The Love Multiverse

Love has been notoriously hard to define, though many have tried, from poets to psychologists.  According to psychologist Dr. Robert Sternberg who runs the human development lab at Cornell University, his team’s extensive research narrowed down three key elements in a love relationship: Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment.

His ‘triangular theory of love’ states that the concept of love is a triangle that is made up of these three essential components that may shift over time in how they present themselves within a relationship.

  • Intimacy involves feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness. Intimacy includes trust, reciprocity, and effective communication.
  • Passion involves feelings and desires that lead to physical attraction, romance, and sexual intimacy. According to Dr. Sternberg, how excited a person gets in thinking about or being with their partner is a great indicator of the passion component of love.
  • Commitment involves feelings that lead a person to remain with someone and move toward shared goals. There is a decision component to this; partners volitionally decide to remain together.

All relationships have their own version and levels of the three components. Dr. Sternberg referred to a balance of all three within a relationship as Consummate Love.  He also found that consummate love was not an endgame, but a process that required ongoing effort and insight by both partners.

Sternberg‘s research led to his interest in universal love stories. These are predominant ideas we have internalized about love and what we think a relationship should be (among others, he discusses the fairytale prince and princess story, the successful business couple story, and the adventure/travel story, as three possible types of relationship stories that we carry within us, that unconsciously define how we see love). These stories naturally affect how our relationships play out.

A recent psychology study (published in the Journal of Sex Research, August 2020) studied 7300 participants across 25 countries, and found that the triangular theory of love holds true across the love multiverse. Seen through different cultural lenses and traditions, intimacy, passion, and commitment seem to be pillars of this thing called love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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