Implications for treatment

What then can a Buberian/Marcelian understanding of love offer to a psychoanalysis conceived of as a spiritual discipline? That is, while analysts tend to view love in terms of the individual’s personal experience of it, a “spirituality of me,” Buber and Marcel focus on the “spirituality of us,” associated with the best of marriage or a partnered monogamous relationship (Mahoney, 2013, p. 365). In fact, in contrast to the cogito ergo sum, Marcel called his overall philosophy “a metaphysics of we are” (Marcel, 2001b, p. 10). Analysts, of course, have reaffirmed what Buber and Marcel and many love theorists before them have suggested, that the romantic love relation is a co-created, co-potentiating and co-occurring happening, that while fraught with possible impediments, as Freud claimed,43 is perhaps the main port of entry to a modicum of experienced happiness. Indeed, as professor of family and consumer studies N.H. Wolfinger (2019, n.p.) noted in his recent analysis of survey marriage data, in general and in sync with prior research, married people [and by extension, I would add, those involved in a partnered monogamous relationship], both husbands and wives, are happier (and less unhappy) than their unmarried peers. “The story is straightforward: married respondents are much happier.” Moreover, researchers have found that when a marriage is lodged in a relationship characterized by “mutual trust, good communication and healthy conflict management,” it tends to be more satisfying for both partners regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple (Compton & Hoffman, 2020, p. 139). Indeed, while marriage was the accepted convention in the time in which they lived, Buber was happily married for 58 years (“marriage is the exemplary bond”; Buber, 1965b, p. 61), Marcel, for 28 years (his wife died before him), Levinas for 63 years, and Freud for 53. Here is what Freud’s grieving widow Martha said about him in her 11/7/1939 letter to Ludwig Binswanger thanking him for his condolences:

How good dear Dr., that you knew him when he was still in the prime of his life, for in the end he suffered terribly so that even those who would most liked to keep him forever had to wish for his release! And yet how terribly difficult it is to have to do without him.To continue to live without so much kindness and wisdom beside one! It is a small comfort for me to know in the fifty-three years of our married life not one angry word fell between us, and that I always ought as much as possible to remove from his path the misery of everyday life. Now my life has lost all content and meaning.

(Grotjahn, 1967, p. 124)44

The aforementioned is noteworthy because it affirms the Buberian/Marcelian spiritual sensibility and valuative attachments pertinent to love: Freud’s “kindness and wisdom,” his lack of aggression towards Martha (“not one angry word”), the fact that he generated in Martha a wish to shield him from suffering, even to the point of her willingness to give him up rather than watch him suffer (“I suffer, therefore you are”), and the fact that he was the center of her universe are all tell-tale signs of an I-Thou relationship (as opposed to the / being the center of the universe in an I-It relationship). And finally, there is the fact that Martha’s sense of “content and meaning” resides mainly in fidelity to the eternal memory of her loving service to Freud’s best interests. As Mark Twain noted, “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married [or in a partnered monogamous relationship] a quarter of a century” (Charles & Carstensen, 2002).

Buber and Marcel emphasize that spirituality involves the will and ability to restore the sacred into everyday life, what Marcel in affinity with Heidegger called affirming the “sacral dignity of being” (Marcel, 1973 p. 247). What this means is that the love relationship is to be regarded as reflecting the individual’s quest for the sacred which Buber and Marcel (and Levinas) believe is the best of being human in the world. For all three philosophers, “holiness” in one’s way of being-in-the-world is the ultimate ideal. Buber and Marcel describe holiness somewhat differently, but like Levinas, they all point in a certain direction, such that holiness includes, for example, hallowing the world, participating in a transcendent reality that evokes awe, love and fear, and being for the other before oneself. By sacred, Buber and Marcel are alluding to the perception of “something more,” “something higher,” and “something better,” requiring cherishment and ethicality. For Buber and Marcel, both theistic believers in varying ways, the love relation is both an expression and affirmation of the human perception of a trace of the divine, transcendent reality, what they call God (e.g., the Eternal Thou or Absolute Thou), which summons the lover to being, first, other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving (and if not first, then at least being-for-the-other as much as for oneself).This is the moment when I-Thou, even though by definition turns into I-It, nevertheless leaves a trace that ripples through one’s whole being (one’s feelings, thoughts, and actions), and becomes dispositional as opposed to a passing phenomenon (including relating to the It-world differently). Put simply, “Meeting with a Thou is thus not an aesthetic, but a vocational experience. It leads to a transformation of our lives,” a more flourishing one (Wood, 1999, p. 88).

