Love as Listening

The Greeks identified four types of love:

Eros: Romantic love. This is the path of passion and sexual excitement. It is often the first
“stage of love”, the chemistry that attracts us toward another. The narrative that pairs with such passionate desire is one of possession. Erotic love treats the lover as an object to be controlled and used for self-gratification. It is a narcissistic love, with a partner only existing for the sake of our personal gratification.

Phila: Brotherly love. This is the form of love most promulgated by the spread of Christianity. It is a dispassionate and virtuous attitude toward the community of man. It sees mankind united in a brotherhood. Its credo is the foundation of the golden rule, which exhorts us to treat others as we would wish to be treated. It is an empathy, which bonds us together with others as if we are one. Its major manifestations are virtue, equality, and familiarity.

Storge: Love of family. This is the most primary form of love. It is grounded in the biological bond with our children, which is anchored in our shared bodies. It is the love first mentioned in the Bible, with the initial reference being Abraham’s love for his son Isaac, whom God asks him to sacrifice.

Agape: Godly love. Agape is transcendent love. It is the love of God for mankind, and the reciprocal love man has for God. First referenced by Christianity in the Gospel of John (3:16), “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Agape is love without self-benefit. Without expectation. Agape maintains love even when it is not returned. Egoless, such love puts the well-being of the other above our own needs and desires.

In working with couples, the root of most conflicts is that each person defines himself or herself only as unique and separate. The tie to their partner remains erotic, in that each are preoccupied with the gratification of their own needs. Couples who are having problems invariably trade allegations of neglect with each other. Their lives are preoccupied with what they are not getting from their partner.

Here are two practices to counter those tendencies: with practice, those erotic tendencies become infused with agape. Love becomes more spiritual and selfless.

Exploring Your Shadow: The Shadow is the reservoir of repressed negative aspects of our personality. These are reflected in the afflictive emotions of desire, fear, anger and sadness.

Begin by focusing on your shadow and how it manifests itself in your primary relationship. Be honest about yourself. Don’t qualify by blaming your partner – “She made me angry!” Instead, acknowledge those destructive qualities that you bring to the relationship. See how your anger or fear is negative. Explore how your narcissism spawns tendencies to control; how your negativity discourages others.

Secondly, explore these feeling states without judgment. Do not condemn yourself or hold on to those feelings. Instead, practice being honest without condemnation. Activate the observational mind, notice and reject that aspect of mind which is the reservoir of judgment, condemnation or disparagement.

Instead of blaming your partner, use your tendency toward blame as a signal to turn inward to focus and observe the dynamics of your own shadow.

Developing Compassion to Your Partner. The reactive mind also responds to an unwanted comment or action with an afflictive emotion. We become wounded in reaction to our partner’s behavior. We respond with anger or distance. The observational mind sees through the comment to the pain underneath. Our partner’s anger is fueled by hurt; neglect generated by fear of abandonment. The activation of old wounds. But instead of reacting to the surface emotion, witness the pain beneath the comment. See the history that led to our partner being that way. Feel the “soft” emotion behind the outward harsh behavior.

As we approach with empathy, conflict dissipates. We see the world through our partner’s eyes, and our conflicts soften.

In our day to day actions agape manifests in deep listening, neutral observation, and empathy to self and others.

~ Dr. Michael Abramsky

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About the writer: Dr. Michael Abramsky

Michael Abramsky PhD, ABPP is a licensed psychologist with 35 years of experience treating adolescents and adults for anxiety, depression and trauma. He is nationally Board Certified in both Clinical and Forensic psychology. Dr. Abramsky also has an MA in Comparative Religions, and has practiced and taught Buddhist Meditation for 25 years.

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