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The Triangular Theory of Love: What it Means for Those Who Wait

August 2nd, 2010 by

The image above is a  simple representation of Dr. Robert Sternberg’s famous Triangular Theory of Love. It is as close as science gets to defining “true love” in psychological terms. You can use it as a metric for judging the quality of your relationships, based on how many “points” of the triangle they are able to achieve. If you hit all three points, you have true love. If you only hit one or two points, it’s something else.

How many sides of the triangle does your relationship achieve?

None of Them = Nonlove. You’ve got nothing. You’re practically strangers with no attraction at all to each other.

Intimacy Only = Friendship Love. Like you might have with somebody you can just completely open up to, but aren’t particularly committed to or attracted to. A best friend.

Commitment Only = Empty Love. Like a lifeless marriage. In cultures with arranged marriages, most of the marriages start out as empty love.

Passion Only = Infatuated Love. Blind, stupid, fast, and frenzied. Lots of sexual desire, but nothing else. Like that mad crush you had on that person you barely knew.

Passion + Intimacy = Romantic Love. You’re really into each other, and you have a great talking/physical relationship, but there’s not really any commitment to speak of.

Passion + Commitment = Fatuous Love. This is when you you let your big crush on on somebody rush you into a relationship/marriage and then one day your find out that you barely know (or don’t really like) them as a person and you have no friendship or deep connection to speak of…and then everything falls apart.

Commitment + Intimacy = Companionate Love. Stronger then Friendship Love because of long-term commitment, but no passion or sexual desire. Like a marriage that has gone flat, but remains respectful. This is also possible with a long-term close friendship.

Commitment + Passion + Intimacy = Consummate Love. You have it all. They’re your closest friend, your mad crush, and your lifelong partner. You cannot imagine being with somebody else. When somebody says “You don’t marry the person you can live with. You marry the person you cannot live without.” they are talking about consummate love. This is what you should be waiting for.

What all of this means for people that wait until marriage

The Triangular Theory of Love should help you define what you’re looking for — what you’re waiting on. Your ultimate goal should be to find the holy grail of romantic relationships: consummate love. I assure you it is possible. I’ve seen many people find it, and it’s…amazing.

Compare the Triangle above against all of your past relationships. Most likely, you’ve hit each point of the triangle at one time or another with different people — maybe two points on occasion — but never all three points, at least not to a sufficient intensity.  If you reflect on why your past relationships failed, you can probably boil each failure down to the absence of one of the three key factors above. This should give you some validation that those relationships weren’t really meant to last (in case you’re still dwelling on any).

People that wait until marriage to have sex acknowledge from the start that life is full of incompatible relationships that aren’t really “the one”, but also that there is such a thing as The One/true love/soulmate/whatever. Most people acknowledge this, but people who wait for sex until marriage back it up with action. They actively put less of themselves into the incompatible relationships so that they can save much more of themselves to put into the relationship that deserves it.

Author: Mike

Mike handles all of the programming and design work for Although he still writes the occasional article, he spends most of his time these days creating new site features and keeping everything organized. Mike is web software developer by day, and is in school to become a psychologist. In his free time Mike enjoys running, biking, and movies.

27 Responses to “The Triangular Theory of Love: What it Means for Those Who Wait”

  1. Rica says:

    I hope my future man is waiting, because action speaks louder than words. :)

  2. Pavan says:

    Im 19 and waiting till marriage… It’s hard as hell… sometimes I just wanna do a girl “sorry for the expression”, but imaging me doing it with anyone makes me feel empty. I just found this website and I think it’s a good support system, because this decision is heavy as hell in this society, everywhere u turn u see something to do with S.E.X

  3. Nina says:

    But.. if you wait until marriage, how do you know you have passion? Without passion, it’s not consummate.

    I’ve had a number of relationships- of varying degrees. I didn’t wait until marriage- and I don’t regret it. I greatly value all the wonderful experiences I’ve had with people. I value the fun, light romances, the intimacy I’ve shared with friends, the love affairs I plunged into… the commitments I’ve made that either failed or succeeded… and the lessons I’ve learned about love.

    I think that all that has prepared me to handle a future relationship better. I feel there was a very steep learning curve between my first relationship and my last… and that having been with a variety of people allowed me to understand myself better, as well as my partner. I know that when I do find the person who I marry, I will be better equipped to find fulfillment in my relationship, to maintain passion, foster intimacy and manage my commitment. In the meantime, the fullness of experience, the opportunity to have cared for and shared with others, has greatly enriched my life.

  4. Mike says:

    Hi Nina!

    Passion is not the same thing as Sex. You can have sex without passion, and you can have passion without sex. As somebody who’s had a lot of different relationships, you can probably relate to this. Passion is how much you think about somebody. It’s how excited you are when they call. It’s how much your world comes into harmony when you’re around them. It’s how hard you fight to keep them. Passion makes sex great (if you choose to have it), but no amount of sex can manufacture passion if it’s not there.