While Buber and Marcel stressed that the quest for the sacred/divine always travels through I-Thou relationships conceived of as one of mutuality and whole-subject-to-whole subject, Buber also believed that one could have an I-Thou relationship as he did, with say a tree, horse, cat, piece of mica, Doric pillar or a book; and Marcel implied that an I-Thou—like moment was possible when listening/playing music or watching/reading a great play. Researchers have noted that one of the factors that makes a flourishing marriage last (and I would assume, a partnered monogamous relationship) is that it is regarded by the parties as a “sacred institution” (or sacred bond, in secular language), a tangible sanctified result of a sacred gift from God (or its secular equivalent) (Lauer, Lauer, & Kerr, 1990). Feeling one is with one’s “soulmate” can involve a God or God-like imagining, like “feeling blessed” or “relational grace,” though a popular secular definition of“soulmate” points to a similar sentiment: “A soulmate is someone that just gets you. It’s a connection of minds, a mutual respect, an unconditional love and a total understanding. It’s about being yourself and knowing, not only that person is following and understanding your thoughts, but is right there with you, side by side” (>em-gb>soul-mate-signs-definition retrieved 11/9/19).

While the previously mentioned “god talk” may trouble secular analysands and analysts, by God I mean the person’s felt bond with the spirit of the sacred, understanding that people’s conceptions and imaginings of God, whether “theistic or nontheistic, tangible or abstract, immanent or transcendent, personal or transpersonal,” are diverse across persons, communities, and cultures (Mahoney, 2013, p. 369). In the positive psychology literature, defined as the search for personal strengths and virtues, there is a helpful distinction between two types of spirituality; both include a need and desire to relate to something greater than oneself that usually requires at least a modicum of self-transcendence. “There is no room for God in him who is full of himself,” said Buber (2006, p. 102), and Marcel referred to “pride,” the fantasy of self-sufficiency that manifests as “holding back” and “closed-in-ness,” as lethal to a love relationship: “Where pride reigns there is no room for mercy [love]” (Marcel, 1973, p. 95).“Vertical transcendence” involves fostering a relationship with a spiritual being who is “higher” and “greater” than oneself, as in Buber’s Jewish and Marcel’s Christian view of God. When spirituality takes on a specifically religious expression, the quest for the sacred takes place in an institutional context like a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. “Horizontal transcendence” involves forming a relationship with a force that is more immanent in the world and is less often conceived of as a spiritual being. Taoism (a religion that Buber admiringly wrote about in 1910, early in his career)45 views the Tao as the force that motivates and upholds the natural order of the universe (Compton & Hoffman, 2020, p. 395). As Buber said, “The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God” (Margulies, 2017, p. 66). In psychoanalysis, the relational perspective has recently described the allegedly “universal ... tragic and existential dimensions of the human condition” such as inner dividedness, hiddenness, self-deception, lack, loss and finitude (Slavin, 2016, p. 537), all themes that are profoundly discussed in the great ancient religious and spiritual wisdom traditions (Marcus, 2003). While these common existential themes are important to reckon with analytically (including regarding love), they are, in fact, interminable/unresolv-able aspects of human existence, as we know it. However, such reflective activity that is linked to the otherness in oneself and others (a theme Buber and Marcel emphasized) was characterized by one relational analyst as “tragic in a deeply moving, ennobling, in what some might call a spiritual sense” (Slavin, 2016, p. 537).46

So, what specifically does the Buberian/Marcelian conception of love add to psychoanalysis conceived as a spiritual discipline? Briefly, Buber and Marcel have pointed to a spiritual sensibility, rooted in a transcendent domain of being-in-the-world that demands enacting a set of life-affirming and identity-defining valuative attachments which make loving behavior accessible in a sustained manner. Perhaps most importantly, responsibility for and to the other is the lynchpin of love in its most evolved form. As Oppenheim (2017, p. 130) noted, responsibility is an undertheorized notion in contemporary psychoanalysis, which has not entirely avoided the subject, but “usually appears in a limited form” (probably because it is associated with authoritarian moralizing).To further answer the earlier question, 1 will mention two important quotes from Buber and Marcel (the latter a paraphrase) which suggest, among other things, how a skillfully crafted, spiritual/religiously animated language can open up non-apprehended existential spaces in the analysand and analyst.

