Love Task (Love/Couples/Marriage)
Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
Adler defined love with sexual intimacy as one of the three tasks of life that must be met by each person (see life tasks). The love task begins for children in the intimacy of breast-feeding (or its simulation, unavailable in Adler's day), which, Adler noted, is the child's first experience of cooperation. As the child develops, he or she gathers impressions (largely unconscious) of what it means to be a man or a woman, forms ideas about relationships between the sexes based on mother's and father's conjunctive or disjunctive movement, and consciously attends to other models of love, coupleship, and marriage (see Gender Guiding Lines and Role Models). If he or she is encouraged, with educational guidance informed by community feeling, the child meets the challenges of adolescence and sexuality in all their complexity with common sense and courage.
If the child is overburdened (see Overburdening Childhood Situations), he or she will nonetheless seek means for overcoming inevitable feelings of inferiority. If the child is not encouraged and community feeling is not fostered, these efforts may result in a hesitating attitude, compulsions or other disorders, or worse, a hostile turning against others; any of these maladaptations brings with it unhappy consequences for the individual in meeting the task of love.
In our period, when competitive and self-absorbed striving is elevated as desirable, those who succeed in coupleship and marriage do so against the odds (as Adler points out in the quotations below). He offered a treasury of advice to his daughter, Valentina, and her husband upon their wedding. He wrote that living two-by-two, "is a task at which both of you must work, with joy"; he encouraged them to "live in such a way that you make the other's life easier and more beautiful," and cautioned, "Don't allow either of you to become subordinate to the other; no one can stand this attitude"; he further advised, "Don't allow anyone else to gain influence over the shaping of your marriage relation," and "only make friends with people who have a sincere affection for you both" (Bottome, 1939, pp. 98-99).
Love . . . is a task for two individuals. . . . To some degree we have been educated to work alone; to some degree, to work in a team or a group. We have generally had little experience of working two by two (Adler, 1982, p. 124).
Training has been too much toward individual success, toward considering what we can get out of life rather than what we can give to it. . . . [People] are unaccustomed to consulting another human being's interests and aims, desires, hopes, and ambitions. They are not prepared for the problems of a common task (Adler, 1982, pp. 125-126).
In addition to physical suitability and attraction . . . [these points] are to be considered as indicators of a sufficient degree of social interest: (1) the partner must have proven he can maintain a friendship; (2) he must be interested in his work; (3) he must show more interest in his partner than in himself” (Adler, 1982, p. 325).
Love is the equal partnership between a man and a woman where two are merged into one, a human dyad, reconciling the sex urge with the biological needs of the race and the demands of society (Adler, 1982, p. 321).
Some people are incapable of falling in love with one person. . . . They must fall in love with two at the same time. They thus feel free; they can escape from one to the other, and never undertake the full responsibilities of love (p. 437).
See Belove, L. (1980); Kern, R. M., Hawes, E. C., & Christensen, O. C. (1989); Sherman, R., & Fredman, N. (1986).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 65).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Adler, A. (1982). Cooperation between the sexes: Writing on women, love and marriage, and sexuality. (H.L. and R.R. Ansbacher, Eds. and Trans.). NY: Norton. (Original work published 1978)
Belove, L. (1980). First encounters of the close kind (FECK): The use of the story of the first interaction as an early recollection of a marriage. Journal of Individual Psychology, 36(2), 191-208.
Kern, R.M., Hawes, E.C., & Christensen, O.C. (1989). Couples therapy: An Adlerian perspective. Minneapolis, Mn.: Educational Media.
Sherman, R., & Fredman, N. (1986). Handbook of structured techniques in marriage and family therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.