Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Love and Barriers to Love: An Analysis for Psychotherapists and Others

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Love and Barriers to Love: An Analysis for Psychotherapists and Others

Article excerpt

It is vitally important that psychotherapists bring a strong understanding of the nature of love to their work with the many clients who are struggling, in one way or another, with love relationships. With this in mind, the present paper is designed to accomplish two purposes. The first of these is to provide an adequate answer to an old and perplexing question: "What is romantic love?," and to do so in a way that illuminates why this one relationship possesses the extraordinary importance and centrality in human existence that it so clearly does. The second is to identify and discuss the most common barriers to persons being able to love that are encountered in clinical practice.

"My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite. "

-Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 333-35)

Clearly, love is one of the foremost preoccupations of humankind. Not only is it the single most prevalent focus of literature, drama, poetry, song, and the popular media, but most people, including most who seek psychotherapy, are highly involved in it. Some are trying desperately to find love and/or to become personally capable of achieving it. Others, having found it, are concerned with preventing its erosion or its loss. Yet others, having experienced such erosion, are keenly interested in recovering the quality of relationship that they have lost.

Because love holds such a central place, it becomes vitally important that psychotherapists possess a strong understanding of its nature, so that they will be able to bring such an understanding to their work with the many clients who are struggling, in one way or another, with love relationships. With this in mind, the present paper is designed to accomplish two purposes: 1. to provide an adequate answer to an old and perplexing question: "What is romantic love?," and to do so in a way that illuminates why this one relationship possesses the extraordinary importance and centrality in human existence that is so clearly does; 2. to identify and discuss the most common barriers to persons being able to love that are encountered in clinical practice. The two sections of this paper will be devoted, respectively, to these two matters.

A FORMULATION OF ROMANTIC LOVE

SOURCES OF THIS ANALYSIS

The present conception of romantic love derives from a body of conceptual and empirical research by Roberts (1, 2), Davis (3), Davis and Todd (4), and Bretscher and Bergner (5), all of which built upon the earlier conceptual formulations of Ossorio (6) within Descriptive Psychology. It is highly consistent with other prominent formulations, most notably that developed by Singer (7-9) in his classic three-volume series tracing the evolution of the concept of love from Plato to the modern era. It is also consistent with the formulations of Buber (10) in his famous analysis of "I-Thou" relationships, of Yalom (11) in his portrayal of "needless love," and of Maslow (12) in his discussion of "B-love." Finally, the present conception was validated in empirical research by Davis and his associates (3,4) as embodying the prototypical set of distinctions that most people in fact employ when they distinguish romantic love from friendship and other relationships.

In this body of work, a paradigm case formulation of romantic love was developed. This is an archetypal or ideal case that embodies all of the relevant features that a real-world case of love might exhibit. Employing an ideal case is useful because it provides us with a standard from which to view actual lovers and actual love relationships. Even though we rarely observe the fulfillment of all the features embodied in this standard, understanding it enables us to do such things as to identify where particular individuals are limited in their ability to love, to assess what is missing from a given relationship, to discern areas of strength in individuals and relationships, and more. …

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