Buber noted that the “Dialogic is not to be identified with love. But love without dialogic, without real outgoing to the other, reaching to the other, the love remaining with itself—this is called Lucifer” (Buber, 1965b, p. 21). Marcel too claimed that he who rejects the absolute Thou (i.e., the loving Creator) and therefore centers himself solely on himself, closing himself in on himself makes a decision that is “Demonic” (Marcel, 2001b, pp. 181, 194). As mentioned, for Buber and Marcel, this “reaching to the other” can in part be equated with embracing certain valuative attachments that are instantiated in the real-life, everyday love relations and called the “sacred emotions” that deepen and expand the spiritual connection between two lovers, for they personify “reaching to the other,” if not being-for-the-other. As Aron notes, “Analysts must accept responsibility' for the fact that it is their own personality, their own subjectivity, that underlies their values and beliefs, that infuses their theoretical convictions, and that forms the basis for their technical interventions and clinical judgments” (Aron, 1996, p. 259). A loving couple needs to be willing and able to sustain the difficulties that typically emerge in most love relationships (this is the bailiwick of psychoanalysis), what Sternberg in his triangular theory of love (1986; Sternberg & Hojjat, 1997) called assaults on “consummate love,” the love that integrates passion (eras, erotic desire), intimacy' (warmth, closeness, sharing), and commitment (deciding to sustain the relationship). But the kind of love relationship that Buber and Marcel were pointing to includes these critical factors, but strives for “something more,” “something higher,” and “something better.” Paraphrasing Marcel, “You know you have loved someone when you have glimpsed in them that which is too beautiful, too true, and too good to die.” Every love relation, infused with fidelity and hope, thus signifies a trace of eternity for Marcel. The way to access being-in-a-love-relationship is, in part, through the cultivation of, and attunement to, sacred emotions that point to “something more,” “something higher,” and “something better,” such as gratitude, forgiveness, compassion, humility. A few brief comments on these sacred emotions are illustrative of how Buberian/Marcelian spirituality can be enacted in real life.

Gratitude, the willingness and ability to be thankful that evokes the wish to return kindness, has a central role in all ancient religious and spiritual wisdom traditions; it also has been regarded as important in contemporary secular contexts. For example, as early as the 1960s American psychologist Abraham Maslow emphasized that what he believed was the innate drive for selfactualization in part culminated in a person embracing a “count your blessings” outlook (Compton & Hoffman, 2020, p. 316). Likewise, Winnicott believed that the infant (and later the adult), if provided with the facilitating environment, has an “inherent potential to care about the (m)other,”and that “goodness and morality and forward movement don’t have to be taught, rather it is there waiting to be found and met” (Slochower, 2018, pp. 99, 100). Gratitude is an expression of this “goodness and morality,” as Melanie Klein noted in her formulations of the infantile basis of gratitude: “A full gratification at the breast means that the infant feels that he has received from his love object a unique gift which he wants to keep. This is the basis of gratitude,” an experience that is entwined with trust and generosity (Klein, 1957, p. 189).

Another way of thinking of gratitude plays off the ancient “count your blessings” notion that Maslow believed was part of self-actualization. For Buber and Marcel, such a saying is headed in the right direction when it comes to love but needs to be expanded by using a modern saying like: “When I count my blessings, I count you twice.”The “you” denotes a person who acts as a blessing in someone’s life, an acknowledgment that there is something miraculous-like that the person evokes by virtue of being in the person’s life that deserves, if not demands cherishment, a manifestation of the “mystery of being,” as Marcel calls it. The capacity to experience and express gratitude personified the spiritual sensibility that Marcel advocated, just as Maslow, Winnicott, and Klein believed that experiencing and expressing gratitude were important manifestations of a “mentally healthy” person. Indeed, empirical researchers have found that gratitude can function to sustain and improve romantic attachments and friendships (Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010). Moreover, gratitude has been correlated with greater life satisfaction, optimism and more positive and less negative emotional experience (Emmons & Mishra,201 l).Such findings suggest the impressive role gratitude has in enhancing closeness and intimacy, along the lines of Buberian/ Marcelian love (Compton & Hoffman, 2020, p. 317). Thus, what Buber and Marcel add to our understanding of gratitude is that when the significant other is viewed as “good,” as deserving of our affirmation and cherishment, we are in fact allowing them to view themselves in the reflection of our high regard, which means that we assist them in becoming the best they are capable of being. This is an expression of the other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving thrust of gratitude.

Forgiveness has been psychologically defined as

a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward someone who has unjustly injured us [from the point of view of the aggrieved party], while fostering undeserved [freely self-donated] qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love toward him or her.

