How do we develop our relationships into meaningful, committed, long lasting ones? There are many books written on the subject of saving a relationship or learning to develop a lasting one but how much do we understand about the process in which one develops? Or how our own attributes may sabotage our ability to maintain one? One popular theory on how love develops is the triangular love theory.
Sternberger’s Triangular Theory of Love is based upon the concept of different ways that love relationships can develop. In this model the triangle represents four different types of love. Each of these types of love is developed from three factors which are represented on each point of the scale of the triangle. At the top point of the triangle the first of these factors is intimacy, at the bottom left point of the triangle is passion and the bottom right represents commitment.
The basic concept is that between each of these points there will exist a different type of love. If the relationship only exists off of passion it is an infatuated love, intimacy alone a mere liking, or commitment alone is representative of an empty love. However, when passion, intimacy, and commitment are combined in different ways they result in yet other types of love. For instance, if a relationship is based off of passion and intimacy it results in a romantic love. If the relationship, however, lacks intimacy and say only has commitment is a fatuous love. When the relationship has only intimacy and commitment it is a compassionate love. This type of love would be representative of most close friendships. In the center of the triangle there exists a type of love that combines passion, intimacy and commitment, this love is known as consummate love.
The idea behind attaining a consummate love is that as a relationship starts out passionately, it will then taper off and develop into a relationship that contains more sharing of each others lives, and more caring towards one another. From this intimacy, closeness is introduced into the relationship as well. As this is happening, a previous short-term commitment for the relationship will slowly develop into a long-term relationship. Commitment shows that each individual’s self includes more and more of their partner as well. This will develop into a change from ‘I’ to ‘we’ or ‘us’. Once all of these elements are introduced, and maintained in the relationship it could be considered a consummate love. This consummate love is based off of a healthy love romantic relationship, and also from the basis of a stable and secure development of a relationship.
There is another factor to consider in how a relationship will develop known as attachment types. When it comes to developing attachments there are secure, avoidant, and anxious attachment types. As a child, depending on the parents’ type of support given to a child, they will have developed either a secure, avoidant, or anxious attachment type. Part of what helps determine the attachment type a child may develop is whether or not a child has a proper amount of dedication, concern, and intimacy from their parent. It seems that the most important of these is intimacy, in the fact that there must be a degree of closeness between the parent and child. This includes physical closeness, as well as feelings like security and trust. Out of this closeness from intimacy comes concern in which the proper amount of care and security are provided for the child to feel safe. Then the dedication that develops, will over time, give a child a sense of safety, security, and support.
A secure attachment type individual is able to be comfortable and close to others, does not feel as if they are unable trust others, is able to develop close relationships with others, and does not fear abandonment. As the name of the attachment type may indicate, the individual feels secure around others and is able to develop healthy relationships more often. It would seem that an adult with a secure attachment type of development would find it much easier to develop a healthy love relationship. This person would have the necessary tools to be able to foster intimacy, close bonds, trust, physical closeness, and commitment with another person.
A person who has developed an avoidant attachment type will not feel comfortable opening up to other people, letting them too close to them, and they may feel trust issues. These types of individuals often experience parents who were cold, withdrawn, or too wrapped up in their own lives to be there for their child. They also may have felt unwanted by their parent. People with avoidant attachment may also experience more emotional ups and downs and is reported to be more likely to have loveless sexual experiences. It would seem that an adult with an avoidant attachment type would have a great degree of difficulty maintaining and sustaining a healthy relationship. They would have trouble developing the required amount of intimacy in a relationship that would create trust and caring between two people. They may be distant and distrustful of the other person. They would also lack the desire to establish a truly committed relationship due to the lack of trust they feel that they may place in the other person. This type of person may also feel uncomfortable establishing intimacy with other people such as friends due to a lack of trust. A person with an avoidant attachment type would be most likely to develop infatuated love, marked by short-term intimacy and commitment which fizzle out quickly.
A person who has developed an anxious attachment type will have trouble getting close enough to people and may suffer from fear of abandonment. These types of individuals often experienced parenting that was unpredictable and unreliable. For these types of adult’s love is somewhat of an obsession. They seem to need constant reassurance as well as more reciprocation in a relationship. These individuals may also experience more jealousy and more feelings of possessiveness, may break up repetitively, and may drive others away due to their constant need for affection and love. This adult is overly preoccupied with being loved, and feels the need for constant reassurance and proof from their partner that they are in fact loved. This adult suffers constantly from the fear of being abandoned by their partner because they do not feel that they are worthy of their love to begin with. They’re less accepting, intolerant about their partner’s differences and may feel threatened by them in terms of the relationships security. This person may come off as an overwhelming individual due to the amount of intimacy that they provide and expect back from their partners. Because they are excessively needy and the fulfillment of their needs occupies their motives they are often unable to feel satisfied with the level of intimacy and compassion in the relationship.
There is a noticeable connection between the type of attachment that is developed between a child and parent, and the feelings that they developed about themselves. The affects of the attachment carries over into the type of attachments that they will develop as adults. Depending on the type of attachment that they developed it will either enable them to establish a healthy, secure, and committed relationship or it may prevent them from establishing one. Adults who have developed an avoidant or anxious attachment type will need to develop the skills that are needed to establish long-lasting healthy relationships such as the ones adults with a secure attachment type are capable of. These attachment types are not permanent, and can be changed.
If one decides to work on their attachment type they have several options. Whichever type of therapy or method one chooses to engage in to confront adult attachment behaviors is a personal choice. If one would like to read more on the subject they may want to read Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love as well as the numerous books available on the subject of attachment types.
R. R. (2004). Pursuing Human Strengths: A Positive Psychology Guide. Worth Publishers.Attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Attachment & Human Development, 6, June 2004, pp.113-207
Sternberg, Robert J. (1988). The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment. New York: Basic Books.