how to identify your love style


it's driving me outta my mind, that's why it's hard for me to find

One of my favoritest things to do is analyze relationships.  (Like, duh, right?  Why else would I have this job?)   But not in a super judgmental way.  Not in a way where I'm like picking apart other couples' dynamics to criticize.  Just the opposite, actually.  In the work that I do, in order to help individuals or couples through coaching, I need to be able to understand their relationship as comprehensively as possible, with limited interaction.  Because I'm not living in the relationship experience the same way members of a couple are, right?  I'm not there every day and every night, through every celebration and every conflict, through the daily mundane and the extraordinarily special moments like they are.  I need to be able to intake limited information, interpret it through a professional lens, and translate that interpretation back to my client in helpful and actionable ways. 

One of my all-time gold star, go-to, reliable and helpful AF frameworks to help me understand a relationship is Robert Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love.  It's one of those "theories" that just ALWAYS.  MAKES.  SENSE to me.  It's so real!  Want me to prove it?  Let me explain, and then I'm 100% positive you'll be able to see how it applies to your own romantic relationships...

The basics: there are three components of love: PASSION, INTIMACY & COMMITMENT.  And (shockingly) these components exist in relation to one another, like the points on a triangle.  

sternberg triangular theory of love


Think of intimacy as your heart.  The intimacy component of love is what makes you feel close and attached to someone you love.  It's your bond.  Feelings of intimacy increase when you share secrets, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and feel safe and secure in a relationship.  You have high levels of intimacy in relationships in which you feel very comfortable; feel like you can be yourself; there is a high level of trust with someone.  


Commitment is the logical part of love - the brain.  It is the conscious DECISION to form a relationship with someone else.  It's essentially an agreement.  This can manifest in the more official forms of commitment in romantic love: ex. marriage.  But it is also as informal as agreeing to be monogamous.  Putting a label on your relationship.  Feelings can often drive the desire to be committed, but the commitment in itself is a brain-based decision.  We are now a partnership; a team.  We are in this together.  We make decisions to benefit our RELATIONSHIP rather than just our individual selves.


Ah!  I usually describe this element as your "loins".  (Anytime I say the word "loins" I can't help but thing of Blanche Deveroux from The Golden Girls.  Please, if you have a second, Google "Golden Girls Blance Rose loins" and watch the clip and giggle).  Passion can be described as a great excitement for something.  This is that feeling of always wanting to be around someone, excitement when they're in your presence or call/text/Tweet/message/etc. you.  The fire.  The spark.  

You can probably identify how these elements play out in your current and past relationships - your close friendships are probably characterized by a high amount of intimacy, but not much passion / a one night stand in college might have had a lot of passion and chemistry, but zero commitment or intimacy.  You may also recognize that the levels of these elements change throughout the course of a relationship.  Por ejemplo, new romantic relationships are often characterized by high levels of passion, which can wane over time - even though commitment and/or intimacy increase.  WEIRD RIGHT?!  So right!  STERNBERG  STRIKES AGAIN!

These three elements of love can interact in different combinations to form 8 basic types of relationships (although, as with most descriptive frameworks, love in REAL LIFE can fall into shades of gray between identified categories).  

sternberg triangular theory of love

Liking = high intimacy, low commitment and low passion

Platonic friendship falls in this area of the triangle.  We likely have friends that we are EXTREMELY intimate with - we have shared secrets and been vulnerable and share high levels of trust with them.  We feel safe sharing things, are comfortable being our most authentic selves with them, and so on.  High intimacy.  However, we may not get butterflies when they text us.  We don't make an agreement to enter into a formal friendship with them.  These demonstrate the low levels of passion and commitment.  

