Love as Faculty
When we think of love and relationships what do we think of mostly? Experiencing love. Finding love. Being loved. At our deepest levels we ask ourselves, “Am I lovable?” This question can bring fear and insecurity. It can also bring selfishness. Two people in a relationship conflict often get tangled over how the other does not meet their needs, does not do this or that, or loves them poorly. When we think of love we think about being on the receiving end a lot of the time. Maybe not when we think about our children or close friends, as much, but with romantic relationships and other close relationships it can often be about what we are receiving.
Erich Fromm, famous psychoanalyst, wrote a small book entitled The Art of Loving. He discusses love as a faculty, not just an object. Much of what we miss when we think about love is how to love – how to give it to others. His book title was not The Art of Love, but Loving – “one’s capacity to love.” I like his use of the word “capacity.” Do we have what it takes to engage the art of loving another? What is in our way? What might we need to work on ourselves to become better lovers? When couples decide to embark on couples counseling, it is usually not to find out how to love better. Sometimes it is, but it is usually because neither feels very loved by the other. The hope is that somehow, through therapy, the other will change and be a better lover.
What if we all started to think more about what kind of artists we are when it comes to love? Fromm’s treatment of love is to approach both the theory and practice of this art. If you are struggling with the idea or practice of love in your life, I would recommend this book. It is older, published in 1956, but very relevant. In an age when life is about instant gratification and getting what we want quickly and easily, we need reminders that some things don’t come easily. And not only does love not come easily on the receiving end, but Fromm’s premise is that neither does one’s ability to love. Many think that it is easy to love, but this is usually not the case. It is when we are falling in love but the ongoing process of love is an art form that takes practice and discipline. That may sound ugly when thinking of love but the kind of work that it takes will produce beauty – it will produce real love, not just a feeling.
If you are in a relationship right now where you feel slighted – where you feel the other is not loving you well, where you feel if your partner would just do such and such the relationship would get better and you could love again – it might be helpful to start thinking about how you can love better. When there is conflict, most couples have a hard time being the first to step in the other’s direction and offer love. It becomes a standoff where neither will budge. Both partners are, at this point, operating from a place of deprivation. A question might be, “how can I love this person while feeling deprived myself?” It might not look like you think it looks. Explore the art of loving. Practice the art of loving. A healthy relationship is two people who both look to give to the other and are not as focused on receiving. This is not always easy to do. It is also okay to ask for certain needs to be met, communicating in healthy ways but if it is always about what we are getting then we are not practicing the art of LOVING.