    All of the wonderful enrichment you’ve gained from the relationships you’ve had — I would be willing to bet that it was the relationships themselves that shaped you more than just the sex. Waiting till marriage doesn’t mean you don’t have relationships. It doesn’t mean you can’t date and throw your heart into people, fall in love, get hurt, fall in better love, and gain important insights that will help you immensely when you finally get married. All of that still happens. Just without as much of the sex side.

    The image of the kept virgin, alone in her tower, waiting for her prince to arrive — that’s not really representative of the modern person who is waiting. At least, not for most of the virgins that I know.

    A person who waits can experience the same kind of love affairs and light romances as somebody who doesn’t wait…just in a different way.

    I know that may seem weird and impossible to you. If you look back and consider what your relationships would have been like if you hadn’t had sex, you’d probably think something like “Blah. Ew. I don’t like how that picture looks. All of my relationships would have been muted and not as deeply felt.”

    But from my perspective as somebody who waited, if I look back and consider the reverse — what my relationships would have looked like if I had been having sex, I have my own distaste for how that picture looks. I think “Meh. They wouldn’t have been that different, and I’m kind of glad I held onto that piece of myself.”

    You’ve had lots of wonderful relationships that have shaped you in ways you could have never been shaped otherwise. I feel the same way.

    Romantic relationships have a ton in common for both waiters and non-waiters up to a certain point, and beyond that point each path has it’s own unique advantages and problems. But both are capable of leading to a happiness that will suit the traveler well.

    The triangular theory of love is one of those things that is relevant to all romantic relationships across the board. It’s something everybody should shoot for, and everybody can obtain. It’s a scientific definition of ideal love, and since many people who wait are idealists, I figured it could be helpful. Anyhow, thanks for the comment and thanks for reading this anyway!

  5. Dallas says:

    I’ll have to agree with Nina on the learning from experience, rather than waiting on “the one” to give it up to. Why? because your past is what makes you who you are. And every little thing you do or don’t do gets you one step closer to your dream life and who you ultimately want to be. This will also include your “soul mate”.
    Although, I do agree that you don’t necessarily need sex to have passion or vice versa.
    Looking back on the first two relationships i thought might work out, the triangular theory of love makes alot of sense..until now did i only have one maybe two of the three points at once.
    I guess third time truly is a charm. Its the most amazing feeling in the world to find the one you know you will spend the rest of your life with. My soul mate and I just recently discovered a gateway to a deeper connection with each other and now our relationship is burning more bright than before. Its amazing to look into his eyes and have them pull me into his soul just to tell me that he loves everything about me and that he’d never let me go for the world. If our love gets deeper and deeper through our connection with each other.. Where does it end? When I look in his eyes traveling to the depths of his heart and soul. I try to explain to even myself how I feel about him. No words or any other feeling could ever feel better than finding your true love. I wish everyone that hasn’t found that or felt the feeling yet the best of luck in finding “the one”.

    Everything happens for a reason and there is someone out there for everyone.

  6. Jasmine says:

    Thank you! I needed to hear this again today. I strongly agree!!! I am in my twenties and waiting and most are astonished when I tell them but, it’s possible. And I will be real: I think I owe a lot to God protecting me because my own discipline is not that awesome, my desire is through the roof at times, and some men have tried hard, but I’m still (thankfully, whew!) on the path! I’m convinced it’s worth it. My question is, when you share a lot of passion with someone, to the point where you think about them constantly and are miserable without them, and you are willing to commit when the time is right, how in the world do you back up and make sure intimacy is there? Passion has a tendency to be really overpowering when it’s the first of the three to get there.

  7. Mike says:

    @Dallas – Thanks for the comment, and congrats on finding your ONE!

    @Jasmine – POP QUIZ: Your life just fell apart. You’ve got this huge, looming decision and it’s upsetting you and stressing you out. You just can’t make sense of it in your head. It’s all too chaotic. And it’s so personal, so deeply entwined with your own struggles and dreams and values. It might not really make sense to anybody else.

    Who do you call for advice and comfort? Who will be most capable of understanding your perspective when you call to vent?

  8. Jasmine says:

    @Mike – God, and a few wisely-chosen loved ones…?

  9. Jasmine says:

    Nevermind. That is your test for seeing if my answer is this guy. Good one, haha. I was kind of wondering how you BUILD to that point when passion is first? But I guess you have to change the types of dates you go on… Ask more tough questions to balance out passion with reality…

  10. Mike says:

    Haha…yeah that was kind of a test to see if your brain would go to [guy] first when considering who to call. I totally know what you mean about passion being very over-riding and blinding. As far as establishing intimacy after you have passion: I think what you said about asking tough questions is on the right track. I’m not sure if you mean asking HIM tough questions or asking YOURSELF tough questions, but both are important.

