this is the framework of my talk to the Society for Existential Analysis 25th anniversary conference.
The image files were too large and I had to remove them in order to be able to upload the presentation.
Emmy van Deurzen
PhD, MPhil, MPsych, CPsychol, FBPsS, UKCPF, FBACP, ECP, HPC reg
•Visiting Professor Middlesex University -UK
•Director Dilemma Consultancy
•Director Existential Academy
•Principal New School of Psychotherapy
and Counselling - London
Edited with Susan
Existential Perspectives on
Living with love and its shadows
What is love?
Why does it matter?
How do we make love happen?
What are its drawbacks and shadows?
How to live with love?
What is Love?
intent on knowing, respecting
• To be they actually are and can be and valuing an other for
• Letting them beheart, as as fully and freely as possible, keeping
their welfare at
our own, in a dedicated, attentive
and uncompromising way . I-Thou. Cherishing. Challenging.
Love is not just a feeling
It is an action, an attitude, an intention, a
movement, a way of being
• Love is the movement towards the other in the
spirit of care, affection, commitment, loyalty,
generosity, kindness, intimacy, tenderness,
attachment, trust and truth.
Love is a particular kind of
• The world is not comprehensible, but it is
embraceable: through the embracing of one of its
• Scheler: humanitarian feelings are always
accompanied by a hatred of the world. Humanity
is loved in general in order to avoid having to love
anybody in particular.
Albert Camus, The Rebel, A. Bower, trans. (1956), p. 18
• There is not enough love in the world to
squander it on anything but human beings.
Shadows and drawbacks
True loverequires mutuality
We cannot truly love unless we love ourselvesfirst
Risks inherent in loving: it is a very absorbing activity which takes
Our good will and availability are taken advantage of
Our heartsmay be broken
We will neglect others we do not love
People are confused about love
Friendship and love
Role of Existential Couple Therapist:
work in synergy
Balancing pros and cons after
The quieter you become
the more you are able to hear
• Re-establish peace, calm and willingness to listen
Existential Couple Work: aims
• Focus on shared meaning and human and life issues
• Values of couple and how they provoke tension and
• See conflict and daily conflict resolution as a basis of
• Dialogue, understanding and respect as the
objective: creating a good space in the world
• Mutuality and reciprocity as a way of overcoming
Existential couple work
• Teach dialogue and listening
• Allow each partner access to what the other partner
feels, dreads and hopes for in private
• Create a safe space where partners are able to speak
freely and with the confidence of being respected,
listened to and understood.
• Provide translation when they do not hear each other.
Love’s executioner or Love’s ally?
• Ally of love
• Executioner of infatuation
To understand love is to understand
life in all its paradoxes
Conflict, opposition and change are core forces
You can let it destroy you or let it teach you
Relationships are about tension: fission or fusion
Conflicts are not just with others but with ourselves
Conflict does not have to lead to combat
The cycle of change
• Change happens naturally
• It is inevitable for renewal
• We try to prevent it to create stability
• This is against nature: dams up the flow
• Leads to fermentation and festering
• Rediscover change as a natural cycle
Evolution and development: larva, caterpillar,
Relationships and people change
• Loss and transition are about breakdown of the
• Instead of breaking down, push through the block
to the next level: breakthrough
• In the process we become stronger
• Relationships are tested: rupture or consolidate
Couples try to change each other by:
Secretly wishing for change
Getting angry and protesting
Getting upset, even suicidal
Demanding or imposing change by bullying
5. Setting ultimata
6. Reasoning and trying to persuade
7. Arguing a personal case
8. Withdrawing and enduring
9. Getting support from others
10. Giving up
Female evolution has shifted power
• Women are stronger and do not tolerate the
same submissiveness and obedience.
Disappointment about change
• Men don’t realize they need to change as
much as women.
Not patriarchy or matriarchy: equality and
• Fairness is most important
Fairness and equality, not oppression and
Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir: a different view
a dangerous liaison, Seymour-Jones
Necessary and contingent loves
"to maintain throughout all deviations from the main path a 'certain fidelity’,
• The existence of desire as a human fact
is sufficient to prove that human reality
is a lack. (Sartre, Being and Nothingness:87)
• We are nothing trying to be something.
The Look: Sartre’s Other
• The Other looks at me and as such
he holds the secret of my being, he
knows what I am. Thus the profound
meaning of my being is outside of
me, imprisoned in an absence. The
Other has the advantage over me.
• (Sartre, Being and Nothingness:363)
• Thus the lover does not desire to possess
the beloved as one possesses a thing; he
demands a special type of appropriation.
He wants to possess a freedom as a
• Mutuality: reciprocity-equality
• Generosity: giving of oneself
• Collaboration: working together (sparring partners)
Relationship is essential to freedom
• “A man alone in the world would be paralyzed
by...the vanity of all of his goals. But man is not
alone in the world” (Pyrrhus and Cinéas, 42),
• The other, as free, is immune to my power
• Common commitment to a shared goal
• I can only be truly free to pursue my cause if I can
persuade others to join it.
