Is Love Really in the Air?
by Philip Hemphill, Ph.D., LCSW
As the bitter cold slowly gives way to the longer, warmer days, the celebration of Valentine’s Day becomes a measuring stick for the intimacy in our lives. Levine (2010) described ‘Love’ as not one thing but nine:
Love is grand, idealized and culturally reinforced ambition;
Love is an arrangement;
Love gives birth to tenacious bonds;
Love is a moral commitment;
Love is a self-management process;
Love is a force of nature;
Love is an ever-changing pattern of emotions;
Love is a socially perpetuated illusion;
Love is a stop sign that explains tolerance.
He explains that these nine nouns are a continuous transient process of shaping and reshaping many key experiences at different times during the evolution of a relationship. So ‘Love’ is developmental throughout life and a new opportunity with recovery. When promises are made during sobriety a new relationship is required and ‘Love’ is present. This requires an attitude of commitment and acceptance, which hopefully is transferred into behavior. This new relationship is paramount and is better explained by Erich Fromm (1956) in The Art of Loving,
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward an “object” of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism…If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say, I love in you also myself.”
This reflects the principles of Love that includes the Love for oneself. Love’s first ambitious step is knowing what we think and feel, which is followed by the willingness and capacity to communicate it to our loved one. Remember Love is grand, idealized, and lasting. It requires us to live in interpersonal harmony with mutual respect. We are expected to have a comfortable balance of individuality and couplehood. When we experience Love both internally and with another, we evolve, mature, and are better able to cope with life’s demands. Love becomes a label for the courtship arrangement during which we privately weigh various aspects of the other person. We are trying to determine whether the tenacious bond we have encountered compliment our moral commitment. Love is a force of nature as we grow older and care for each other. Love is a complex array of emotions and includes several illusions. Finally, Love is “because I Love him or her.” This phrase is a euphemism for keeping our true experiences private and accepting the spiritual journey that guides our lives. Again, these interlocking nouns do not attempt to fully express the complex nature of ‘Love’ but represent the foundation for an explainable model. Fromm later wrote that ‘Love’ is so difficult to understand that we can only show acts of it by caring for, knowing, responding, affirming, and enjoying the person.
This explanation provides us with understanding human Love; however, spiritual Love is beyond these expressions. First, let’s consider our life experiences with different attachment figures to fully understand our skill set for Love and relationships. Our early bonds whether secure, unstable, unpredictable, or chaotic ultimately predict our capacity for Romantic Relationships (choice), Relationship Adjustment, Emotional Well-being, Working Models of Our Self/Others, Marital Quality, and Parenting Capacity. I’m reminded of the need to restate the Cartesian dictum:
“I think therefore I am” to “He/She [our caregivers] thinks that I am, therefore I am.”
These experiences allow us to have a strong commitment to a romantic relationship which is associated with a high degree of cognitive interdependence—signified by tendencies to think about the relationship in a pluralistic (i.e., “we”-focused) manner. This allows us to perceive an overlap between ourself and our partner, and to regard the relationship as a central component of what is significant in our life.
The we-ness includes a powerful Love chemistry of different neurotransmitters: Norepinephrine, Dopamine, Phenylethylamine (PEA), Oxytocin, and Endorphins. This familiarity breeds predictability and leads to greater comfort as our proximity is often reflected in shared interests. Generally, we begin to reveal our concept of human ethics that pertain to matters of RIGHT and WRONG — also referred to as ”good and evil.” We openly explore our individual conscience and system of principles while integrating our different cultural, religious, and philosophical beliefs. This produces our Codes of Conduct. Therefore, a wonderful way to include ‘Love’ for those intimate partners in your life is expressed through this simple PRAISES intimacy model:
PHYSICAL INTIMACY- Simply means being present for each other; standing together in major and minor tragedies which persist in life; standing up with and to each other, or “fighting” in non-destructive ways; facing and struggling with differences together; ultimately knowing that we are not alone and we must create moments of time together daily; this togetherness is derived from dedication to a common cause, value, and effort.
RECREACTIONAL INTIMACY- Sharing experience of fun, sports, hobbies, recreate your relationship as it develops over time; having ways of refilling the wells of energy and leisure; having a public relationship that mirrors your private relationship; you should commit to doing 15-20 of these activities per week.
AESTHETIC INTIMACY- This is where you are physically attracted to the beauty of each other; sharing experiences of beauty – music, dance, art, theatre, nature, movies, drinking from the common cup of beauty; being creative and helping each other to grow; being co-creators (not “reformers”) of each other and trusting in the beauty of your Higher Power’s Love.
INTELLECTUAL INTIMACY- Sharing the world of ideas; a genuine touching of persons based on mutual respect for each others intellectual capacities (reading, discussing, studying, respectful debating); sharing common tasks; supporting each other in bearing responsibilities; communicating honestly, trusting, truthful, loving; giving constructive feedback; making sure the message you are sending is the message that is being received; and positive confrontation.
SPIRITUAL INTIMACY- Accepting your oneness with your Higher Power; sharing morals, values, and beliefs with each other; the “we-ness” of sharing any ultimate concerns; sharing the meaning of life, philosophies, and religious experiences; being open to your Higher Power’s ‘Love’ through your partner; being in the moment but also being committed to the future “Where would you like your relationship to be in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years…”
EMOTIONAL INTIMACY- Making sure you have access to all emotions with your partner, not just select ones; this depth awareness and sharing of significant meanings and feelings are required; touching of the innermost selves of two human beings; not being responsible for your partner’s emotional state; not trying to change their emotional state (i.e., giving each other space.)
SEXUAL INTIMACY- The beauty of sex is expressed in sensual-emotional satisfaction; the experience of sharing and self-abandon while physically merging two persons into one is a representation of your spirituality; the importance of communicating likes and dislikes is critical; be spontaneous and plan for intimate sexual time; commit to agreed upon variety; accept the limitations that sexual behaviour has; don’t worry about frequency “standards”; use the five senses to express.
Consider these gifts that you have been given which verbalize this beauty we call Intimacy: Loving, Sensitive, Brave, Intelligent, Thoughtful, Generous, Loyal, Truthful, Strong, Energetic, Sexy, Decisive, Creative, Involved, Expressive, Active, Careful, Reserved, Adventurous, Receptive, Reliable, Responsible, Dependable, Nurturing, Warm, Open… and try breathing in the air.
Glaser, D. (1992). Personal Communication.
Levine, S.B. (Ed). (2010). Handbook of Clinical Sexuality for Mental Health Professionals. New York, NY: Routledge.