We argue that “love,” as a word, is used to point to special relationship experiences between people and not a real “thing” that can be owned or possessed like a car or pair of shoes. Today we recognize that there are three elements of love you could not live without in a healthy relationship.
So, can you have love, is it for you? Sure! Love, we say, is an experience within the reach of sentient beings – and that includes you!
Thus, love seems to be everywhere. For sure, there is the love that parents have for a child, then there is the love people have for friends and even mankind, then there is love that people have for their dog or cat, or car or boat, etc. People love their foods and drinks, their church, the outdoors, their jobs and their money, etc. Does love make the world go ’round? I am almost confused…
Well, let’s narrow our understanding of love down to the context of a dating relationship between two people.
Unpacking Love, we find three Elements of Love
How can we come to terms with the expression of love? What should we reasonably find when we unpack the expression of love to understand its meaning?
To mind comes a pretty good explanation of love by the psychologist Robert Steinberg, an explanation that is difficult to improve on. In his books, Steinberg speaks of three elements of love:
Steinberg’s conception has come to be known as the Triangular Theory of Love. The books are a bit on the academic site, and have perhaps limited appeal to the frivolous. But please, read this brief intro for now.
However, we find that this explanation provides a fascinating and useful framework for two singles discussing their burgeoning relationship during modern courtship and beyond.
What are intimacy, passion and commitment and how are these elements of love related to each other. How do these components operate in people’s lives over time? Well, let’s start by looking at some definitions for intimacy, passion and decision/commitment.
Passion, as the first element of love, is a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion, a compelling enthusiasm or desire for something. Passion encompasses drives connected to both infatuated love and sexual attraction.
Intimacy generally refers to the feeling of being in a close personal relationship and belonging together. It is a familiar and very close affective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. Intimacy encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, connectedness, and bondedness.
Commitment, as the last element of love, often involves a promise to do or give something, a promise to be loyal to someone or something, and the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something. Commitment encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, plans made with that other.
Keep Love in Balance
Sternberg explains that the amount of love one experiences depends on the absolute strength of these three components, and the kind of love one experiences depends on their strengths relative to each other. Interesting, is it not!?
In sum, the three elements are all important parts of loving relationships. Their importance may differ from one relationship to another, and their importance may differ over time within a relationship as well.
We will examine these three elements of love and their interactions with each other and over time in subsequent posts. So, come back frequently and check this blog for updates.
We are so excited that there are ways to understand love between two people and that there are ways to prepare for lasting love relationships between two people. Yes, love is for you!
- Sternberg, R. J. (1988) The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment,
Basic Books (ISBN 0465087469)
- Adapted from Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.