There has been a lot of recent research concerning what makes a successful relationship work. One of the leading lights in this research is Dr. Gottman, who stated he could predict with a high degree of accuracy which marriages would end up in divorce, merely by the ways in which the couple communicated with each other.
Another important researcher in this area is Dr. Robert Sternberg, a psychologist specializing in cognition, who created the Triangular Theory of Love. I want to take a moment to describe this theory, since I think that it does a good job of describing the types of relationships that people may find themselves in.
This theory holds that all successful love relationships are comprised of three key areas, which symbolize the three end points of a triangle:
- Intimacy: which is the feeling of closeness, sharing and connectedness.
- Passion:which is the drive for romance, physical attraction, and sexual desire.
- Commitment: which is the desire to stay together.
Not all relationships possess all three qualities, but an ideal love, or "consummate love" as he coins it, contains all three. Some relationships possess only one or two of the above qualities and Dr. Sternberg categorizes types of relationships by which of these three qualities are present in the relationship.
For example, "Non-love" would describe a relationship with none of the qualities listed above, while "Liking/friendship" contains intimacy, but no passion or commitment. Below is a list of all the other types of relationships based on the triangle:
- Infatuated love: pure passion, absolutely no intimacy or commitment; otherwise known as infatuation.
- Romantic love- passion and intimacy, but no commitment; many dating relationships fall into this category.
- Empty love- commitment, but not intimacy or passion; many long-term couples fall into this rut.
- Companionate love: commitment and intimacy, but no passion; another trap for long-term relationships, this is still preferred to empty love since there is still deep caring and affection, however, there is absolutely no sexual passion.
- Fatuous love: passion and commitment, but no intimacy; this best describes a passionate, whirlwind courtship that has quickly moved to marriage, but hasn't had the time to establish intimacy.
And of course consummate love, as mentioned is the ideal love, which contains intimacy, passion, and commitment. The "perfect couple," Dr. Sternberg claims that such couples "will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they can not imagine themselves happy over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their few difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other."
Taking these types of relationships into account, where is your relationship on the Triangle of Love? What is missing? How can couples therapy or sex therapy help you to add additional elements to your relationship? And what do you need to do to get to the ultimate—consummate love?
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