A Triangle of Love
I invite you to participate in a love triangle…Oh wait. That sounds bad. Step back. Take a breath. It’s not what it sounds like. I’m talking about Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Love. Let me rephrase. I invite you to experience all three components of Sternberg’s theory of love with your spouse…and only your spouse! (That sound’s better. Sorry about that.) Sternberg believed love consisted of three components:
- Intimacy, which includes our feelings of closeness and connectedness.
- Passion, which describes our sexual attraction and physical desires as well as those romantic moments of holding hands and “googly eyed” staring, and
- Commitment, which involves our decision to remain in our relationship and invest in its growth.
You can imagine various types of relationship based on the three components of this model. Best friends have intimacy (feelings of connection) and commitment, but no romantic passion. Many affairs have passion and intimacy, but no commitment. On the Bachelor or Bachelorette, we watch passion grow and provide a false sense of intimacy that will likely fade over the next year as real life struggles bursts through the door of unscripted life.
I have talked with people who say they “love” their spouse but are not “in love” with them. I think they have felt intimacy and passion in the past but have allowed them both (intimacy and passion) to wane over the years. Unfortunately, they want to base their commitment on their sense of passion and intimacy; so, in the midst of drifting intimacy and passion, they forfeit commitment. Unfortunately, this is backwards (can a triangle be backwards?). Let me explain.
Passion and intimacy naturally ebbs and flows in a long-term relationship. An active commitment, on the other hand, lays a secure foundation that maintains and increases passion and intimacy. Ironically, a couple’s long term commitment leads to daily investments in one another and their relationship. The daily investments of a long term commitment lead to an overall growth curve in intimacy and passion over time. Let me share some examples:
- Couples committed to their relationship invest in learning about their partners on a daily basis, increasing a sense of intimacy.
- Couples committed to their relationship invest in putting what they learn about their partners into action. They learn what pleases their partner and then commit to doing those things on a regular basis, increasing intimacy and passion.
- Couples committed to their relationship learn what their partner finds romantic and sexually satisfying; and they act on that knowledge, increasing a sense of passion.
- Couples committed to their relationship invest in a long term view of their relationship. They share hopes and dreams of future times together. They actively plan and prepare for that future together. This increases commitment, intimacy, and passion in a relationship.
- Couples committed to their relationship respond to one another on a daily basis. They invest in their friendship with one another. They intentionally have fun together. They comfort one another and rejoice with one another. All on a daily basis, building intimacy and passion.
You can see how a couple’s daily commitment maintains and improves intimacy and passion. Interestingly, as intimacy and passion grow, commitment increases as well. After all, it’s easier to be committed to someone with whom you share growing intimacy and passion. Thus, the love triangle of commitment, intimacy, and passion forms an upward cycle of more commitment, intimacy, and passion. I invite you to share all three components of this love triangle with your spouse. No, I urge you to intentionally and actively invest in all three components of love in your marriage and soar on the wings of the upward cycle of the love triangle into new heights of love.