Tuesday, April 9, 2019

LOVE TRIANGLE: Passion, Intimacy, Commitment

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD
9 April 2019

"What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of...." Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross helped make famous this 1965 song by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. True enough, we need more love, but what goes into making a successful romantic relationship?

In her excellent textbook, Psychology, Rose M. Spielman (2017) cites the work of Robert Sternberg (1986), who identified three key elements to romantic attraction:

Passion - intense physical attraction
Intimacy - sharing of very personal matters
Commitment – promise to maintain support

The highest form of love combines all three,

Consummate love = passion + intimacy + commitment.

Those who share consummate love are indeed fortunate.

Other forms have only two of these elements,

Romantic love = passion + intimacy, without commitment
Companionate love = intimacy + commitment, without passion
Fatuous love = passion + commitment, without intimacy

Whether such loves can long endure, considering their missing elements, is open to question, but companionate love often seems to.

Finally, three forms of “love” are even more limited:

Infatuation = passion
Liking = intimacy
Empty love = commitment

As we age, different forms of love prevail, and we try to make the best of our situation.


Spielman, R. M. (2017) Psychology, OpenStax, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005.

Sternberg, R. J. (1986) “A triangular theory of love.” Psychological Review, 93, 119-135.

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