Because research on romantic love has increased markedly in the past few years, undoubtedly stimulated by the widespread interest in close relationships, Hendrick and Hendrick examined five different measurement approaches to love, including those of the researchers noted above (1989). Hendrick and Hendrick state, "These theories appear to have considerable overlap, but they also deal with different phenomena as well. Modest claims of one theory's superiority over another are beginning to appear, suggesting the fruitfulness of comparison to determine commonalities and differences."
To compare the above theories, Hendrick and Hendrick surveyed 424 undergraduate students at a large southwestern university during the fall semester of 1987. After dropouts, the remaining sample consisted of 391 unmarried undergraduate students (189 men, 202 women), and representative of a somewhat affluent, white, middle-class student population. The researchers measured each of the approaches noted above through specially designed scales. They found an overall problem not particularly with Sternberg's approach, but with current love research in general like his: That is that Scale similarities and differences may be fascinating to scaling researchers, but often are of little consequence to anyone else.... Our answer is that if we ever hope to enlarge our understanding of the complex phenomenon called love, we must attempt the clearest possible conceptualizations about love, as well as the clearest possible approaches to assessing those conceptualizations. To provide either theory or data regarding love is to provide a necessary but not sufficient condition for the generation of knowledge. Both conditions are required.
Hendrick and Hendrick's study indicated that although there are both theory and assessment devices in all these approaches, they are not linked tightly enough. Hazen and Shaver proposed that adult tendencies toward love are based on attachment formed in infancy and childhood. The three items developed to describe adult love styles are heavily oriented toward intimacy and trust. They may capture the "closeness" aspect of relationship love, but they lack the passion and communication themes that also comprise love. Most likely, attachment styles are the foundation of interpersonal relationships, changed and refined by personality and by life experiences. Future research on attachment and love will probably need to use multiple measures to better capture the complexity of adult life.
Hatfield, who believes in the consummate importance of passionate love, has developed a solid scale to measure it. Although the researchers believe she has captured relatively more "manic" elements of passionate love and relatively misses some of the secure ego-based elements, as expressed in Eros, her scale is nevertheless a broad-ranging measure of the important construct of passionate love. Meanwhile, states Hendrick and Hendrick, "
Sternberg has developed a theoretical approach using passion, intimacy, and commitment as the ingredients of all types of love, and his theory is well articulated and conceptually compelling. Although his 'triangular theory' of loving and liking is a knitted, integrative theory that combines aspects of past theories and the mechanisms underlying them, and may serve at least as well as any other framework currently available," the Triangular Theory of Love Scale does not yet appear to be adequate to measure his components independently and thus begin to validate the theory."
Davis's Relationship Rating Form is meant to measure more than just love, and has the strength of being applicable to both friendships and romantic relationships. At the present time, this scale is not a clear measure, and more item development is needed. Finally, Hendrick and Hendrick say about their own study on love: "Our own approach to the measurement of love is not without problems. Although the Love Attitudes Scale performed well psychometrically, it has been criticized for not measuring love at all, but rather some combination of love constructs and nonlove constructs. Such criticism is worth serious consideration." Clearly, they feel that "Love is simply too unruly to be categorized so easily. It means different things to different people in different relationships at different points in time. Only with patient, open-minded exploration of several of the current approaches to love will we have any possibility of developing the overarching theory of love that still eludes us."
Sternberg's triangular theory of love has also been criticized for its methodology and on the grounds that passion, intimacy, and commitment often overlap. One study, for example, found that the triangular theory classification "is meaningfully related to individuals' similarity judgments" but that data did not provide strong support for the triangular theory (Hassebrauck and Buhl 1996).
Not all researchers have had negative findings with Sternberg's triangular, however. Lemieux tested the assumptions in the Triangular Theory of Love about changes in intimacy, passion, and commitment over time. His study examined differences in the three components among 446 romantically involved individuals who were either casually dating, exclusively dating, engaged, or married. In support of the Triangular Theory, his findings indicated significant and negative correlations between intimacy and relationship length as well as between passion and relationship length. The correlation between commitment and relationship length was significant and positive. One-way analysis of variance of relational stage gave similar results. Intimacy and passion scores were lowest for participants who were casually dating, higher for participants who were engaged, and lower for married participants. Reported commitment scores increased from casually dating participants to the married participants.
Recently, with his categories of love as a foundation, Sternberg has gone on to another aspect of love. That is, how people actually describe the love they feel. In an article in Psychology Today, Sternberg explained that "My research, which incorporates studies performed over the past decade with hundreds of couples in Connecticut, as well as ongoing studies, has shown that people describe love in many ways. This description reveals their love story. For example, someone who strongly agrees with the statement, "I believe close relationships are like good partnerships," tells a business story; someone who says they end up with partners who scare them -- or that they like intimidating their partner -- enacts a horror story."
He finds that people who start having problems with their relationship begin to have different love descriptions or stories. Couples usually start out being physically attracted and having similar interests and values. Eventually, they may feel that something is missing in their relationship. That something is usually story agreement. A couple whose stories do not match is similar to two characters on a stage acting out two different plays: They may appear all right at first glance, but there is an underlying lack of coordination in the way they interact and communicate. In contrast, sometimes a couple may appear completely at odds from all external viewpoints, but actually get along fine. This is because they may have some differences, but have matching love stories.
Based on interviews that Sternberg conducted with college students in the 1990s, he defined 25 separate stories that people use to describe love. Some of the most popular were the travel story ("I believe that beginning a relationship is like starting a new journey that promises to be both exciting and challenging"), the gardening story ("I believe any relationship that is left unattended will not survive") and the humor story ("I think taking a relationship too seriously can spoil it"). Among the least popular were the horror story ("I find it exciting when I feel my partner is somewhat frightened of me," or "I tend to end up with people who frighten me"), the collectibles story ("I like dating different partners simultaneously; each partner should fit a particular need") and the autocratic government story ("I think it is more efficient if one person takes control of the important decisions in a relationship").
The research showed that not any one story guarantees success. Yet some stories seem to predict failure more than others: the police ("I believe it is necessary to watch your partner's every move" or "My partner often calls me several times a day to ask what I am doing"), recovery ("I often find myself helping people get their life back in order" or "I need someone to help me recover from my painful past"), science fiction ("I often find myself attracted to individuals who have unusual and strange characteristics") and theater stories ("I think my relationships are like plays" or "I often find myself attracted to partners who play different roles").
Sternberg suggests that if people have been unhappy in relationships, they should be willing to change their story to make it more practical. For example, horror stories may be fantasized during sexual or other activity, rather than actually physically played out. Psychotherapy can help individuals move from unsuccessful stories to more promising ones.
He adds: "People complain that they keep ending up with the same kind of bad partner and that they are 'unlucky in love.'" However, luck has nothing to do with it. They are subconsciously finding a partner to play out their love stories, or pushing their stories on the people they meet.... unless they change their…