A Different Kind of Love Triangle

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January 28, 2019
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March 1, 2019

How often to do you think about your relationship? What do you think is important in a relationship? What makes a relationship good? People often list things like trust, communication, or intimacy, and there are countless theories of love that try to get at the secret ingredients of a good relationship. One popular theory is Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love:


The three points of the triangle represent the three basic styles of love. Combining two points of the triangle create three different possible kinds of relationships. A couple that has intimacy, passion, and commitment would be described as having consummate love, which is often thought of as the ideal relationship or the goal that all relationships should be working towards. There is nothing inherently better or worse about any of the styles, however. Each comes down to personal preference and what you want out of a relationship.

Relationships may move in and out of different areas of the triangle at different times. For example, a relationship may start off as very romantic, full of passion and intimacy, then move into consummate love after they have spent more time together and become more dedicated to the relationship. After a few years, maybe passion decreases and they move more into companionate love. It’s normal for a relationship to change over time, and they are sometimes not clearly categorized. What may cause conflict in a relationship is if partners strongly differ in their views about where the relationship is and where they want it to be or their expectations.

If a couple has a strong sense of intimacy, but one partner highly values passion and the other commitment, they may have disagreements about how often they have sex, how emotions are expressed in the relationship, or how they show they are loyal to the relationship. If a couple is solidly in the fatuous love stage, with passion and commitment, and one partner is happy in that stage but the other wants to work towards consummate love, they may then have disagreements about a lack of intimacy. If a person has expectations about what stage their relationship should be in or will be in after a certain amount of time, they may experience anything from frustration to a feeling of failure if the relationship does not progress in the way they expect. Especially in long-term relationships where the couple moves to a different stage due to a life circumstance—such as losing passion after having a baby and moving into the companionate stage—frustration may occur if the relationship stays in a stage too long and begin to feel stagnant to one or both partners, which may cause tension or arguments.

It's important to be able to be aware of how your relationship works so you can figure out what’s going on when something doesn’t feel right. Knowing what you value in a relationship is extremely important in helping determine what state you are in and what to be in. If you feel like you are your partner are at different stages and are unsure how to navigate moving forward, contact Clarity Clinic and ask about couple’s therapy to talk with someone who can help you decide on a path that works for your relationship.

Sierra Stein Marriage and Family Therapy Intern Clarity Clinic


Go to http://www.kordoutis.gr/STLS.pdf to complete a questionnaire to determine you and your partner’s current location on the triangle.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Construct validation of a triangular love scale. European Journal of Social Psychology27(3), 313–335. https://doi-org.pnw.idm.oclc.org/10.1002/(SICI)1099-0992(199705)27:3<313::AID-EJSP824>3.0.CO;2-4

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