The Love Profile - Three Components That Matter in Every Relationship
The basic ingredients of relationships
The triangular theory of love suggests that there are three basic ingredients that make up any of your relationships. So you can find these ingredients not only in romantic love relationships but also in the relationships you have with your children, siblings, parents or friends. Really, anyone you have a relationship with.
As researchers, we usually say “components” instead of “ingredients” but on this website you’ll see us use both terms interchangeably.
The three ingredients we find in any relationship are intimacy, passion, and commitment. Let’s have a closer look at each.
You can feel intimacy with another person in a lot of different ways. For example, you may feel comfortable enough to share your innermost feelings with someone else, even when you are embarrassed about it. You experience intimacy when you emotionally support someone in times of need or when someone else is giving emotional support to you. Intimacy is also involved when you value a loved one, are able to count on them in times of need, when you trust them or feel safe with them. These are just a few examples – there are many different ways in which you can experience intimacy with someone.
When you think about passion, the first thing that comes to mind may be sexual fulfillment. And while that can absolutely be a part of passion, other feelings can play a role as well. For example, you may feel that you absolutely could not live without that other person, you may find yourself fantasizing about another person, or you may be excited when you think about someone. In the case of your children, you may have a very passionate drive to ensure their well-being. These are just some examples because as with intimacy, there is a large number of ways in which you can feel passion.
Commitment is not a feeling but rather a decision you make. Well, actually it’s two decisions. First, you decide whether you love and care for another person. The second decision comes later on – it involves whether you maintain the love for that person in the long term. When two people marry, they legalize the commitment to love each other for life. Often, however, these decisions are not conscious. Most people don’t sit down to consciously decide they want to love a certain person. Likewise, the decision to stay together in a lifelong relationship with a partner may develop over time.
Different Amounts of Ingredients Lead do Different Love Profiles
If you’re a baker or a cook, you will know that changing the amount of ingredients in a recipe will lead to different outcomes. The same is true with relationships: They differ depending how much of each ingredient is present. This different composition will give each of your relationships a special character. You will find that there is either one component that is present to a much larger extent than the others, or that two are very pronounced. Or you may find that in a particular relationship you have about an equal amount of each component. Overall, that gives us seven different combinations that can be visually represented in a love profile.
Your Love Profile Tells You What Kind of Relationship You Have
Every relationship you have with another person can be described in terms of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. A love profile displays how much of each of these components is present in a relationship.
You may have heard of or read about different "love triangles", and these are the same as the love profiles. We just decided to call the combinations of intimacy, passion and commitment "love profiles" on this website because they're easier to visualize.
Every relationship is different and for that reason, so is every love profile. But we can distinguish between different love profiles on the basis of how much of a different ingredient is present. You will find that either one component is present to a much larger extent than the others, or that two are very pronounced. Or you may find that in a particular relationship you have about an equal amount of each component.
These combinations result in seven different kinds of love. We’ll take a closer look at these kinds of love below. Keep in mind that the love profiles displayed beside each category are just examples – the main point is that one or several love components are stronger than others.
Keep in mind that there are also plenty of instances where we feel neither intimacy nor passion or commitment towards another person – we call this simply non-love. Most people we interact with in our daily lives fall into this category – the cashier at the supermarket, our college teachers, many of our colleagues at work or the parents we see at the daily school drop-off fall into this category. And this is just fine – imagine how exhausting it would be if we had an involved relationship with everyone we met!
When you experience intimacy with someone but do not feel any particular passion for them nor do you want to spend the rest of your life with that person, you experience liking. You may like acquaintances you do not really know, but a high level of intimacy without passion and commitment may also characterize true friendships.
The love profile you can see here shows Melissa’s feelings for her friend Truman. Her boyfriend Ryder has been extremely jealous of Truman and accuses Melissa of spending too much time with Truman. But Melissa says: “Truman is a good friend of mine, and has been for a long time. I enjoy being with him. I like talking with him and doing things with him. But I don’t love him and I never will. It’s Ryder I love. I want to spend my life with him, and not with Truman. Truman is just a friend, that’s all.”
When you only feel passion towards a person, but do not experience much intimacy with them and do not feel committed to them, we speak of infatuated love. Love at first sight is infatuation, and it can develop as quickly as it can disappear again.
Walter met Elaine at work. One look was enough to change his life: He feel madly in love with her. Suddenly, he could not concentrate on his work anymore – all he could think about was Elaine. She knew about his feelings but did not return them. Whenever Walter tried to start a conversation with Elaine, she moved on as quickly as possible.
The way Walter stared at her and persistently sought contact with her made Elaine uncomfortable. In contrast, Walter couldn’t help but think about Elaine, and his work began to suffer because he did not think about anything else but her. He was a man obsessed. At some point, Elaine moved away. Walter tried to keep in touch with her, but after several unanswered love letters, he gave up.
When you are committed to a relationship with someone without experiencing much intimacy or passion with that person, we speak of empty love. This kind of love is often found in relationships that started out with feelings of intimacy and/or passion but which got lost somewhere along the way. There is nothing to hold the relationship together except the commitment towards each other.
