The Three Sides of Love
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The Three Sides of Love

Years ago, I came across Robert J. Sternberg’s “Triangular Theory of Love.”  It was helpful for me as I thought about what it means to have a healthy marriage. In looking at what the Bible teaches about a healthy marriage, I have  adapted Sternberg’s theory into what I call “The Three Sides of Love.” I have since presented this in many wedding ceremonies, marriage classes, and counseling sessions. Recently (2/9/20) I preached a sermon at Faith Church in Milford, OH and presented this material of “The Three Sides of Love.”  You can watch the sermon below:

1. Love as Commitment

The first side is the base of the triangle and serves as the foundation.  It’s the love of commitment.  In marriage, it’s the covenant (or the vows that a couple makes) to each other on their wedding day.

“I, take you…to be my wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part”

It’s amazing how just a few words, that only takes less than a minute to say, can have such lifelong and lasting significance.  That’s the power of a covenant. In a Christian marriage, the  commitment to the vows of the marriage covenant serves as the foundation to the relationship. We often talk about “agape” love which is unconditional and unwavering.  It’s a love towards a spouse that says “no matter what” we go through, I am committed to you.

It’s a determination that the marriage relationship is:

  • exclusive (“forsaking all others”),
  • life long (“til death do us part”),
  • persevering (“for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health…until death do us part.”)
  • priority (“to love and to cherish”)

I remember vividly my own wedding day standing before my bride to give and receive these vows.  And that was 40 years ago!

But somewhere along the way, couples often begin to experience a wavering commitment.  Cracks start to appear on the foundation of their marriage. When it’s no longer a priority to consistently love and cherish one’s partner, the marriage suffers.

And it suffers because something’s amiss in the second and third side of the triangle.

2. Love as Intimacy

The second (or left) side of the triangle is intimacy,  I describe it as “into/me/see”; that is, the ability to see into the”window” of a spouse’s soul.  There’s a transparency and a vulnerability in revealing what’s going on inside. This is “philia” love or the love of friendship.

  • friendship/companionship
  • transparency
  • vulnerability
  • mutual respect
  • empathy
  • enjoyment

One of the major aspects of marriage counseling that I do with couples is to strengthen this side of the triangle.  To help couples deepen their relationship through honest, respectful, and meaningful “soul talk.”

But some couples really struggle to maintain this kind of emotional intimacy.  Instead of “windows” into their soul, they put up “walls”. Why is that? Oftentimes, it’s because of the problem of marital conflicts.  When a conversation goes badly, it leads to becoming “conflict avoidant” and the walls go up.  And the heart can begin to harden towards one’s spouse.

That is why another major aspect of marriage counseling that I do with couples is to help them work through their conflicts more productively.  It’s challenging work, but couples who work through their conflicts productively and meaningfully can experience the joys of renewed intimacy and friendship.  Couples who don’t, drift further apart and will have great difficulty in experiencing the third side of the triangle.

3.  Love as Passion

The third (or right) side of the triangle is romantic passion.  This is often what couples experience in the beginning of their relationship.  It’s “eros” or erotic love. This kind of romantic love in marriage is described in Proverbs 5:18-19:

“Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe.  Let her breasts satisfy you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”

I LOVE the idea that after 40 years of marriage, I can still “rejoice in the wife of my youth”! 🙂  This passionate kind of love consists of:

  • romantic feelings
  • physical attraction
  • fondness and admiration
  • physical affection
  • mutual sexual enjoyment

My own experience in my marriage (and in my work with couples in the counseling office) is that when there’s a lack of emotional intimacy in the marriage, there will also be a corresponding lack of romantic passion. And the lack of emotional intimacy and romantic passion can lead to the hardness of heart that threatens the commitment (or covenant) of marriage. All three sides of love are related to each other.

How are you doing in your marriage with the “three sides of love”?  How would you rate each side of the triangle of love on a 1-5 scale? Are you still rejoicing in your partner after all these years, or are you struggling in your marriage?

If you are struggling, let me encourage you to get some help.  If you would like to meet with me, you can contact me by filling out the form at the bottom of the home page, or by clicking here. Or, perhaps you know someone else who is struggling in their marriage. You can refer them to this website and have them contact me.

2 Comments
  • Susan Lehman
    Posted at 21:47h, 25 September Reply

    I so agree with this blog. When relationships are built on only friendship and passion without the side of true life- long commitment the cracks get wider and wider. Then when life throws stresses at you, or when the things in your partner’s personality that once were interesting become annoying, or pure busyness and exhaustion dulls the feelings of closeness, or “you don’t bring me flowers anymore,” a real wall forms and the relationship crumbles. Deep commitment enables couples to weather these storms and gradually restore the relationship to health again. But, that kind of tenacity in life is hard to come by these days of instant gratification. Thank you for your important insight on this topic!

  • Carolyn wohl
    Posted at 16:06h, 03 March Reply

    would like to pursue the possibility of marriage counseling fir my husband and i

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