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Happy Relationships: The Five Faces of Love

Recently I heard a spiritual teacher address a woman who asked whether she should continue to love and accept her partner of four years the way he was or move on. She wanted him to be more committed to the relationship in ways that mattered to her but could continue to love him unconditionally in order to give him more time. It seemed she was willing to accept his needs and minimize her own because that was the “enlightened” thing to do (my interpretation). It reminded me how often people confuse the different qualities of love and, consequently, limit their ability to have relationships filled with harmony and enjoyment.

According to the Greeks, five types of love are:  spiritual, self, romantic, affectionate, and brotherly. Spiritual love is offered to everyone; self to self; romantic to sexual partners; affection to family members; and brotherly to friends.

Spiritual love enables you to have an attitude of unconditional positive regard for others, even your enemies. Compassion for others and yourself form the foundation of your relationships. However, your personal relationships are fulfilling when you and the other person balance compassion with experiencing your values, desires and preferences.

Below are the Greek words that describe the five qualities of love:

Agape – is selfless, spiritual love that embodies God’s unconditional love toward humanity. In human relationships it emphasizes the surrender of the self-centered ego for the sake of the other. When you give love and expect nothing in return, you are a channel of Agape.

Philautia – is self love that can make you become self-absorbed or increase your capacity to love others. When you like yourself and feel secure, you are able to love others deeply. The love you have for yourself, you extend to others.

Eros – is passionate, sexual love between two people. It emphasizes the desire for self-fulfillment by the other. It embodies emotions and physical attraction and allows you to feel loved, desired and complete. (True wholeness is an inside job of self-actualization.)

Storge – is affectionate love for family members—parents, children, spouses, siblings, and relatives. You naturally develop strong family bonds of love within your family of origin and extended family.

Phileo – is brotherly love that expresses warmth and affection in close relationships with friends, mentors, students, etc. You have affection for your close friend, and each of you expect to give and receive encouragement, comfort and support.

For personal relationships to be enjoyable, they offer a place where acceptance and shared values—adventure, respect, fun, integrity, security, etc--co-exist. Here are a few examples of love relationships that integrate the spiritual and human qualities of love:

Self: A man feels inadequate because he could not save his marriage. With the help of others, he stops judging and blaming himself and her. He accepts the loss and moves on with more self-acceptance.

Romantic: A woman offers her romantic partner unconditional love in the hope that he will heal and commit to her. Because her love has a personal agenda, she is in both romantic and spiritual love. Both are appropriate and worthy. The situation eventually calls for a courageous conversation so she can discover whether he wants the same things she does in a relationship and life and whether he is willing to work for them. If not, she is giving herself away. No amount of unconditional love can change a person unless they want to change. Spiritual love will enable her to face the truth in the situation and, if necessary, let him go in love because she loves herself as much as him.

Family: An elderly parent speaks to her adult son in demeaning ways. The son has a positive regard for his mother although they do not have a close relationship. He understands that she is doing her best and does not personalize her insults and guilt trips. He treats her with compassion and limits the time he spends with her.

Friend: A woman contacts her three close friends on a regular basis, and they do not reciprocate. She mentions this to them in a humorous way. One hears her and does things to strengthen their relationship. She contacts the other friends less often and continues to love them for who they are.

Our personal love relationships work best when we love another person unconditionally (spiritual love) and also ask for what we want (human love). We ask for what we want from a place of personal empowerment, not a place of neediness. The other person cannot make up for what we do not have within ourselves. 

As our capacity to give unconditional love to ourselves, others and life grows, our love relationships improve. We are less likely to become defensive and blame others and more likely to set limits based on our personal truths. 

When our values are not being served, we will find healthy ways to stay in a relationship or leave it without blaming anyone. We will learn to make difficult relationship choices with a sense of inner knowing and peace.

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