Robert J. Sternberg is a cognitive psychologist who has written theories on intelligence, wisdom, creativity, thinking styles, love and hate. Sternberg's Theory of Love can best be described using a triangle. Each point represents one of the three components of love: intimacy, passion and decision/commitment. The theory holds that a relationship must center around two or more of these components to survive and be successful.

Thought Behind the Theory

It has been argued that Sternberg's theory is based on a neoclassic model of the human psyche with three main components: cognition, affect and conation. In Sternberg's theory, commitment aligns with cognition, passion aligns with conation and intimacy aligns with affect. Sternberg argues that each component will change and morph over time as the people and relationships grow and develop. The three components can be combined to form eight kinds of love: nonlove, liking, infatuation, empty love, romantic love, companionate love, fatuous love and consumate love.

Intimacy Component

Sternberg describes intimacy as "feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships." This is best typified as the "warmth" felt by one or both parties in a loving relationship. Intimacy is best demonstrated by concern for the others welfare, sharing belongings and high regard for one another. Intimacy is dependent on how invested a person is in the relationship, specifically emotionally, according to Sternberg. Intimacy grows and develops over time.

Passion Component

Sternberg describes passion as "the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, sexual consummation, and related phenomena." In this context, passion is based primarily on sexual attraction. Passion is usually at its highest at the beginning of the relationship and stabilizes over time. Passion is affected by each partner's self-esteem and opinions and roles of dominance and submission. This can also fluctuate according to culture and ethnicity.

Commitment Component

Sternberg describes commitment as "the decision that one loves someone else and ... the commitment to maintain that love." Unlike passion, commitment is also gradual and levels off after a period of time. This component entails a present and future aspect. A couple must choose to love one another in the present and make the decision to commit to that person long term.