By definition, a love triangle is a romantic relationship involving three people. Found in movies and TV shows alike, it’s used to keep viewers on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what happens next.

A classic example of a love triangle is when one girl is liked by two men. Perhaps one is the nice guy and the other the not-so-nice-but-oh-so-attractive guy. Viewers tune in often to see who eventually will win the heart of the conflicted woman.

Most of us have been entrapped by such entertainment sometime in life. Classic shows such as Dallas, Dynasty and 90210 had love triangles. The more recent love triangles on Friends, Grey’s Anatomy and The Office attract millions of viewers weekly. Perhaps the greatest love triangle is found on the number-one rated series Bachelor and Bachelorette.

While enjoying such entertainment as a couple may strengthen your relationship, most would be hesitant to welcome a love triangle into their own relationship. That is, of course, unless you’re familiar with the work of Robert Sternberg.

Sternberg is an author and professor at Yale University. In the late 1980’s he came up with his “Triangular Theory of Love.” He’s made enough of a positive impact that complete books are written about the topic. His theory is even taught in general psychology classes around the world and even locally here at WNCC. I use it frequently with couples I work with.

Rather than taking a Hollywood approach to the love triangle idea, however, Sternberg studied another type of love triangle. His studies found that a strong couple relationship is comprised of three main components, thus forming what he calls a triangular theory of love.

Couples interested in maximizing the enjoyment they get from their relationship would be wise to have all three components of this love.

The first ingredient is intimacy. It’s defined by the feelings of closeness and connection that happy couples feel toward one another. Those including this element of love often consider themselves to be best friends. In happy couples, this ingredient of love grows over time as they come to appreciate and love one another even more through years of friendship, forgiveness and selfless service to each other.

Passion, the second ingredient, leads to physical attraction and romance between couples. This is often the first ingredient in love as couples are attracted to one another based on physical features. While this original attraction may fade over time, happy couples still find ways to keep the passion alive.

Commitment, the third ingredient in achieving full love, allows couples to endure the natural ups and downs that most couples experience. An interesting study from the University of Chicago discovered just how important commitment is in keeping love alive. By following 700 ready-to-split couples, they found over 450 of them who decided to stick it out to be happy again just five years later.

Unfortunately, not all couples who are in love will decide to have a love triangle. Some will have commitment, but not intimacy and passion, and therefore suffer what we call “empty love.” Others will have commitment and passion, but no intimacy. These couples may be physically attracted to one another, but find they lack the true friendship and emotional connection that brings joy to most couples.

While having a Hollywood love triangle may bring more chaos to your relationship than love, having a Sternberg love triangle, comprised of intimacy, passion and commitment, may be just what the doctor ordered for keeping love alive.

Why settle for anything less?

For more tips on keeping your love alive, visit

Remember, couple relationships are easier than you think, but harder than you act.

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