The triangular theory of love, pioneered by psychologist Robert Sternberg, claims that all love relationships are built on three legs of a triangle: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Relationships can be described and defined according to which of the components they possess, with consummate love containing all three in equal balance. Companionate love describes relationships that feature intimacy and commitment, but not passion. It is a calm sense of commitment. Understanding this type of love can be the key to saving a long-term relationship.
Intimacy and Commitment
According to the theory, intimacy includes the deep bonds of attachment and trust. Commitment refers to the long-term promise you make to each other to be there no matter what. Anchored in these elements, companionate love is a solid and stable form of love that is also seen in certain deeply bonded family relationships and friendships. It provides a solid foundation based in shared experiences and intentional, purposeful compassion and understanding.
Companionate Love vs. Passionate Love
Passionate love is defined in the triangular theory as infatuated or fatuous love, depending on whether commitment is present alongside passion. Either way, it is a strong biochemical physical attraction that actually affects the chemistry of the brain. Passion burns hot and fiery, but tends to flame out because intimacy is not present. Without that deep-rooted trust and bonding, relationships are difficult to sustain.
Therefore, companionate love is usually felt in the later stages of a relationship, when a bond has been established beyond only passionate love. It is undeniable that passion feels wonderful, and the ideal of love and romance includes it, but passion without intimacy is often a recipe for disaster. Some people prefer not to feel the passion! They would rather have a companionate love relationship with a long-term partner.
Long-Term Companionate Relationships
Whether a long-term companionate love relationship will be satisfying for a lifetime depends largely on you and your partner’s personalities and life stage. Older couples with a lifetime of shared history, couples who are not particularly prone to passion in any area of their lives, and those who are dealing with serious life situations may be perfectly content with companionate love.
On the other hand, for many people, life is not complete without passion. Those couples may be at more risk for straying, seeking out passion and novelty with new partners while retaining the comfortable companionate relationship they have at home.
Fortunately, passion is not something that only appears sporadically, nor is it necessarily gone for good from long-lasting relationships. It is true that the passionate bubble of early-stage romantic relationships tends to burst, and many couples break up at that time. But if you have already successfully navigated that step and built true companionate love, then your relationship need not be at risk. Instead, you can take proactive steps to rebuild the passion in your relationship.
As it turns out, novelty and shared intense experiences stimulate the same regions of the brain as romantic passion. This means that the key to rebuilding passion can be as simple as getting out of a rut. Sign up to do something new and challenging together or take a stroll through an intense haunted house. If you are less thrill-seeking by nature, learn something new together, preferably in a hands-on environment. Pottery, cooking, and dance are just three possibilities that have an element of perceived risk (of embarrassment) and give you the opportunity to grow closer and more passionate through the shared experience. Even seeing a good movie together lets you live vicariously through the characters and bring the emotional highs into your own relationship.
If you are both the “romance” type, an intimate dinner or weekend getaway can have the same effect, but be careful. Some people find that intentionally courting romance can put too much pressure on the relationship rather than letting the passion naturally re-emerge.
Once you have found the spark, be sure to nurture it. Make a pledge to each other to seek novel experiences once per month. Institute a weekly date night. Have breakfast in bed on Sundays. Choose something that is meaningful to both of you, and commit yourselves fully to the experience. Rekindling a spark is not always easy, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
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