Joe and Maude have been married for more than 20 years. For most of those years, Maude has been thinking about getting a divorce but she is afraid she could not make it without Joe’s income. She is also worried that a life without Joe may actually be worse than life with him. Because, in all honesty, life with Joe isn’t that bad. He essentially leaves her alone. Whatever passion they might have once felt for each other was long gone. Maude believes that Joe is seeing other women on the side. There is very little intimacy left between them and they hardly ever talk. Maude often wonders if Joe might leave her, and sometimes even wishes he would. But he seems content with the situation as is, having her wash his clothes, prepare meals, take care of the house and generally do all of the things housewives tend to do. Maude often feels that her life would be completely empty were it not for her children.
Romantic love combines liking with passion. When a couple experience romantic love, they not only bond emotionally but also feel physically attracted to each other. However, they are not committed to staying with each other in the long term.
Maylin and Peter met in their freshman year in college. What started out as friendship soon turned into a deeply involved romantic love affair. They spent as much time together as they could, and loved being together. But Maylin and Peter were not ready to commit themselves to the relationship on a permanent basis. They felt they were too young to make any long-term decisions. Since they did not know where they would end up after college, they also felt it was impossible to tell how much they could be together. Peter was admitted into a graduate program in Los Angeles and decided to accept the offer. Maylin, who was interested in engineering, had applied to a program in Los Angeles as well, but was accepted without financial aid. A school in Boston accepted her with a generous financial aid package. Maylin felt like she had no choice but to go to Boston. As they left for their respective universities, neither Maylin nor Peter were confident that their relationship would survive the distance. After a year of occasional commutes and not so occasional strains, it ended.
Long-term, committed friendships are a combination of intimacy and commitment resulting in a kind of love we call companionate love. Companionate love can also be found in marriages in which the physical attraction between partners has waned (physical attraction is a major source of passion).
Melinda and Roger have seen some rough times in their twenty years of marriage. Many of their friends have gotten divorced, Roger has gone through several jobs, and Melinda through a serious illness. Both have friends, but there is no doubt in their minds that they are each other’s very best friends. Neither Roger nor Melinda feel any great passion in their relationship but they have never sought an affair with someone else because they have what they believe matters most: the ability to say or do anything they want without fear of attack or reprisal. They know that there are likely limits to their regard for each other, but they have never tested those limits because they are happy to live within them.
Fatuous love is characteristic of the kind of whirlwind courtships we sometimes associate with Hollywood. People passionately fall in love with each other and marry soon thereafter. However, intimacy takes time to develop and is thus not (yet) part of the relationship. Relationships based on fatuous love often do not survive long-term because intimacy between the partners serves as a stabilizing element in partnerships and is missing here.
When Sam and Nicole met while they were both on vacation in Florida, they were both recovering from previous relationships gone bad. Sam’s fiancée had just broken off their engagement to be together with one of Sam’s colleagues. To make matters worse, Sam had also lost his job. Nicole had recently gotten divorced after she had discovered that her husband was having an affair. Both felt desperate for love, and when they met, they saw themselves as a perfect match. It seemed like someone had watched over them, seen their plight, and brought them together in their time of need. The manager of the resort offered to marry them right there and throw a lavish reception for free, in return for Sam and Nicole agreeing to appear in promotional materials. After thinking it over, Sam and Nicole agreed. They knew they were right for each other, and because neither of them was particularly well off financially, a free wedding seemed all the more appealing.
Once they returned from their vacation, their marriage quickly went downhill. It was great fun to be with Sam, but Nicole found he did not seriously try to find a job so he could support her. Sam, to the contrary, was shocked to find that Nicole had no plans to work at all. His had hoped she would contribute some money to their life together so he could pursue his dream of becoming a poet.
Consummate or complete love results from a combination of intimacy, passion, and commitment. It is the kind of love many of us strive for, particularly in romantic relationships. But in a way, consummate love is somewhat similar to weight-loss programs: It is easier to reach your ideal than to maintain it. When you have found consummate love, there is no guarantee that it will last. And often, people find they have lost their consummate love for each other only after it is long gone. Consummate love, just like other things of value, must be guarded carefully.
That said, there are also some kinds of consummate love that are easier to maintain over the long term. Think of the love parents have for their children, for example. They are usually deeply emotionally involved with their children (intimacy), experience several aspects of the passion component like the need for nurturing their children as well as being firmly committed to their children.
Roman and Lissy seem to their friends to be the perfect couple. What makes them distinctive from many such “perfect couples” is that they pretty much fulfill the notion. They feel close to each other, they continue to have great sex after twelve years, and they cannot imagine to be happy with anyone else but each other. To be sure, they have had a few difficult times in their marriage, but each is delighted with the relationship and with the other.
Note: Parts of the material presented on this page are based on the book "The triangle of love", written by Robert J. Sternberg and published by Basic Books (1988).