitment with the absence of passion or intimacy. Often, an intense love disintegrates into empty love.

Other times, the reverse may occur. For example, an arranged marriage may begin as an empty love but later blossom into other forms of love over time.

Romantic Love

Romantic love emotionally bonds people through physically passion and intimacy. The couple involved in the kind of relationship initiates deep conversations that enable them to know intimate details about one another.

They enjoy sexual affection and passion. These partners may be at a point in the relationship where plans and long term commitments are still undecided.

Companionate love

This type of love combines the intimacy and commitment component with the absence of the passion component. It is more powerful than friendship love as it involves long term commitment.

There is little or no sexual attraction and desires. This is often seen in marriages where the passion has died, but the couple continues to feel deep affection and bond for each other. This may also be likened to the love shared by family members or very close friends.

Fatuous love

This love comprises of the passion component and the decision or commitment component of the triangle. This type of love is typical to a whirlwind courtship and marriage in which passion drives the couple into committing.

Without the stabilising effect of intimacy in the relationship. Witnessing this often leaves other people confused about how the couple could be so impulsive. Unfortunately, such relationships and marriages don’t last long, and when they do most people just blame it on luck.

Consummate love

This type of love combines all three elements of the love triangle and is the highest form of love. Partners who share this type of love have great sex for some years into the relationship.

This love is so powerful that couples who experience it can’t imagine themselves finding happiness without their partners, they also can’t imagine themselves with someone else.

They manage to put aside differences and overcome life stressors together. However, according to Dr Sternberg, consummate love may be difficult to maintain than it is to attain as all the component of the love triangle must function together.

In the absence of behaviour and expression, passion is lost, and love may later deteriorate to the companionate type.

Your love is unique

Dr Sternberg’s theory is based on the fact that the significance of each element may differ from one partner to the other and from one couple to another.

Surely, all three elements must come into play for the ideal romantic relationship, but the volume of each component needed may differ from one relationship to another, or even over time within one particular relationship.

Understanding how these elements interact with one another may help in pinpointing areas that need improvement.

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