When Love Is Real: 6 Signs of Genuine Love

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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When love is real, how do you know? What is it like?

Often we throw around the word “love” too easily. Sometimes we use it with all seriousness—yet our definition is seriously wrong. It’s important to know what genuine love is, as it is a huge aspect of life.

Keep reading to learn how to know when love is real.

When Love Is Real …

To grow spiritually, you need to be willing to confront reality, and discipline supports you in doing that. But what motivates discipline? According to M. Scott Peck, developing your will to love is how you improve your relationship to discipline, which then enhances your ability to confront reality.

To genuinely love is to be willing to stretch the boundaries of your “self” to support your or another’s spiritual evolution. When love is real, it has several characteristics.

… It Is an Act of Will

When love is real, it is an act of will. Love as action occurs when you do what is best for the higher growth of others, whether or not you feel a sensation of love for them (cathexis). You can be loving towards people for whom you have no loving feelings. The distinction is passivity versus action. “Desire” on its own is passive. “Will” is a form of desire, but unlike pure desire, it’s actionable. In other words, desire is, “I want to be good to you,” whereas will is, “I will be good to you.”

… It Is Interdependence

When love is real, it is interdependence. Genuine love is rooted in freedom of choice. It means knowing you are capable of living without someone, but choosing them anyway. Additionally, genuine love is not just about being giving. Genuine love asks that you use your best judgment to determine when it is healthy to give, and when it might be healthier to withhold. 

… It Is Self-Replenishment

When love is real, it is self-replenishment. Love should not be martyrdom or masochism. Genuine love requires an extension of the self, not a total sacrifice of it. The goal is to self-replenish. It’s not that genuine love is unselfish, and nonlove is selfish. Genuine love can be both selfish and unselfish. The difference is that with nonlove, the goal is anything but spiritual growth, whereas, with genuine love, the overall goal is always spiritual growth.

… It Is Effortful

When love is real, it is effortful. Love can be measured by effort and energy. You can only expand your limits through deliberate effort. Love is supposed to take effort, and effort requires attention. 

… It Prioritizes Growth as an Individual

When love is real, it prioritizes individual growth. Genuine love always recognizes that there is a distinction between the self and the other. Furthermore, genuine love seeks to respect and honor that separation. It requires that both individuals embrace true mutual acceptance. That separateness is necessary to build or rebuild a healthy foundation for a long-lasting relationship. In the context of spiritual evolution, a relationship is a supportive entity, meant to function as a respite where each individual can replenish while pursuing their own growth. 

… It Involves Risk

When love is real, it involves risk. As with every step on the journey to self-knowledge and spiritual growth, loving genuinely is not easy, and there are four significant risks involved:

  1. Loss: When you genuinely love, you risk abandonment or change. You may even lose aspects of yourself.
  2. Independence: Genuine self-love requires you to establish your identity as separate from those who raised you.
  3. Commitment: In any relationship, you need to be able to reasonably expect consistency in order for growth to take place. It’s always a risk to commit, as there is no guarantee that your commitment will yield positive results, and it’s a risk to trust the commitment of others, as there is no guarantee that others can be safely relied upon.
  4. Confrontation: Loving confrontation is a thoughtful act of redirection used only when doing so will support the spiritual growth of the person being confronted. Choosing not to confront when it would serve spiritual growth is to miss an opportunity to express genuine love. For example, if your partner is spending all their time smoking weed and it causes them to drop their commitments, it would be genuinely loving to confront them and point out that their weed use is negatively impacting their life.

When love is real, you’ll know it by these characteristics, and you’ll grow by practicing genuine love.

When Love Is Real: 6 Signs of Genuine Love

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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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