The Most Romantic Psychological Theory for Love To-Date

collage of a person climbing a stack of books, with warped heart emojis

It is well-established in relationship science literature that similarity between partners is a predictor of both initial attraction and long-term compatibility. Although nobody really denies this principle, you would probably agree with me (especially if you’re a romantic like myself)  if I say: “Love feels more complicated than that. There should be more than just similarity that factors into who we end up with”.

There often is more nuance to love than just the “similarity” principle, and those nuances are the reasons why people feel like we cannot truly boil love down to science.

Here at Marriage Pact, we value diversity in the nature of the research we conduct. One of the most exciting aspects of relationship science as a field is its ability to contain within itself research that is empirical and mathematical in nature along with research that is more intuitive and open-ended: A couple of weeks ago, we talked about optimal mate choice algorithms and how technology can help us uncover biggest mysteries about love. This week, I would like to switch our mindsets from algorithms to narratives, and present to you the most romantic theory for love to-date: Love Stories. The creator of this theory is none other than Robert Sternberg (who you may recall as the creator of the Triangular Theory of Love).

As the name speaks for itself, the main premise of this theory is that the experience of love is a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an anticipated or realized end. They also contain subplots, themes, and a narrative structure! 

According to this theory, we craft our own stories about love, with ourselves as the protagonists. We incorporate our family upbringing and cultural background, as well as our personality traits and values. 

Even before we experience love for the first time, we have expectations for what love can and should look like. More often than not, however, we don’t actually know what these expected narratives are. We constantly modify, rewrite, and add onto these stories throughout the course of our lives. 

The kinds of stories we write end up determining the beliefs we have about romantic relationships. Sternberg created a tentative taxonomy for different kinds (or “genres”) of love stories that people commonly experience love through. To name a few:

  • Addiction (e.g., I just couldn’t survive without my partner…)

  • Art (e.g.,They are the most beautiful partner I could have ever found…)

  • Gardening (e.g., Our relationship works because we constantly work on it…)

  • Police (e.g., I want to know everything you do…)

  • Mystery (e.g., I have lots of secrets and I like it that way.. It keeps them guessing…)

We seek people that have similar kinds of stories to ourselves, and often for characters that will play complementary roles in those similar kinds of stories.  For example, someone who believes that they cannot  survive without their partner is likely to be with someone that will want to ‘save’ them. In this example, both lovers would be leaning into an Addiction love story but would be playing complementary roles within it. 

The love stories we lean into do not define the healthiest or the most compatible relationships for us. At their best, they define the scenarios we will most likely find ourselves in on our quest for love.  But at their worst, these scenarios can be guided by the unhealthy behavior patterns gifted to us by our familial upbringing, the media we consume, or that first painful breakup. The silver lining, however, is that those scenarios also have the potential to help guide us through finding the love that we’ve long expected, perhaps even without having realized it.