Simone de Beauvoir the second sex,
the woman in love identifies
• The supreme goal of human love, as of
mystical love, is identification with the loved
one. The measure of values, the truth of the
world are in his consciousness: hence it is not
enough to serve him. The woman in love tries
to see with his eyes.
Couples may have different views of
love and life
• We need to bring them together
Space in the relationship
Four dimensions and couples
• Physical: how do we divide physical space? How do our
bodies relate to each other? Sex? Cuddles? Comfort?
Possessions? Nature? Cosmos?
• Social: how do we relate to other people together?
How are we situated in public life? Cultural pursuits?
• Personal: how do we define ourselves in relation to
each other? Do our private worlds connect? Intimacy?
• Spiritual: what are the values we adhere to as a
couple? Personal beliefs? Religion? What ideas are
important? Can we challenge each other?
Rules for good relationships
Respect each other’s authority & responsibility
Make as many demands as contributions
Give as much appreciation as criticism
Agree on how time and money are spent
Be fair to self and other
Agree on values and objectives for future
Let conflict and controversy be your guide
Teach and learn from each other
Be loyal and make relating a priority
Have good physical connection
Be yourself as well as together
Have a joint narrative and ideal
Loving your Life
• Loving your fate and destiny in all its
• (Nietzsche’s Amor Fati)
How to create value in life?
• Through committed and engaged action
• Step by step
• Diligently proceeding no matter what
challenges come on your path
• Steady progress comes from undaunted focus
on your project
• Flexibility and finding joy in the process rather
than aiming for success or happiness
Existential therapy is about a
different way of life
A psychology for life, not just for
pathology or happiness
Existential couple therapy: how to live
together to make life worthwhile
Love is an action (Fromm)
Not just a feeling
We need to work at it
It demands commitment, dedication,
devotion, caring, loyalty, understanding,
• Seeing and knowing the other and letting be
• I/Thou rather than I/It
Stop all the clocks
• He was my North, my South,
• my East and West,
• My working week and my Sunday rest.
• “To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask
nothing further. There is no other pearl to be
found in the dark folds of life.”
Flaubert: Madame Bovary
• Love, she thought, was something that must
come suddenly, with a great display of
thunder and lightning, descending on one's
life like a tempest from above, turning it
topsy-turvy, whirling away one's resolutions
like leaves and bearing one onward, heart and
soul, towards the abyss.
Love is like light
Tolstoy: Anna Karenin
• “He stepped down, trying not to look long at
her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like
the sun, even without looking.”
Love, like light, throws shadows
• These are important.
• “There is strong shadow where there is much
• Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light
can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only
love can do that.”
still leads to loss
George Eliot: Adam Bede
• "What greater thing is there for two human
souls, than to feel that they are joined for life-to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest
on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each
other in all pain, to be one with each other in
silent unspeakable memories at the moment
of the last parting?"
• Being loved by someone gives you strength,
while loving someone gives you courage.
What is the other side of love?
• We daren’t think
• “The opposite of love is not hate, it's
Impingement, smothering, suffocation
v.smoth·ered, smoth·er·ing, smoth·ers
a. To suffocate (another).
b. To deprive (a fire) of the oxygen necessary for combustion.
2. To conceal, suppress, or hide: Management smothered the true facts of the case. We smothered
our indignation and pressed onward.
3. To cover thickly: smother chicken in sauce.
4. To lavish a surfeit of a given emotion on (someone): The grandparents smothered the child with
a. To suffocate.
b. To be extinguished.
2. To be concealed or suppressed.
3. To be surfeited with an emotion.
WE HAVE TO COMMIT TO LOVE TO
MAKE IT GROW OR SEE IT DWINDLE
Nietzsche in Daybreak:
The most dangerous kind of unlearning: One
begins by unlearning how to love others and
ends by no longer finding anything loveable
• “Love never dies a natural death. It dies
because we don't know how to replenish its
source. It dies of blindness and errors and
betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies
of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
C.S.Lewis The Four Loves
• “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything
and your heart will be wrung and possibly
broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it
intact you must give it to no one, not even an
animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and
little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up
safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But
in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it
will change. It will not be broken; it will become
unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To
love is to be vulnerable.”
Learning to live in line with the laws of life
Paradox, conflict, difficulty and dilemmas are
our daily companions
When crisis comes we need to have the
courage to descend to rock bottom
From there we can build something better
The art of living is to be equal to all our
emotions and experiences rather than to
select and cultivate only the safe or pleasant
There are many opposites of love:
Indifference, hate, suffocation, and
most of all: fear
Four kinds of ways of being conscious
• Loss of
Overview of conflicts, challenges and paradoxes on four dimensions
Umwelt : where?
