Greater Love

Dr. Sue Johnson, one of the originators of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a very effective marital therapy approach, considers the approach to be a “practical theory of love”. EFT is based upon Attachment theory which describes how we care for and emotionally connect to one another, and how that affects our development as human beings. Attachment or bonding to one another in families is basic to our survival. Human life cannot survive and thrive without it. Humans take a long time to grow and become self-sufficient and a bonded caretaker(s) is required.

But what does it mean to attach to someone? Is it the same as loving someone? Are love and attachment the same? I think they are similar and related, interconnected but not the same. For sure love seems to assume attachment; you are likely attached to those you love. But I believe love is greater than attachment. Dr Johnson says: “The multitude of studies on adult attachment that have emerged over the last decade tell us that the essence of love is not a negotiated exchange of resources (so why teach negotiation skills?), a friendship, Nature's trick to get you to mate and pass on your genes, or a time-limited episode of delusional addiction. Love is a very special kind of emotional bond, the need for which is wired into our brain by millions of years of evolution. It is a survival imperative.” Without even considering the question of how we came to be hard wired for connection, it seems to me her view of love is reductionist, that love is nothing more than “a very special kind of emotional bond” whose primary purpose is survival. This is “the essence of love”? Okay, I don't know about you, but that doesn't really turn me on to go find a lover!

I know you might be thinking “who cares?” I would agree this might be esoteric musings of an obsessed attachment focused marriage therapist who also cares about theology, specifically Christian theology. Love is a, if not the, central tenet of Christian faith, “God is love.” In the Christian tradition, marriage and theology are intrinsically linked. Marriage is one of the primary metaphors used to describe our relationship with God and God's relationship with us. In fact, as Pope Benedict says in his Cyclical on Love (I am not Catholic but Popes are usually brilliant and say very interesting things) love of neighbor is love of God so that loving one another is the same as loving God. How well we love our spouse (or neighbor), and the expression of that love is our measure of how well we love God. As Pope Benedict says “God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love”.

In our society today God is often dismissed as grounds for anything. If you begin with “what God says” you may be quickly considered intellectually inferior and out of touch with post modern thinking. You are likely to not be considered as part of a serious debate if you reference God as a source. Well, okay, but since I have been following Jesus I have learned and become a better lover of others than I ever was before, so it is hard for me to ignore or dismiss his influence. I know this is antedoctal, that my experience doesn't prove anything in an objective or scientific way, but you can ask my wife or kids or family if what I say is true. This is evidence that is difficult to dismiss; they know how well, or not, I love them on a particular day or for a particular week, just ask them.

There is a concept in the Christian spiritual life called “first love” that considers “Do I really believe that I am loved first, independent of what I do, or what I accomplish?”(Henri Nouwen) That is, is love freely given or do I have to earn it? Am I loved, totally, simply because I exist and therefore I don't have to worry whether I get something right. I have nothing to fear because it is not about what I do, Love simply loves me. The more we know, experience this Love, the better we are able to love others.(1 John 4:19) This is the measure God presents.

There is no doubt understanding how we attach to one another gives a language to discuss how well we care for and love one another. I practice EFT with my clients and find it very helpful and effective. Understanding how we emotionally connect to one another is very powerful and EFT helps couples do this. It breaks down the dance of connection so we can understand it and learn how to change the dance so to not lose connection with one another. But I think this connection, this bond of unity to one another serves a greater purpose, points to a greater reality, than simply survival; it points to God.