The three components, pictorially labeled on the vertices of a triangle, interact with each other and with the actions they produce so as to form seven different kinds of love experiences (nonlove is not represented). The size of the triangle functions to represent the “amount” of love—the bigger the triangle, the greater the love. Each corner has its own type of love and provides different combinations to create different types of love and labels for them. The shape of the triangle functions to represent the “style” of love, which may vary over the course of the relationship:
- Non love The absence of any of the three types of love. No connection. Indifferent to relationship.
- Liking/friendship This type of love is intimacy without passion or commitment. This includes friendships and acquaintances.
- Infatuated love: Infatuated love is passion without intimacy or commitment. This is considered “puppy love” or relationships that have not become serious yet. Romantic relationships often start out as infatuated love and become romantic love as intimacy develops over time. Without developing intimacy or commitment, infatuated love may disappear suddenly.
- Empty love is characterized by commitment without intimacy or passion. A stronger love may deteriorate into empty love. In an arranged marriage, the spouses’ relationship may begin as empty love and develop into another form, indicating “how empty love need not be the terminal state of a long-term relationship…[but] the beginning rather than the end”.
- Romantic love This love is passionate and intimate but has no commitment. This could be considered a romantic affair or could be a one-night stand.
- Companionate love is an intimate, non-passionate type of love that is stronger than friendship because of the element of long-term commitment. “This type of love is observed in long-term marriages where passion is no longer present” but where a deep affection and commitment remain. The love ideally shared between family members is a form of companionate love, as is the love between close friends who have a platonic but strong friendship.
- Fatuous love can be exemplified by a whirlwind courtship and marriage—it has points of passion and commitment but no intimacy. An example of this is “love at first sight”.
- Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing an ideal relationship which people strive towards. Of the seven varieties of love, consummate love is theorized to be that love associated with the “perfect couple”. According to Sternberg, these couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they cannot imagine themselves happier over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their few difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other. However, Sternberg cautions that maintaining a consummate love may be even harder than achieving it. He stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. “Without expression,” he warns, “even the greatest of loves can die.” Thus, consummate love may not be permanent. If passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love. Consummate love is the most satisfying kind of adult relation because it combines all pieces of the triangle into this one type of love. It is the ideal kind of relationship. These kinds of relationships can be found over long periods of time or idealistic relationships found in movies.
Sternberg’s triangular theory of love provides a strong foundation for his later theory of love, entitled Love as a Story. In this theory, he explains that the large numbers of unique and different love stories convey different ways of how love is understood. He believes, over time, this exposure helps a person determine what love is or what it should be to them. These two theories create Sternberg’s duplex theory of love.
“Personal relationships that have the greatest longevity and satisfaction are those in which partners are constantly working on sustaining intimacy and reinforcing commitment to each other.”