(Enright, Freedman, & Rique, 1998, pp. 46—47)

Indeed, as the well-known saying goes, there is no love without forgiveness and no forgiveness without love. Forgiveness expresses the renewal of hope, the summoning claim the other has on us, that is essential to any workable love relation. Indeed, in a love relation we all periodically feel unfairly treated, that is, narcissistically assaulted, or at least disrespected in terms of what we think we should be getting from our significant other—greater care, more accurate empathy, willingness to sacrifice and the like. Such narcissistic assaults tend to foster resentment, anger, revenge, and other forms of aggression that are common in intimate relationships in some form. However, the capacity to forgive, the compassionate reconfiguration of thought and feeling about the other that forgiveness requires, generates a new moral context for the interpretation of the other’s hurtful behavior. When the aggrieved person chooses to give up his resentment, even hatred of the perpetrator for his misdeed, it signifies that he is, in effect, willing to deal with the pain that underlies the narcissistic rage evoked by his significant other’s misdeed. Forgiveness increases one’s range of alternatives just as it enhances one’s freedom to grow and develop. It is the basis for the healing process that needs to occur to keep a love relation from disintegrating as a result of our all too human capacity to be destructive to our loved other. Both Buber and Marcel, lodged in the best of Hebrew and Christian Humanism, emphasize that forgiveness is not only one of the best ways to modulate distressing emotions like anger and resentment, which are ultimately self-destructive, but also strengthens our identification with the common humanity in the larger community and, therefore, deepens and expands our capacity for compassion, the lynchpin of spiritual valuative attachments that Buber and Marcel are committed to. In a word, forgiveness in a love relationship is aimed at “putting things right” between two lovers.

Compassion, often referred to as empathy in the analytic and psychological literature (not to be confused with Buber’s “experiencing the other side”), involves the willingness and ability to engage another person’s personal experience, in particular their suffering, that often leads to an upsurge to help make things better. Indeed, researchers have found a correlation between compassion and altruism that is decidedly operative in a love relation, such that one feels summoned to reduce one’s partners suffering through concrete ameliorative actions (Compton & Hoffman, 2020, p. 320).The Latin root for the word compassion means “suffering with” the beloved, calling to mind the great Biblical narratives in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles in which, for example, God had compassion on Israel and Christ God forgave you. Both Buber and Marcel would agree with Elie Wiesel, who described man’s ethical outlook as it is instantiated in a love relationship, in which I choose to take on the burden of the other’s suffering in compassion-infused fidelity and hope: “I suffer, therefore you are” (Berenbaum, 1994, p. 139).

Finally, we come to humility; a mode of comportment that empirical humility researcher J.P.Tangney said “is relatively rare” (2000, pp. 81—82).“True love,” says Marcel, “is humble” (Marcel, 2001b, p. 83). By this, he means that in a love relationship the focus is on service to the honored other, without feeling that such sustained giving with the fullness of one’s being is self-diminishing, or necessarily needs to be returned or even acknowledged. Humility for Marcel, like other Catholic thinkers, is conceived as a “moral virtue” by which a person freely embraces the profound and far-reaching idea that all of his “good— nature and grace, being and action—is a gift of God’s creative and salvific love” (Gilleman, 2003, p. 205). For Marcel, the main thrust of humility is that it is “a mode of being” (Marcel, 2001b, p. 87) and not an isolated personality trait or character asset as it is usually conceived of in psychological and other circles. Rather, humility is best conceived of as an existential comportment that tends to animate a person’s everyday way of thinking, feeling, and acting. Humility, continues Marcel, is “the act by which a human consciousness is led to acknowledge itself as tributary to something other than itself ... one from whom it holds its very being” (Marcel, 2001b, p. 88).47 For Marcel, this “something other” is the absolute Thou, his term for God, and the apprehension of this divine being requires “creative receptivity” [“simultaneously throwing one’s-self open and offering one’s-self up,” Marcel, 1965a, p. 188)], such that “the human creature turns humbly and freely towards Him from Whom it holds its very being” (Marcel, 2001b, pp. 88,89). In other words, what Marcel is getting at is that to live humbly involves the mindfulness that the “I” is not the center of the universe. Marcel believes that “the ordering principle of the world is not in his own ego and in the powers of technology he controls” (1973, p. 211). In religious terms, this means to reject pride and the desire to replace God with oneself. The prideful being assumes an anthropocentric outlook; the humble person assumes a mainly theocentric one. In fact, Marcel decries what he calls “practical anthropocentrism,” a derivative of the technological mindset in which “technical man” (Marcel, 2008, p. 55) conceives of himself as the only “giver and creator of meaning and value” (Keen, 1967, p. 11). Such a perspective, says Marcel, views the world strictly as neutral raw material to be transformed to satisfy self-serving desires. For the humble secularist, such a prideful mode of being means that rather than submit to the arbitrary and absolute determinism of reality, rather than modulating one’s narcissism and egoism with a consciousness of being part of the universe that goes beyond the boundaries of one’s individuality, what can be called a cosmic perspective, one denies the recognition of the smallness of one’s existence compared to the eternally changing universe.