This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Art of Loving" by Erich Fromm. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are the four requirements of genuine love? Why is maintaining individuality important for a relationship?
In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm outlines the requirements for genuine love. The four requirements are nourishment, responsiveness, acceptance, and understanding.
Continue below for a full explanation of each requirement.
What Is Genuine Love?
In Fromm’s view, the healthiest way to overcome the anxiety of separation and connect to others is through genuine love. Genuine love happens when two people join together while still maintaining their individual identities. They do not become enmeshed—instead, each is a whole person unto themselves, so they can give love to each other wholeheartedly.
(Shortform note: This definition of genuine love is similar to Simone de Beauvoir’s definition of “authentic love.” Like Fromm, she argues that for love to be authentic, both partners must recognize each other as unique individuals while still respecting each other as complete equals. Beauvoir first laid out this definition in The Second Sex, which was translated into English in 1953, so it’s possible that Fromm was influenced by her ideas.)
In this section, we’ll explore genuine love in more detail, including the requirements and types of genuine love and how to develop genuine love in your own life. Then, we’ll see how genuine love differs from false love.
4 Requirements of Genuine Love
According to Fromm, there are four requirements for genuine love: nourishment, responsiveness, acceptance, and understanding.
In Fromm’s view, the first requirement of genuine love is nourishment. In this case, nourishment means actively contributing to the survival and wellbeing of another person—for example, by providing them with food and shelter. (Shortform note: Fromm isn’t the only psychologist to recognize the foundational importance of nourishment: Abraham Maslow also acknowledged it in his hierarchy of needs. Physical nourishment needs such as food and shelter form the foundation of his hierarchy—we need to meet those needs before we can consider any other, just like we need to give love in the form of nourishment before we can give other types of love.)
The second requirement of genuine love is responsiveness. According to Fromm, a responsive person notices and reacts to the needs of others, whether material or emotional, rather than ignoring or abandoning them. (Shortform note: While Fromm argues that responsiveness is important in all kinds of genuine love, others point out that it’s particularly important in parent-child relationships. Noticing and responding to a child’s needs forms the basis of a secure attachment, in which the child feels completely safe and loved by their parents.)
The third requirement of genuine love is acceptance. In Fromm’s view, acceptance means to love someone as they are, without trying to change them. When you accept someone, you support and nourish their growth because they deserve the freedom to grow, not because that growth would bring them closer to who you want them to be.
(Shortform note: There is a difference between loving someone as they are and letting them walk all over you. If you’re unhappy with something about your loved one, experts agree with Fromm that you shouldn’t try to change them, but you should set boundaries to protect yourself. For example, if your partner never cleans up after himself in the kitchen, you can’t force him to be neater—but you can tell him that you won’t be giving up your personal time to clean up after him.)
The fourth and final requirement of genuine love is understanding. In this case, understanding means being able to read someone’s subtle emotional cues and understand why they feel what they feel. When you genuinely love someone, you understand who they truly are at their core.
(Shortform note: Fromm argues that understanding your loved one is crucial, but he doesn’t describe how to develop this understanding. To get to know someone on a truly intimate level, you can try psychologist Arthur Aron’s 36 questions that lead to love. The questions progress from casual to deeply vulnerable and can help you get to know your partner on a deep level in just a few hours.)
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Art of Loving summary :
- Why you might be wrong about what you think of as love
- Why so many people are unhappy, despite having all their basic needs met
- How to genuinely love others to become happier and less isolated