Romantic love = high intimacy and high passion, low commitment

Think of the high level of intimacy described above (comfort, trust, vulnerability, etc.) but also add those butterflies!  That feeling that you want to spend EVERY MINUTE with someone?  Can't get enough of their presence?  You could stay up all night talking to them, and still wake up bright and early the next morning to meet them for breakfast?  That's the passion.  High levels of both intimacy and passion feel a lot like puppy love, and oftentimes accompanies the early stages of a relationship.  I will tell you a secret, though.. they don't last forever, even though folks often believe that they should.  When these butterflies subside (as is naturally going to happen with increased intimacy and/or commitment - look at the triangle, you can't POSSIBLY be on more than one tip of the triangle at any given time), some people believe that the "spark" has gone and that they must no longer be in love.  The triangle proves that love might change, but that doesn't mean it's gone.  Many times, it has just evolved into one of these other categories.  Depending on our expectations, however, we might see that transformation as a failure!  Sad face!

Infatuation = high passion, low intimacy and low commitment

Ever had ah-maze-ing chemistry with someone, even though you weren't able to connect on any sort of intellectual or emotional level?  Maybe you could barely keep your hands off of them, but never got past small talk?  Perhaps you'd rather they used their mouth on your naughty bits then telling you their hopes and dreams?  You might be experiencing infatuation - high levels of passion without intimacy or commitment.  To be fair, this is why some one night stands can be SO SATISFYING (did you catch that?  I did NOT say bad or unhealthy - they are what they are!).  

Fatuous love = high passion and high commitment, low intimacy

Have you ever known someone who felt quick chemistry with someone like in the Infatuation love style above, and then joined into a committed relationship with that person, almost like, immediately?  Some folks practice a relationship cycle that is often referred to as serial monogamy - they get into and out of committed relationships rather quickly, before there is time to build high levels of intimacy.  Think of a whirlwind courtship.  Let me be clear, sometimes the intimacy can be built after the commitment and the relationship thrives.  Other times, however, as people get to be more intimate with one another (learn about their values, goals, needs and the type of partner they are) they realize they are not as compatible as their high level of passion would lead them to believe.  Depending upon the level and type of commitment they have entered into - a marriage, parenthood, buying property, etc. - the separation could become challenging.  

Empty love = high commitment, low passion and low intimacy

Think arranged marriage here.  While that's not the only model of this love style, it is IMO one of the easiest to help understand what it looks like.  You are entered into a commitment - as I said before, a conscious decision to form a partnership - with someone you do not know very well and feel low levels of passion towards.  Or, you are in a committed relationship that used to have higher levels of passion and/or intimacy but have grown apart on those dimensions.  Again, I want to stress that no love style is inherently healthy or unhealthy / better or worse than any other.  Nor are they static - people who join into this type of relationship (or find themselves in this type of relationship over time) may find that it works for them, or they may be able to transition it into another love style that is more functional and satisfying - if that's what they want.

Companionate love = high commitment and high intimacy, low passion

LTRs (long term relationships) often fall into this love style at some point.  As I mentioned before, the passion we often feel at the beginning of a romantic relationship typically wanes (many times around the 2-ish year mark) - hormones fluctuate, routine sets in, novelty wears off, etc.  Also as previously mentioned, this fluctuation is sometimes mistaken for falling "out of love."  NO SIREE, BOB!  This is natural.  This is NORMAL.  THIS LOVE STYLE  is actually the one that is most often characteristic of happy couples that have been together for years and years and years.  

Consumerate love = high passion, high intimacy and high commitment

This is often seen as the "gold standard" relationship style, but is difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to maintain.  Also, I'd like to point out, is UNNECESSARY to achieve in order to feel happy and fulfilled in a relationship.  So, stressing about achieving it can sometimes get in the way of being present and appreciating your relationship.

Non-love = low passion, low intimacy and low commitment

Pretty self explanatory, right?  This relationship style is how you feel about casual acquaintances.  

love style

My goal in sharing this relationship framework with all of you is to give you a tool to do your own relationship analysis.  Do any of these love styles feel familiar to relationships in your life?  Do the varying levels of the different dimensions help explain some of the emotions and behaviors that occur within the context of those relationships?  The more we are able to understand about the relationships we are in, the better we are equipped to manage communication, conflict, negotiation, and RELATING.  

Does this make sense to you all?  What relationships in your lives can you relate to this model?

colby zongol
Blog post title courtesy of: