The psychology world is a fascinating one with countless theories that help us understand human behavior. Many theories are incomplete and are continuously being improved based on changes that happen with each generation.
The human race is constantly evolving -- for better and for worse -- and although what we seem to know now may no longer be compatible in 100 years, we must do the best with what we have here and now.
Not every theory has been proven and not all satisfy our beliefs, but there are always those certain theories that spark interest or controversy. One of the theories I’m fascinated with is Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.
It’s quite interesting when you learn about it, and there’s a certain fairytale element about it that defines what a happily-ever-after looks like.
Many people have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which is also a triangle that looks much like a food pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom -- food, water, sleep -- and things that are important but less so than the ones at the bottom, such as creativity and spontaneity, at the top.
There are a total of five levels in this pyramid, and although all five levels are needed in sustaining a healthy functioning life, Maslow claims our most basic needs (bottom) must be fulfilled in order to move up the triangle.
The one thing both theories have in common is the fact that they are triangles, but these two theories really do not relate to one another at all.
Unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which focuses on all aspects of human life, Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love focuses solely on love and how each corner of the triangle plays a part in our relationships with our partners.
Each angle embodies one aspect of our relationships, which includes intimacy, passion and commitment. The intimacy corner is about the closeness and the bond we feel toward one another.
The passion corner is the physical attraction we feel toward the person, the sexual component of the triangle. And, finally, the commitment corner signifies our commitment to this person and commitment to the relationship.
A “perfect” relationship -- one we should aim for -- is one that includes all three angles, and that is what we call consummate love.
The term depicts the definition quite well because consummate love is one that is certain to consume us; it devours us and eats us whole and becomes the only thing we crave. It becomes the thing we breathe for and scarily, it becomes our lives, something we cannot live without.
As possessive as this may sound, this is the kind of intensity that should be felt with consummate love. Partners with consummate love don’t seem to get tired of each other and can go for years carrying the same penetrating love they had at the beginning of their relationship.
They are fully devoted to each other; their hearts beat with ease in the presence of one another.
If we choose to believe this theory, then when we are curious about the possibility of making someone our lifelong partner, we can ask ourselves how many of the corners he or she fulfills.
The reason this concept is so important to understand is not all marriages or relationships have all three qualities, which is the reason why so many fail.
Many often hold one or two of these qualities, but the last is lacking and it's the deal breaker. Just like every human, every relationship is unique. But, intimacy, passion and commitment are all universal.
In a perfect world, we would all find the one who fully consumes us, but sometimes, the little imperfections are what makes a relationship work, and sometimes, the second or third angle is not needed.
But, that’s the beauty of a theory; it can be tested numerous times and still deliver different results.