In the 1950s, social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm wrote a groundbreaking book, The Art of Loving: An Enquiry into the Nature of Love.
This book presents a refreshingly non-Disney theory about this thing we call love.
Unlike most self-help books, The Art of Loving does not presume to have any straightforward answers about your own relationships. Instead, it discusses love philosophically such that you can take from the book what you find most helpful.
Here are a few ideas from this work that changed the way I relate to other people, in particular my family and spouse.
1. Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality.
There’s a difference between superficial love and mature love. Mature love does not lose itself in another person, but rather fuses with another person while still maintaining a sense of individuality. When a couple is so engrossed in each other that they do not strive to improve themselves, but are only obsessed with serving or dominating their partner, this is dependence, and not love.
In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one yet remain two.
2. Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.
One of the most important points that Fromm makes about love is that true, mature love is one in which the loved person is not possessed. If you truly love your partner (or child or friend), then you sincerely wish for them what they want for themselves – whether it’s a better job, an advanced degree, or a desire to pursue a new hobby. A good relationship is therefore one in which each partner takes an active interest in learning about each other as individuals and talking to them about their future goals and desires.
3. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can only love others, he cannot love at all.
When we talk about love, we often talk about giving up and sacrificing. However, Fromm notes that true, mature love can only come from a loving orientation that does not distinguish between self and others. That is to say, you must work on a healthy, loving relationship to self before you can find within yourself the power to love others.
4. To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise.
Perhaps the most important lesson about love from Fromm’s book is that true, mature love is, the type of love that lasts. This is not the popularly conceived “falling in love” but rather it’s a “standing in love.” If we conceive of love as not a feeling but rather an action, then we can actually focus on improving the way we love others – and the way we love ourselves.
Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges.