In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Darling, Why Do We Hurt the One We Love?

Each man kills the thing he loves.

"You always hurt the one you love, the one you should not hurt at all;
You always take the sweetest rose, and crush it till the petals fall;
You always break the kindest heart, with a hasty word you can't recall;
So if I broke your heart last night, it's because I love you most of all." (Mills Brothers)

"Love of my life, you hurt me, You broken my heart, now you leave me." (Queen)

Love, which is such a noble attitude, often involves seemingly paradoxical behavior when we hurt the one we love. How can we explain such negative conduct toward someone who we love so much?

In this regard, we can distinguish three different behavior patterns:
(a) Hurting the one who loves you
(b) Unintentionally hurting the one you love
(c) Intentionally hurting the one you love.

The phenomenon of hurting the one who loves you, which is different from hurting the one we love is common. Profound love involves reciprocity, the lack of which is painful. For both sexes, mutual attraction is the most highly valued characteristic in a potential mate. The lover wants to be loved in return. The lover is ready to be committed, but expects to find similar commitment in the beloved's attitude. A lack of reciprocity-that is, the knowledge that the one you love does not love you-is painful and humiliating, because it is a profound blow to your self-esteem. Unrequited love is painful and this pain can drive you to hurt the one you love.

Some people hurt the one they love unintentionally, while others do so intentionally. The first behavior pattern is easier to explain.

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There are many cases in which lovers are likely to hurt their beloved without intending to do so. Love is a close and intense relationship. Lovers spend considerable time together, and many activities of each have significant implications for the other person. Naturally in such circumstances, the lover may unwillingly hurt the beloved. For instance, one may devote a lot of time to work, thereby neglecting, and unwillingly hurting, one's beloved. In many cases a by-product of an enjoyable activity to one person is an unpleasant situation for another. The more time two people spend together, the greater the likelihood of such situations. The great significance in our life of those we love is that these people are both a source of great happiness and deep sadness; they may benefit us as well as hurt us.

The phenomenon of hurting without intending to do so can also be explained by referring to the trust and sincerity which are essential in love. Accordingly, the role of politeness or good manners, which may prevent some kinds of insult, is of less importance in such a relationship, and lovers are less careful in what they say and do. This opens the way for a lover to easily get hurt. The price of being able to behave freely without having to consider every consequence of your deeds is saying and doing hasty things that may hurt your lover.

There are many cases in which we unintentionally hurt our beloved as a result of external circumstances that are beyond our control. Take the case of two lovers who are married to other people, but profoundly in love with each other. The woman, who can and is ready to get divorced, may be hurt by the man's inability to leave his wife, believing that it indicates that his love for her is more superficial than hers for him. However much the man might really want to make her the happiest person in the world, his external circumstances are beyond his control and make him behave in a way that hurts her.

Hurting the beloved on purpose indicates the presence of conflicting perspectives, such as short term and long term perspectives, or partial and comprehensive perspectives. Cancelling a date with a married lover may hurt her in the short term, but might be beneficial in the long term, as their short-term separation could facilitate their long-term relationship. In such cases, the hurt caused to the beloved at this moment for the sake of her comprehensive well-being in the future can emanate from love.

Hurting the loved one can also be a last resort which the lover takes to bring this dependency to its appropriate proportion. Mutual dependency has many advantages, stemming from the fact that two people are joined together in an attempt to increase each other's happiness. However, a sense of independence is also important for each person's self-esteem. Sometimes lovers hurt their beloved in order to show their independence. Other times, however, hurting the beloved expresses an opposite wish: the lover's wish for more dependency and attention. Indeed, a common complaint of married women, far more than of married men, is that their partners do not spend enough time with them. Hurting the beloved by stopping, for example, communicating with him, may be the last alarm bell that warns of the lover's difficulties; it is an extreme measure signaling urgency. If the relationship is strong enough, as the lover wishes it to be, it should sustain this measure.

I do not want to say, as Oscar Wilde did, that "each man kills the thing he loves"; however, hurting one's beloved is frequent. Since the beloved is a major source of happiness, this person is also a major threat to our happiness: more than anyone else, the beloved can ruin it.

Adapted from The Subtlety of Emotions

 

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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