Understanding the relationship between romantic love versus long-term love can mean the difference between lifelong happiness and satisfaction or settling for much less. One way to explain these differences is through Robert J. Sternberg’s Triangulation Theory of Love. Different stages and types of love can best be explained as a combination of three elements -- intimacy, passion and commitment -- according to Sternberg. The presence and amount of each makes all the difference.

Romantic Love and Obsession

Sternberg’s Triangulation Theory describes romantic love as a combination of intimacy and passion. Intimacy is described as close, connected feelings in a relationship. It's the emotional bond that brings people together. Passion is the drive that leads to romance and physical attraction. Romantic lovers in new relationships are drawn to each other emotionally and physically. Romantic love, when new, often results in a preoccupying thoughts that makes it difficult to think about anything else. Stony Brook University researchers, Bianca P. Acevedo and Arthur Aron, found that such obsession results in greater satisfaction and happiness in the short-term.

Commitment and Security in Long-term Love

In addition to intimacy, long-term love requires commitment, which is composed of both the short-term decision to fall in love and a long-term determination to maintain that love. The success of long-term love also depends on how secure you are in the relationshipt, according to University of Denver researchers, Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver. Secure individuals describe their relationship as happy, friendly and trusting. Supported by their partners, secure people are able to give support in return. It takes up to two years for secure attachments to form.

Long-term Love and Companionate Relationships

While all long-term love involves intimacy and commitment, for some couples, passion does not last. Love with intimacy and commitment, but without passion, is called companionate love, according to Triangulation theory. Couples in companionate relationships maintain their relationships based on mutual interests and values and are committed to one another, but the physical attraction is no longer there. While it is commonly believed that over time romantic love fades, Acevedo and Aron argue that this is not always the case.

Consummate Long-term Love

Consummate love is described by Sternberg as having all three components of intimacy, passion and commitment. While admitting it is the love that most people strive for, Sternberg states that is not easily attained and even more difficult to maintain. Acevedo and Aron concluded from their study that long-term romantic love not only is possible and exists, but when it does, it appears to enhance people's lives by providing them with marital satisfaction, mental health and overall well-being.