    There are whole professions, books, industries, and people dedicated to helping you build intimacy in relationships. And I think to some extent that school of thought has some merit: Sometimes you have to work on intimacy, especially when you suddenly find that you’ve lost it. Working on opening up, working on trying to understand the person, etc.

    But I also think intimacy can be near-automatic, like passion tends to be. I think it comes down to having things in common, particularly values and life philosophies. If you meet somebody who is a hell of a lot like you, in terms of goals and personality, it’s going to be difficult for you not to have a very accessible sense of intimacy with them.

    If you think about that question I posted and your guy does NOT immediately come to mind as the person you’d call first, then you may have some intimacy gaps left to fill (IMHO). Your spouse should be your best friend as much as your lover.

    So back to those tough questions: Try thinking about your guy as just a friend. How does he stack up? Without the passion you have for him, would he be an acquaintance or a very close friend? Are you just crazy about him in general because he is objectively awesome, or are you crazy about him because he makes sense for you? Questions like that.

    Ultimately, if you conclude that underneath your passion you don’t actually have a lot of common ground, then you may have a problem. If you think of him as a best friend too, then you’re probably good to go.

    I don’t know if that helps at all. The short answer I guess would be “Talk yourself down and ask yourself some tough questions about him until you are satisfied and feel no murmur of subconscious conflict.”

  11. Jasmine says:

    That helps a lot. This website is awesome, thank you!!!

  12. sarah says:

    Jasmine youve really inspired me alot.iam 20 but i want 2 wait untill i find my prince.its veryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy harddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd.but its the best thing 2 do.i have a boyfriend he says his okey with it but he has bin sexually active before iam scared e might get sam one else who can satisfy him sexually.

  13. sarah says:

    i dont want 2 loose my virginity before i get married.because its my pride and value

  14. Jasmine says:

    Sarah, you are sweet! I think if he would rather be satisfied than wait, he doesn’t deserve YOU! Not the other way around :). I’m reading a book called A Man Worth Waiting For by Jackie Kendall. It’s awesome! I’d recommend it. And I am sorry if I overstepped my bounds, I’m not the owner of this site, just a user stating my advice :). Keep standing strong on your values!

  15. Mike says:

    @Jasmine – As the owner of this site, I would like to say officially: Please never worry about over-stepping your bounds!

    Also, we’re putting together a book list on the forums. If you could make a post about A Man Worth Waiting For in that thread, with a little quick description of it, that would be awesome. Eventually I’ll add your recommendation and your name on the forthcoming “Recommended Readings” page. 😉

  16. Mayor says:

    As triangular theory of love rightly define love that, a process of having intimacy, passion and commitment towards one another however couple who are place their relationship on these term would have a good family.

  17. love soulmate says:

    A woman whose body aches for love. A woman who’s had some heartbreak, has been hurt, has maybe even done some hurting. A woman who knows she …

  18. Ruby says:

    Wow, at a time I was questioning my decision to wait, I find this site. It has given me a little encouragement. I have participated in sex before, but I’ve only had one meaningful relationship. I decided to stop that cycle of empty, uh….relations and wait until marriage to have sex because I kept feeling empty after every encounter. I woke up one day and decided, I want….no, NEED more than what I’ve been settling for. But, I wasn’t entirely prepared for how hard the journey would be. I am the one that refrains from dating because I don’t want to be led back to the old person and cycle, but it is SO lonely and I am the only adult I know that is waiting. I know it’s worth it, but it is hard for me because I desire closeness and companionship… amongst more. But, I don’t want one without the other anymore.

  19. Google@MissChristiLuv says:

    cool :)

  20. Agnes Ignatius24@ says:

    Hmmmmm, sometimes as a virgin,I feel d need to b cuddled,shown off n know m someone’s special n it seems sex is d only answer to these!!!!!! Seriously, waiting till marriage is really a thing for the strong, bold n courageous in heart especially in this our time. The truth is that m scared how strong I m.

  21. Joshua says:

    I just believd frm this dite that am nt on the journey alone. Abstenac is d best but not simple. Thanks to d admin

  22. Rihdick Koech says:

    This site is so sweet… I sure will be here always. Am 23 and am waiting though its hard in this generation. I think if you understand yourself and your partner and what you need from the relationship will be better than entering into an intimate relationship committedly and blindly leaving behind your passion you may easily get hurt because you may not get the same feedback. From Kenya

  23. serita says:

    When we met it was like instanty I knew he was my life partner. Instant trust a level of caring &so hard my prayers were for god to guide me yet we haven’t fully spoken about marriage
    . Its our next step engagement sooon someone who cares for me looks out for me & wamts to devote their life living with me & accepts my kids almost as theirs & welcomes & facilitates commumication. Possible children in the future. So bring on level 2&3 amen!



  25. albert says:

    waiting till marriage ia not an easy i encourage you today that you must still fight for it.THANK YOU

  26. maxrigu peter says:

    am d happiest man to find this 27n av started a serious relationship leading to marriage.I will my best though its very hard BT with God….Thenx a lot for ur motivation

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