Is there a right way to love someone? And if there is, can the skill of loving correctly be taught?
Many people believe loving someone else in a romantic way is something that happens naturally, that it exists innately within us, and is something that appears mystically as if called forth from the hidden fabric of the universe when we need to use it. The idea of being taught to love another in a romantic way is something most of us probably believe is unnecessary. It’s instinct. But is it, really?
How many relationships have you been in that ended because one or the other (or sometimes both) of you believed the other was not loving in the way she should? Expectations of how we want to be loved are often built up in us from childhood in the books we read and the movies and TV shows we watch, as well as how we see couples in our families love each other. When our partner does not love us in this pre-conceived way, we get angry and believe the relationship is not a good one. While our partner may be disappointing us in this way, we may be unknowingly disappointing them in a similar manner. So, how can we know exactly how to love, to make a relationship happy for both partners?
The Art of Loving
In his 1956 book The Art of Loving, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm comes right out and says he believes loving someone romantically is a skill that can be taught, and not instinct at all. Before you dismiss his idea as psycobabble hogwash, you should really examine some of Fromm’s other ideas. The fact is, he studied the hallmarks of the most happy, loving relationships he could locate for years, and he learned a lot about what humans in general want from their romantic partners. The results of his findings, published in his book, are insightful and just as valid today as they were then. After all, times may change, but human nature rarely does, and the things that made for a happy, loving relationship in 1956 are still true of most people in this modern era.
First of all, Fromm believes there are some prerequisites for romantic love. He thinks our modern Western concept of romantic love is faulty. It places too much focus on the partners focusing solely on each other, while ignoring the other loving, but non-romantic relationships in their lives, and this form of love is obsessive, immature, and not health for either partner. In 1956 as well as today, couples tend to look at the ideal romantic relationship as one in which the couple is a well-oiled machine, working toward common goals they have together, from sex to children, and from where they live to what hobbies they will pursue.
In Fromm’s belief, this is not a form of love that will ultimately make either partner happy, because it places too much pressure on the couple to be perfect, to fit perfectly together in every way, and to ignore their individuality. In Fromm’s theory of how to love, the love between two romantic partners is a deliberate one, something they have both decided to do, not something that magically happens to them. With this decision to love each other comes a commitment from each partner to be with the other, and to treat that other person as an individual.
Fromm’s theory makes a lot of sense, as it is the very definition of mature love, and mature love has been shown time and again to be the type of love that produces lasting, happy relationships.
Loving others besides just one’s partner is a key concept of Fromm’s theory of how to love. In fact, Fromm believes true love is not possible between couples unless they each also love all of mankind — including self-love. Making room for love for other people, as well as a general love of all mankind, makes a well-rounded, mature individual, and such individuals are comfortable enough in their relationships to give their partners the freedom to be who they are, to have other, non-romantic relationships, and to pursue their own interests outside of the relationship. This is the deepest, truest type of love.
Make no mistake, truly loving your romantic partner in the correct way is not an easy thing. Fromm even admits this; however, he also states that it is an extremely rewarding thing, one of the most rewarding things you can do, if you decide to pursue it and do it correctly.
To truly love someone the right way, you must first become a full, self-actualized person yourself, and this includes loving yourself and developing your own unique identity as a single individual. Once our personalities and ability to love ourselves are fully developed, we must then learn to love others in our lives, such as family, neighbors, and friends. This love must be expressed (and felt) with genuine humility, discipline, courage, and faith. These are the pillars upon which romantic love, which comes later, is built.
To Fromm, this is a rare thing. Not many people learn how to love a romantic partner the correct way to make the relationship last, because they never learn how to love others or themselves in the correct way. In fact, Fromm believes that real romantic love today is about as common as a four-leaf clover, which is to say not very common at all. This is because there is too much sentimentality attached to the idea of modern romantic love. We do not look at it as the deliberate decision and work of art it really is.
To Fromm, there is a distinct and very important difference between falling in love (something that just happens to you without you having anything to do with it), and being in love (which is a conscious choice). Because of the rarity of real, mature love, Fromm believes the ability to love in the correct way is one of the most important skills we can learn.
Are you and your partner loving each other in the correct way? You’ll know if you are happy and very secure with each other, completely comfortable in letting each other have relationships with other people and be who you really are as individuals. If you both know that you don’t need to be together, but you want to be, and do what is necessary to stay together even through the bad times, then you will have more good times. That’s when you know you have a mature love that has what it takes to last. And really, isn’t that the type of love we all want to have in a romantic partner?