“In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two“, wrote Erich Fromm, referring to the need to share but, at the same time, maintain individuality in the relationship of couple.
The poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran added: “Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls”.
Unfortunately, we often experience a possessive love that ends up destroying itself. The desire to own and control the other ends up burning the psychological oxygen that every relationship needs to survive.
When love doesn’t allow growth, but demands the sacrifice of identity on the altar of “us”, it’s not love but possession. And it’s doomed to failure, or to the permanent dissatisfaction of those who remain trapped in that network.
Becoming the guardian of the loneliness of those we love
When we love, we need to learn to give space to the other. This act is, perhaps, the only one that can save a relationship, make it prosper over time and, above all, ensure that this link is fertile ground so that both can grow. We need to reconcile our need for union with our need for separation.
How to achieve it? At the beginning of the 20th century, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke already offered us a solution to break the apparent dichotomy between possession and freedom that usually occurs in relationships:
“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.
“But, once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!”
“loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is — solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for him who loves. Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate — ?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.”
This poet gives us a different vision of love. It does not imply loving someone only for the things we have in common, but also for those that we don’t share and make us different. It means loving not in spite of differences, but also loving differences. “I have to know the other person and myself objectively in order to see his reality or, rather, in order to overcome the illusions, the irrationally distorted image I have of him”, Fromm wrote. Obviously, that also means that we should not try to model the other in our image and likeness but become the guardians of those differences that make us unique.
Erich Fromm had already said: “Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality“. Respecting individuality, as well as the need for solitude, are the bases to build a solid and mature relationship over time in which both people can grow, together but each in their own sense, and feel at ease.
These principles are not only valid in the couple but apply to any close relationship or any link that you want to maintain throughout life, whether between friends, siblings or between parents and children.
“All companionship can consist only in the strengthening of two neighboring solitudes, whereas everything that one is wont to call giving oneself is by nature harmful to companionship: for when a person abandons himself, he is no longer anything, and when two people both give themselves up in order to come close to each other, there is no longer any ground beneath them and their being together is a continual falling “.
“They who wanted to do each other good are now handling one another in an imperious and intolerant manner, and in the struggle somehow to get out of their untenable and unbearable state of confusion, they commit the greatest fault that can happen to human relationships: they become impatient. They hurry to a conclusion; to come, as they believe, to a final decision, they try once and for all to establish their relationship, whose surprising changes have frightened them, in order to remain the same now and forever (as they say)”, Rilke said.
Popova, M. (2018) The Difficult Art of Giving Space in Love: Rilke on Freedom, Togetherness, and the Secret to a Good Marriage. In: Brain Pickings.