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Seven Prerequisites of Love

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Sigmund Freud saw love as an outcome of sexual development. If an individual manages to go through the stages of psychosexual development without incurring any major traumas and fixations, that person will achieve genitality, which refers to the ability to have a healthy sexual and romantic relationship.

Harry Harlow, in the 1950s, conducted his famous experiments with monkeys and maternal deprivation, defining love as a feeling of physical comfort. In one experiment he had baby monkeys taken away from their mothers and raised by two surrogate mothers, a monkey made of wire and another made of cloth. Although the wire monkey had a bottle of milk and the cloth money did not, the babies tended to spend 18 hours a day clinging to the cloth monkey.

John Bowlby, also in the 1950s, defined love as an intense attachment that first forms during a critical period in a child’s life—specifically from the age of six months until three years. If that first attachment between the child and the caretaker is satisfactory, it becomes the model for later attachments, and the precursor of what the individual experiences as love.

Mary Ainsworth, who worked with Bowlby, developed a similar theory about attachment and love in 1965. She did an experiment called the “Strange Situation” in which she observed the infant’s response when mother leaves a room or a stranger enters the room. Through this experiment Ainsworth came up with four classifications of attachment: secure, avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized. Those with a secure attachment expressed the most love for their mothers and, in follow-up studies, demonstrated the most capability for love. Thus Ainsworth equated love with having had a secure attachment with mother.

More recently (2004), Robert Sternberg came up with a triangular theory of love. He looked at love as being comprised of three components intimacy (intimate sharing), commitment and passion. He referred to this kind of love as “consummate love,” a relationship between two people such as a man and a wife that is enduring and vital.

All of these studies have important things to say about love, but they don’t say all there is to say about it. Yes, love has to do with sexual development, with the ability to attach to another human, with intimacy, commitment and passion. However, the question that needs to be answered is: what are the basic requisites of love? An advanced college course has prerequisites; you need to master Algebra 1 before you can do Algebra 2. As I see it, the prerequisites of love are:

1. Empathy. You must be able to put yourself into another person’s shoes. If you can do that, you will be in synch with them and have the ability to have a give-and-take relationship with them. If you can’t empathize, you’ll be at odds with them because you won’t be able to understand them in a way that is truly in tune with the other.

2. Honesty. To the extent you can be honest you will be able to be real with another person and have an authentic relationship. Knowing that you can trust someone with anything, including your darkest desires, forms a strong bond. This, of course, also requires you to be honest with yourself, which is a tall order in and of itself.  If you can’t be honest, you won’t have a truly loving relationship.

3. Trust. Trust goes hand-in-hand with honesty. If you feel distrustful of people, you will not be able to be honest with them. You’ll be afraid they will somehow take advantage of your honesty, judge you, or betray you. To the extent that you can open up to somebody and trust them, you will be able to love and honor them.

4. Self-Love. In order to love another person, you have to first love yourself. This means that you accept yourself as you are. Most of us think we accept ourselves, but in fact we don’t. What happens is that we make judgments about others that are in actuality projections of our own failings. Hence, in order to truly love we must truly love and accept ourselves.

5. Self-respect. Just as self-love allows us to love another, self-respect makes it possible to respect others. A big part of loving is respecting the other person’s boundaries and respecting your own boundaries. If you can calmly let the other know where your boundaries are, and vice versa, your relationship will have the balance required to breed and nurture love.

6. Self-objectivity. It goes without saying that in order to have a healthy relationship with another you must be able to have a healthy relationship with yourself. A big part of that is the ability to be self-objective. If there’s a problem in the relationship, you need to be able to look at yourself through a clear, not biased, lens and take responsibility for your part in the matter.

7.  Spontaneity.  The ability to play is as important for adults as it is for children. This is true especially for the sexual aspect of a relationship. Play is an important way not only of creating a bond but also of releasing stress.  When couples can’t play together they are unable to let go of their judgments be their real selves.  We can learn a lesson from watching animals play; when they play they no longer care what they look like or what their status in life is.  Families who play together stay together.

There are probably other essential requisites for love that I have left out, but these are the ones that came readily to mind. Having the requisites depends on a lot of factors–what kind of childhood you had, your life experiences, and your the amount of successful therapy you’ve had. The ability to love is one of the most complex and rewarding abilities one can possess.

Seven Prerequisites of Love

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2015). Seven Prerequisites of Love. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 10 Apr 2015
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