It isn’t easy to define any type of love, and even psychologists don’t necessarily agree. One psychologist may describe love as a force of nature that cannot be controlled. Another psychologist describes love as a process of developing secure attachments. Still another defines love as the active expression of a person’s outlook and abilities, which engages a person’s concern for others. No matter how you define it, love exists in different forms based on who we love. The differences that occur in relationship, family and friendship love might best be explained by triangulation theory, as defined by psychologist Robert J. Sternberg. Triangulation theory states that all types and stages of love are explained by three possible elements in different combination -- intimacy, passion and commitment.
Key Differences in the Types of Love
We experience family love first -- ideally, we experience this in the security of knowing that our mother is willing to meet our needs. This love is a combination of intimacy and commitment. Intimacy is a feeling of warmth and desire to be with and share experiences with another. Commitment is the decision to love and maintain that love. Friendship love is also either a combination of intimacy and commitment or intimacy alone, depending on how close the friendship is. Relationship, or romantic love, is different from the other two because of passion. Passion is the physical attraction that a couple has for each other. Ideally, relationship love is a balance of all three. The more balanced the relationship is, then the more satisfying it will be and the more likely it will survive.
- Psychology Today: What Is Love?; Deborah Anapol, Ph.D.
- State University of New York-Stony Brook: Attachment Security in Infancy and Early Adulthood-A 20-Year Longitudinal Study; Everett Waters et al
- Fools for Love: The Romantic Ideal, Psychological Theory and Addictive Love; Stanton Peele
- University of Michigan: Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love
- The Altruism Reader: Triangulating Love; Robert J. Sternberg
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