About Love – Healthy & Unhealthy Love

Love is an energy that can be used in a positive, healthy manner or a negative, unhealthy manner. There is unconditional love, which is very accepting, supportive and forgiving. There is tough love, which is disciplined, authoritative and conforming.

If your son were using drugs, you could unconditionally love him and accept his destructive behavior, hoping that he doesn’t overdose and die, or you could use tough love and put him in a rehabilitation hospital in an attempt to save his life.

Too much tough love can be unhealthy, just like too much unconditional love can be unhealthy.

Authentic love:

God is our role model and divine teacher for authentic love. Sometimes God uses tough love when necessary and other times He uses unconditional love. He loves each of us exactly as we are. He also loves each of us enough not to leave us as we are today. God’s love for us is designed for our well-being and spiritual growth.

Authentic love promotes the good that is within that person. It protects, uplifts, reinforces and builds on the positive while minimizing and protecting from the negative. God is love and we are all called to love others in the same way God loves us.

The three parts of love:

Relationship love consists of agape, a spiritual type of unconditional love; phileo, a brotherly type of friendship love; and eros, a romantic type of passionate love. Another way to view these three types is from the spiritual plane of agape, the physical plane of phileo and the emotional plane of eros.

We experience these different types of love in different amounts and at different stages of our relationships. Many times in the beginning of our relationships we are drawn to our partner with a lot of eros (emotional love), and over time eros develops into a deeper form of phileo (brotherly love) and agape (spiritual love).

False forms of love:

Love is not the infatuation stage or the sex act. Many times we feel a lot of powerful, passionate and positive emotions when we first start dating. This is called the infatuation stage, and it slowly fades in every new relationship.

The infatuation stage is a calling to develop a deeper relationship with that person and to increase your ability for phileo and agape love. The infatuation stage is almost like a little carrot that God teases us with to let us know what is possible when we deepen our brotherly and unconditional forms of love.

Some people think the infatuation stage should last forever. They go from one relationship to the next chasing those feelings, hoping once they find the right partner, they will experience the infatuation stage for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen, because the infatuation stage affects our brain chemistry almost like a form of anxiety. Our bodies can’t sustain that chemical condition for very long and eventually the high wears off and the honeymoon is over.

If deeper forms of spiritual and brotherly love are not developed during this time, many people simply move on to another relationship. After a lifetime of chasing infatuation, it’s possible to end up lonely and isolated.

The same applies to the sex act, sometimes referred to as “making love.” Sex binds two people in a very deep and intimate manner. But those close feelings after sex have very little to do with the agape and phileo forms of love.

The acceptance of love:

Many times we give love to our partner the same way we would like to receive it. But loving a person this way might not be in their best interests. If our gift of love fails to promote the good in the other person, they might not like it and reject it. Other times we might expect to be loved by our partners in the same way we were loved as children by our parents.

For example, if your parents made you feel loved by buying you things, you might associate loving actions only in the form of gifts, jewelry, clothes and expensive toys. Your partner could be the most loving, supportive, compassionate, understanding and caring person in the world and it’s possible you could overlook their loving intentions if they didn’t come from a store.

Reprinted from The Relationship Toolbox by Robert Abel.

Robert Abel is director of Relationship Rebuilders, a marriage and family psychotherapy counseling practice in Colorado. He works with couples and families helping them heal the emotional wounds of the past and incorporate spirituality into their lives.

A member of the American Psychological Association with extensive studies in psychology and sociology, one of Abel’s highest goals is to dramatically reduce the current divorce rate by encouraging couples to develop the tools to rebuild, maintain and strengthen their relationships.