Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love Term Paper

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Sternberg Triangular Theory

Although the divorce rate is staying the same and not continually increasing as in past years, the numbers remain upsetting. The divorce rate in the United States had generally been going up throughout the 20th century until reaching a high in the late 1970s. It has slowly decreased since then. Now there are about 20 divorces for every 1,000 women over age 15. This number is down from the 23 divorces per 1,000 women in 1978, but it is still much greater than the 5 per 1,000 during the 1950s. The number of single mothers who are not getting married is rising as well.

Concerned about the country's high divorce rate, clergy, educators, social scientists, politicians, and others are looking for ways to decrease the number of divorces. This is difficult, because love is a very complicated emotion. No two people define love in exactly the same way. How a wife sees love is most likely different from how her husband sees love. This is because a person's idea of love comes from many factors such as upbringing, culture, religion, gender and all life's experiences. Since husbands and wives have had different life experiences, they will probably see love differently as well. Sometimes, the differences can be very great. This can become a problem if the partners do not understand each other's views.

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Psychologist Robert Sternberg started studying aspects of love, since he realized that "much as psychologists have attempted to explain the mysteries of love through scientific laws and theories, it turns out that the best mirrors of the romantic experience may be Wuthering" (2000).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love Assignment

He began his research by asking such questions as: Why do some couples live happily ever after, while others have more problems than Romeo and Juliet? Why do people often seem to make the same romantic mistakes over and over, following the same experiences with different people in different places, as if they had no choice? The fact that there is a much greater chance for people to get divorced in their second marriage than their first shows how this is true: About 60% of second marriages end in divorce.

In his article, "A Triangular theory of Love" published in 1986, Sternberg proposes that love can be thought to consist of three primary components or a "love triangle" with the three components of passion, intimacy and commitment forming the vertices (119). 1) Passion: the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, sexual consummation, and related phenomena; 2) Intimacy: the feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships; and 3) Commitment: the decision that one loves someone else and... The commitment to maintain that love.

Passion is the motivational aspect of Sternberg's love theory. It is the power of receiving or being affected by outside influences. In the case of love, it leads to the physiological desire to be united with a loved one. Once the word meant suffering or agony, like a martyr. When passion wanes, as it normally does, both may feel that original meaning. Sternberg believes that passion is quick to develop and quick to level off. When passion ends, or one party to the relationship discards the other, the mental pain begins. Withdrawal symptoms such as depression are common. It is like an addiction.

Intimacy is the emotional component in Sternberg's love triangle that involves the ability to confide each other fears, hopes and dreams. It involves trust. Sternberg's research found that women are better at achieving intimacy and value it more than men, so if women do not get the intimacy they crave in a relationship with a man they establish close friendships with other women. They can say things to another woman they cnnott say to a man. Part of this, perhaps, comes from the societal perceptions of the role men and women play in the United States. Acceptance for one partner as an equal to the other may impact on this finding over time. Surely, strong interpersonal communication plays an important role in intimacy. A marriage without intimacy even though commitment and passion are still present, is likely to be unsuccessful.

Commitment is the cognitive component, which consists of knowing and perception. It can keep a marriage together way after passion is gone and intimacy is no longer possible. But commitment without one or both of the other elements leads to an empty marriage. Many older persons today despair over the younger generation's eeming unwillingness to make commitments. Perhaps younger people, seeing what has happened with earlier generations, realize that people and relationships change and that making a commitment should go far beyond what matters to them in the short run.

This research by Sternberg suggests what will and will not be important in the long run. Examples: a) as a relationship develops, the willingness to change in response to each other, and the willingness to tolerate each other's imperfections become important. When two people are young and "in love," even visible flaws are submerged while many others may simply be overlooked or unknown. Tolerance, or lack thereof, emerges as a key factor. b) Sharing of values, especially religious values, is important. Mixed religious marriages and intercultural marriages can cause trouble when there are children. "Love overcomes all," a sentiment that is frequently said by young couples, is tested when difficult decisions about children have to be made. Suddenly, something not considered has become important and stressful to both parties. In such situations, the need for effective communication can be critical.

These three components of passion, intimacy and commitment may be combined to characterize eight kinds of love:

Nonlove: No passion, intimacy or commitment

Liking: Intimacy without passion and commitment

Infatuation: Passion without intimacy and commitment

Empty love: Commitment without passion or intimacy

Romantic love: Passion and intimacy without commitment

Companionate love: Intimacy and commitment without passion

Fatuous love: Passion and commitment without intimacy

Consummate love: Passion, intimacy and commitment (120).

The relative emphasis of each component changes over time as an adult romantic relationship develops. For example, explains Sternberg, arousal from passionate love normally occurs at the beginning of relationships. It then peaks relatively quickly and decreases to a stable level as the couple becomes more familiar with one another. If the relationship ends, an individual is not capable of feeling passion for a period of time as he/she overcomes feelings of loss. Likewise, intimacy seems to peak slower than passion and then gradually decreases to a relatively low level of intimacy as interpersonal bonding increases. Changes in the situation, however, seem to activate latent intimacy, which can cause the intimacy levels to return or exceed its earlier peak. Another example is where in successful relationships, the level of commitment first rises at a relatively slow pace, then speeds up and gradually levels off. In failing relationships, the level of commitment usually decreases gradually and decreases back to where it started.

Breaking love down to its component parts is helpful, I think, because it's a way for people to see that especially when it comes to ideal love, there are a number of factors that must be sustained. Ideal love isn't impossible to maintain, but it takes work," Dr. Meston, another intimacy researcher said of Sternberg's work in the Pfizer Journal.

Sternberg is not alone in his theories to explain how love works or does not work. A number of other researchers have their own approaches, some quite close to Sternberg's. Keith Davis and his associates have compared and contrasted love and friendship, using a refined rating scale first developed by Kelling in 1979. They designed a model of multiple relationship characteristics to represent love and friendship. Davis and Todd (1982, 1985) grouped items into seven identifiable clusters, or the Relationship Rating Form. Davis and Latty-Mann (1987) altered these to six factors: Viability (trust, respect, acceptance-tolerance), Intimacy (understanding, confiding), Passion (fascination, exclusiveness, sexual intimacy), Care (aiding, supporting), Satisfaction (happiness, feelings of success, reciprocity), and Conflict (conflict-ambivalence).

Hatfield (1987) conducted a lot of research in interpersonal attraction and suggested two kinds of love: passionate (intense, arousing) and companionate. More recently, she has focused on passionate love, using the Passionate Love Scale. She has looked to measure the degree of passionate love across age groups, from small children up, across cultures, and among both men and women. She sees love as consisting of cognitive, affective, and behavioral aspects with strong positives, such as arousal, intensity, intimacy, excitement), and negatives, such as emptiness, anxiety, self-doubt).

The links existing between attachment and love has been studied by Shaver and Hazan (1987), who separated three approaches to infant attachment: avoidant (detached, nonresponsive), anxious-ambivalent (anxious, uncertain), and secure (trusting, stable). They then developed three items to measure the three attachment styles in adult love relations. They found that (a) relative prevalence of the three attachment styles is roughly the same in adulthood as in infancy, (b) the three kinds of adults differ predictably in the way they experience romantic love, and - attachment style is related in theoretically… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love.  (2005, May 14).  Retrieved September 26, 2021, from

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