Effortless Love Is a Myth: Love Takes Work

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you believe in effortless love? Or do you think that love takes work?

According to psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, effortless love is a myth. Genuine love takes work, and work requires attention. He argues that listening with full attention is a critical act of genuine love for parenting and other types of relationships. He also discusses when love isn’t worth the effort.

Keep reading to better understand how and why love takes work.

The Truth: Love Takes Work

We tend to expect love to be easy, rejecting the notion that love takes work—and believing that, if it does, it’s not “true love.” But effortless love is a myth.

Love can be measured by effort and energy. You can only expand your limits through deliberate effort. Love takes work, and this effort requires attention. 

Being a good listener is the best way to demonstrate attentiveness. When you genuinely love someone, you listen as an act of love. You determine that the person is valuable to you, and you invest your will to love in the form of attention. As a listener, you are both giving and receiving. This is true for the speaker, as well. That being said, it’s hard work. People who don’t listen well either don’t understand that it requires effort, or they are not willing to commit that effort. 

A Note on Parenting

With children, most listening approaches have some sort of merit. Sometimes kids need to be quiet, sometimes they need to chatter away and they don’t care who is listening. Sometimes it’s sufficient to make a few acknowledgments so they know you are there, other times they prefer to go in and out of communication which makes selective listening plenty. Other times it is essential that you listen fully. The difficulty of parenting is determining the proper balance of all these methods for your child’s particular set of needs. Why listen to children? 

  • It demonstrates that they are valued, and feeling valued is crucial to the well being of your children as they grow.
  • The more valuable they feel, the more likely they are to share valuable things (they meet your expectation of their value).
  • Once you treat them with value, you will realize they truly do have value to share.
  • The more you listen to your child, the better you will be able to guide them, and the more they will value your guidance.
  • The more you value and respect your child as an individual, the more they will value and respect you in return.
  • This demonstrates mutual spiritual growth (mutual expansion of the self, for both parties).

These truths are not limited to parenting. Listening with full attention is a critical act of genuine love for any type of relationship. The best tool you have for practicing this is bracketing, which requires you to temporarily set aside your “self” (belief systems, wants, needs, and so on) to create space for another person to connect with you and be fully received. 

For example, let’s say you’re in an argument with your partner, they’re saying things that are triggering for you. You set aside your emotion to hear what is really being said. You’re using bracketing by temporarily setting your worldview aside to integrate new information into your knowledge bank. This allows you to temporarily accept others in their totality (as a result of setting your own self aside). It’s effective because people sense when they are being totally accepted and become willing to open up further. Bracketing can only be fueled by love, due to the immense effort it requires.

Love takes work. Love, in all its forms, is discipline in action. If you care about yourself or others, you will put forth your best effort to support mutual spiritual growth.

Is Love Always Worth the Effort?

Love takes work, and it’s important to determine when that effort is warranted. You must figure out whether the person you wish to give genuine love to is able to support your spiritual growth the way you are able to support theirs. If they are not, then giving love will be a waste of your energy. Alternatively, there are some who have a greater capacity for love than others, and it is important that they love to their full capacity, rather than limit themselves. If you fall into this category, discipline is essential to be sure you do not spread your love too thin.

Effortless Love Is a Myth: Love Takes Work

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  • The four key elements in the path to enlightenment
  • The importance of spiritual competence in relation to mental health
  • How you can face challenges and grow through hardship

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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