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The Six Capacities to Love: Preface

July 11th, 2006 | 2 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

The best time to begin thinking about a project is long before the project begins. Foresight is one of the classical hallmarks of the man with practical wisdom, or prudence…. As one cliché puts it, “An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of execution.”

I am not married, and so in an attempt to be prudent (not to say “a prude”) I take each chance that I get to converse with married people, or to read books about love and marriage, in an attempt to learn from them, as from those who have gone before me on a path I too may travel, whether the way is rough or smooth, how to avoid any traps and wild beasts, and how to maintain movement along the narrow way.

My latest literary endeavor into understanding the mystery of marriage was to read Mapping the Terrain of the Heart, a fascinating experiment from the minds of psychologists Stephen Goldbart and David Wallin. Their project is “a comprehensive psychology of love,” an ambitious ideal of which they admittedly fall short, but not without generating some keen insights and demonstrating an impressive philosophy of romantic relationships that is as intuitively compelling as it is intellectually interesting.

The sub-title is “Passion, Tenderness, and the Capacity to Love,” which tips us off to the structure of the book. It asks six questions about relationships, and attempts to provide (and explain) the six answers with a view to one of the six different “capacities” that human beings have to love and be loved. I will summarize and comment on each chapter/capacity in a series of posts.

The six questions are:

1. Is it realistic to expect sexuality to remain satisfying over the course of a long-term relationship?

2. To what extent, in an intimate relationship, can we expect to satisfy our independent needs while also remaining close to our partner?

3. Is it wiser to settle for a love relationship that is merely “good enough” or to search for one closer to our ideal?

4. How much disappointment in or anger toward our partner is too much? How much should we tolerate before deciding that a relationship is not worth preserving?

5. What conclusions can we draw when our current relationship seems to repeat the past?

6. How can we accept the changes in our individual identity — and sometimes the sacrifices required — when we commit ourselves to a long-term relationship?

And their six capacities are: Erotic involvement (the role of the body in love),

Merging (the role of boundaries)

Idealization (the role of the romantic ideal),

Integration (the role of acceptance),

Refinding (the role of the past), and

Self-Transcendence.