Fatuous love, defined by psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, allows us to understand why some relationships fail. In the universe of affective bonds, nothing is easy and, often, we fall into that exciting trap of desire, passion, and dopamine nourishing each dynamic. However, the ties that start out only from a place of physical attraction are soon to expire.
In Latin, “fatuus” translates as “foolish,” “naive,” or “extravagant.” This term is that which defines couples who build their relationship based on commitment and passion, but who leave out intimacy. Those solid pillars where complicity, openness, and trust help to overcome obstacles and connect in a more mature and authentic way are lacking.
We suggest you learn more about this interesting concept that Sternberg integrated into his famous triangular theory of love.
“Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still”
Who is Robert J. Sternberg and why was he interested in love?
We can’t understand contemporary psychology without the figure of Robert J. Sternberg. He has a BA from Yale University and thirteen honorary doctorates from the world’s leading centers, in addition to a professorship at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
Now, although he’s popularly known for his triangular theory of love, his works cover many more areas such as the triarchic theories of human intelligence and investment in creativity, as well as different theories related to the styles of thought, wisdom, love, and hate. Besides, he wrote more than 100 books and countless articles.
If this outstanding cognitive psychologist was interested in love and affective relationships, it was due to an unquestionable fact: They’re the essence of the human being. Understanding that core element facilitates a deeper understanding of ourselves. His book Love Is a Story: A New Theory of Relation (1999) is a sensational resource for discovering ourselves through our relationships.
Has his famous triangular theory of love been valid since the 1980s, when he first established it? Yes. Research such as that published in The Journal of Sex Research offers empirical support for the universality of this interesting model.
Fatuous love, according to Sternberg: What does it consist of?
Fatuous love defines the immature love that two people build based only on commitment, passion, and physical attraction. Somehow, we all experience it at some point, especially when we’re younger. These are bonds lacking in intimacy, but dominated by that effervescence of desire, sexuality, and blind affection that clouds judgment but rocks us with its pleasures.
This concept is integrated into Sternberg’s triangular theory of love and starts, first of all, from its three basic components:
- Passion: That physical, sexual, and emotional attraction that defines romantic love.
- Intimacy: The emotional closeness, the affective bond, the trust, and the deep connection between the couple.
- Commitment: Defines the couple’s decision to take care of the bond in the long term through loyalty, responsibility, problem-solving, etc.
In turn, from the combination of these three dimensions, the following types of love arise:
- Infatuation or obsession: There’s only passion
- Fatuous love: Commitment and passion.
- Romantic love: Intimacy and passion.
- Non-love: None of the components of love are present.
- Friendship or liking: Based solely on emotional intimacy
- Empty love: Only commitment appears.
- Companionate love: Commitment and emotional intimacy are present, but physical attraction has faded.
- Consummated love: This is the most desirable type of love to which we should all aspire because it integrates passion, intimacy, and commitment.
In relationships based on fatuous love, time always acts as your enemy: they don’t usually last more than two years.
The characteristics of fatuous love
Fatuous love combines obsession with affection and limerence. That is, there’s a constant desire for each emotion to be validated and each need satisfied. The attraction is very intense, but the partner falls captive, in turn, of the fear of not being reciprocated, of suffering abandonment, and, of the other person not loving them with the same intensity.
Sri Ramachandra University emphasizes that sexual desire is mediated by testosterone and estrogen, while physical attraction is mediated by dopamine, stress hormones, and reward. Therefore, in relationships dominated by infatuation, this release of hormones and neurotransmitters is constant. So much so that relationships based on addictive love are created. Let’s see more features:
- Frequent breakups and reconciliations.
- Fear of being betrayed or abandoned.
- These are relationships defined by an anxious attachment.
- Ups and downs due to arguments are frequent.
- Dynamics as harmful as jealousy and the need for control appear.
- Fatuous love often leads to bonds based on codependency.
- These are usually self-isolating couples who live for one another, thus reducing contact with family and friends.
- In the absence of good intimacy, emotional maturity, and trust, they don’t know how to deal with problems and discrepancies.
How long do these kinds of relationships last?
Fatuous love, according to Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, has the particularity of its short duration: It can range from 6 months to 2 years. The reason it’s doomed to fail is the lack of intimacy. Let’s remember, this concept is the one that acts as a psycho-emotional glue in every bond and that’s nourished by trust, reciprocity, connection, etc.
Works such as those published in Frontiers in Psychology highlight that it isn’t possible to discern whether passion by itself gives way to intimacy or vice versa. What we do know is that, in the case of fatuous love, time is always your enemy. While in relationships that already include commitment, passion, and intimacy, the passing of time tends to strengthen them.
What to do if I’m in a relationship based on fatuous love?
We can all fall into the arms of a fatuous love. Does this mean that you’re doomed to a relationship that won’t work out and that will make you unhappy? When it comes to relationships, there are often experiences that are worth treasuring, no matter how brief they may be. But trying, yes, it’s important to avoid getting hurt.
The starting point is to understand what type of relationship you have: One based on physical attraction and lacking in emotional intimacy. Being aware of this will allow you to become aware of what it can imply, which is waiting for that passion to fizzle out until there’s nothing left. Can you avoid it? Indeed, your goal should be to go from a fatuous love to a consummate love. The following are the areas to work on:
- Set shared short and long-term goals.
- Work on being the best support for each other.
- Going from an anxious attachment to a secure attachment.
- Learn to solve problems and discrepancies.
- Express emotions and feelings without fear.
- Cultivate respect, understanding, and mutual care.
- Build good communication based on listening, assertiveness, and respect.
- Promote connection and curiosity about the interests of your partner in order to know their dreams and desires.
Finally, Sternberg’s triangular theory of love is an excellent model for understanding how relationships are built. This is a very complex universe where we often fail. But don’t give up; there are people who will always be worth our effort. Remember: It’s a task that takes both of you.
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