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Theory of Love

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought my blogs could have a more focused topic for a while, love! We can all relate to the topic of love, we all feel love. We love our pets, families, partners, blankets, coffee, food… I’m not talking about our love of inanimate objects…this time. I’m talking about gooey love between two people. First of all, I want to share my favorite quote by Harry Harlow:

“Our assigned mission as psychologists is to analyze all facets of human and animal behavior into their component variables. So far as love or affection is concerned, psychologists have failed in their mission. The little we know about love does not transcend simple observation and the little we write about it has been written better by poets and novelists.”

No one can pinpoint what love is, why we love who we love, what makes love work, etc. Psychologists have developed theories about types of love. My favorite is Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. I made a cool diagram just for you:

Made by me in Excel

The corners of the triangle are different facets of love. Many people consider intimacy to be sexual. Intimacy is actually talking, sharing things about yourself, and being close with another person. Intimacy by itself is friendship. Passion is where sex comes in. Passion involves physical attraction and sex. Passion by itself is infatuation (or a one night stand). Commitment involves a decision to be together, either for the time being (a short term relationship), or for an extended period of time (til death do us part).

The sides of the triangle make up the types of love you get when you combine the corners of the triangle. We can make it into a math-like equation:

  • Intimacy + Passion = Romantic Love (Ohhhh you’re so sexy, ohhh you’re so smart, ohhh I’m so in love with you after a day and a half…)
  • Passion + Commitment = Fatuous Love (A decision to be together, based solely on attraction… this doesn’t end well, in my experience.)
  • Intimacy + Commitment = Companionate Love (I honestly see this type of love as a best-friend love rather than a relationship type of love.)
  • Passion + Commitment + Intimacy = Consummate Love… the whole package. This is the picture perfect relationship; a decision to be together and stay together, attraction/sex, and talking/knowing one another.

In marriage, commitment is a facet of the relationship that can buy time while rough patches with intimacy and passion are worked out.

Obviously making love into a math-like equation isn’t romantic. It’s a way of studying love and relationships. We can see what works and what doesn’t work so well in a long term relationship; we can know what we are looking for. When it comes to who we love and why we love them, I guess it’s up to us.


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