What does true love look like?

Intimacy, passion and commitment in partnership

Sternberg’s theory of the three components of love has been used in systematic family therapy for some time. According to this theory there are three components of a partnership: intimacy, passion and commitment. Intimacy entails being close with another person and having a trusting, warm relationship. Passion is intense physical attraction that partners feel towards one another. Commitment represents a decision to stay together. It is convenient for any of us to think about our romantic relationships like that. There are no two partnerships alike but there are different types of partnerships and different types of love. Not every love can boast of all three components. As the time goes by the ratio of components can change.  Love with only one component is less stable than love which has two components.

When people like each other

Romantic relationships with only one component, that is liking. This love implies intimacy but it doesn’t include passion and commitment. Partners know each other well, trust each other, feel comfortable about being themselves, share their views and like each other. However, there is no attraction, and in the long run this may become depressing as the couple have nothing else but friendship.


Infatuation. Love that only has the passion component. Love at first sight. Partners have this magnetic pull towards each other and wish to be together all the time. Physical and sexual intimacy takes prominence. However, partners may not know each other that well and haven’t established emotional intimacy and trust. Relationships such as this one depend on lust, sexual attraction and idealized views that both people have about themselves and their partner. If such a relationship doesn’t develop into some other form of love with time, it will probably end abruptly.

Marriage of convenience

Empty love. Partnership which only relies on commitment.  This type of love can often be found in long-term marriages where both partners lead separate lives and stay together because of children or property. Arranged marriages and marriages of convenience also fall under this category. Partners have made a clear decision of staying together even though there is no intimacy, no emotional exchange, and no attraction.
Relationships with all three components:
Romantic love, love in which there is passion and emotional connection between partners. They are in love, they have high sexual attraction and are emotionally connected. They love spending time together, enjoying intimate moments and they understand each other. This type of relationship lacks the commitment component, thus this type of relationship is typical for young people who have a good time, but don’t make any serious plans.
Friendly love -.There is a strong sense of commitment in this relationship often coupled with high levels of emotional intimacy. This love is typical of long-term marriages and relationships. Partners know each other and get along well, they are committed to their partnership but the passion is gone.  These can be particularly satisfying and stable partnerships, especially in later stages of life.
The screen love- When two people meet and are instantly drawn to one another. Their love is fated, and they promptly decide to commit without first having established emotional intimacy which would make their relationship even more stable. They often get married quickly, start a family or have other grand plans. This is a wonderfully enthusiastic, but a highly idealized image of a partnership.
True love must include all three components: intimacy, passion and commitment. With such partnership there is strong sexual attraction with an emotional connection and commitment to the relationship. The partners are people who enjoy spending time together, who feel safe and loved, and committed to each other and their relationship.

Branislava Pavlović
Photography: Ema Bednarž

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