How Love Happens: The Three Components of Relationships

In 1986, Steinberg proposed a theory of triangulation: that defined three seperate elements to a loving relationship:

Passion – the sexual attraction between the two people.


  • Intimacy – the communicative bond and trust; perhaps the most important factor of the three in the long term.


  • Commitment – a loving relationship requires the short-term commitment of both people in terms of accepting each other as partners, as well as the long-term commitment to each other. Commitment, while required throughout the relationship, is perhaps the least important factor in the long-term, though.
Labelling Love

To what extend does our idea of love evolve from the culture we live? And if we didn’t have a word for this emotion, to what extent would we still feel it?

Hatfield and Walster in 1981 proposed that love is a form of ‘cognitive labelling’ which would suggest that love and, for example, the physiological arousal caused by the injection of adrenaline into the bloodstream, are indistinguishable until you label the emotion as ‘love’.

Companionship vs Romance
Berscheid and Walster (1978) distinguished between companionate love and romantic love. Companionate love tends to extend from ‘liking’; a friendship that evolves over time while the two people’s emotions are stable; a relationship with rewards for both parties, such as having a friend in times of crisis.

Romantic love on the other hand develops more quickly and involves a person posessing strong emotions – passion – for their partner. Novelty is a factor in such relationships, and so, over time, the love may fade, and other emotions involved in a relationship, such as grudges from arguments, also distort the relationship.

So, is your love of a close one just a state of physiological arousal? Are all our emotions simply chemical differences, categorised into love, hate and other feelings by society? Schechter and Singer (1962) aimed to find out if cognitive labelling really was viable with the Suproxin ‘Wonderdrug’ Test:

Schechter and Singer created what they advertised as a vitamin-containing drug, and tested it on participants to find out if chemicals could evoke true emotions. Some participants were given an injection containing epinephrine (adrenaline) that would cause a state of physical arousal (not necessarily an emotion, though) and others were give a simple salt-based compound that would have no significant effect. Some participants were told that the drug would have a significant effect on them, while others were told it would have a limited effect. Others were left with the impression that it would have no effects of physical arousal at all.

The experimenters wanted to see if the participants’ altered physiological state would make them believe their emotions were changing. Participants were left in a room with a confederate (a secret accomplice of the experimenters), who tried to make them either happy (by making paper aeroplanes) or sad (by reacting angrily to a personal questionnaire they’d been asked to complete). Did this make the participants change emotionally and ‘cognitively label’ their state? Yes, those given adrenaline and not told that it would alter their basic state did think they were more emotional.

Dutton and Aron (1974) put participants into a more naturally physically arousing situation. High on a suspension bridge, you might expected to be more excited than on a normal bridge. Participants of Dutton and Aron’s study were asked by a physically attractive interviewer to complete a questionnaire which, unknown to those being asked, measured their sexual arousal level. Those on the suspension bridge who were in a physically aroused state showed more sexual arousal than those in a less exciting place.

So cognitive labelling does indicate that psychological arousal and attraction to another person are linked, but it’s important to remember that not all research supports the theory, and ‘love’ as simply a name for an aroused state; Merañon in 1924 carried out a similar experiment to Schachter and Signer – to arouse participants, and 71% of them said that they felt different physiologically but were unchanged emotionally. The rest of the participants felt unsure that their emotional state was genuinely different, which suggests that there is more to love and other emotional feelings than simple hormonal imbalances.


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