Mitwelt : how?
Eigenwelt: who? Uberwelt: why?
Paradoxes of human existence
Deurzen and Adams
Life to the full
Unlived life or constant
Bullying or being
Narcissism or self
Finding an ethics
to live by
Fanaticism or apathy
To love requires work and imagination
to go beyond your inclination
• “Men think that it is impossible for a human
being to love his enemies, for enemies are
hardly able to endure the sight of one another.
Well, then, shut your eyes--and your enemy
looks just like your neighbor.”
Love is learnt
• Nietzsche in Joyful Wisdom:
• One must learn to love. This is our experience
in music: we must first learn to hear, to hear
fully and to distinguish a theme for a melody,
we have to isolate and limit it as a life by
itself; then we need to exercise effort and
good will in order to endure it in spite of its
• “Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has
to be made, like bread; remade all the time,
To love is not to be blind (being in love is blind) but to
learn to see someone or something as they actually
• This takes time and attention
Too much hard work?
• To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible
deception; it is an eternal loss for which there is
no reparation, either in time or in eternity.
• Love is the expression of the one who loves, not
of the one who is loved. Those who think they
can love only the people they prefer do not love
at all. Love discovers truths about individuals that
others cannot see
Love transforms us
When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world — no matter how
imperfect — becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Works of Love. 1847.
• “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in
looking outward together in the same direction.”
Physical: safety, sleep, food,
comfort, survival, healing, repair,
Psychological: clear thinking,
making sense, analysis,
understanding, new perspective,
taking charge, responsibility,
Work with a couple with Autistic
spectrum disorder (ASD)
• Cathy and Cliff married for fifty plus years, (73,78)
• Ten years previously split up for a year because Cathy had become
• She could not stand living with Cliff any longer, feeling he was
sufficient unto himself and critical rather than loving of her
• They had three children and Cathy felt they were critical of her for
• The couple got back together after Cliff was diagnosed with
Asperger Syndrome and Cathy realized she too had some autistic
• She became elated at having found a reason for why the marriage
had been so difficult and could not stop talking about this
• Cliff was wary of this but glad they got back together
• They came to see me to try and mend the relationship
Complaints from ASD partners
• I never seem to get things right
• I have high standards (for tidiness, for sameness, for timekeeping or other things) but these are not respecte
• I often feel exhausted and over-stressed, but no account is
taken of this
• She uses sex/ he uses money to pay me back or to control
• I’m frightened that he/she will give up on me
• I want to be close, and yet when we are together I feel all
my routines are upset
Cathy and Cliff’s relationship at start of
• Both were unhappy about the marital
• They were not used to resolving problems by
• Cliff came across as angry and scathing and
unable to bridge the gap
• Cathy came across as desperate and often had
• Cliff was most self-sufficient, content with his
routines and enjoyment in various hobbies,
reading, watching cowboy films etc.
• His world was physically well regulated
• He had been a librarian before retirement
• Was socially undemanding and kept others at
a distance by cynical and witty humor.
• Highly intelligent but frustrated in feeling no
longer as effective in her work as before partial
• Her world was physically marred by high
sensitivity, social isolation, lack of confidence
• Felt judged and rejected by her children, several
of whom had autistic traits as well
• Felt unloved by Cliff who did not have the knack
for giving her the reassurance so needed
Cathy and Cliff: renewal
• Cliff needed to understand that Cathy was sensitive and fretted
greatly over his non verbal communication, glaring at her: making ‘that
face’. He meant nothing by it, but was unaware that he came across as
sarcastically putting her down and condemning her.
•He accepted very easily that Cathy needed support from him and that
his love was crucial to her.
•He understood that he needed to make her physical and social world
safe and in some way protect her. He rose to this challenge very
•Cathy needed to believe that Cliff really did not know what his impact
was and once she began to do so became able to see that her
disapproval of him was devastating to him. She was in the habit of
making strongly critical remarks about his behavior and was unaware
that this had made him ever more defensive and private.
•She had long known Cliff had AS, but realized that she herself had a
female version of this which made her particularly vulnerable to
misinterpreting his non verbal communication
•She accepted very easily that she was entitled to being understood
and supported and learnt to ask for what she needed from him, in the
Cathy and Cliff’s worlds
•His world was physically well regulated, socially contained by isolation and
cynical distance when with others, personally content, spiritually aspiring to a
quiet life with clear routines.
•Her world was physically marred by high sensitivity, social anxiety, a personal
world full of dread and doubt about the effect of the relationship on her as a
person and a spiritual world full of guilt over having failed both with her
husband and children, who she perceived as against her.
•First five sessions (hour and half each) spent in collecting information about
their experiences, their fears, their hopes, their aspirations, their love for each
other, their worries and despair.
•Listening to each for twenty minutes to half an hour, then translating what I
heard to the other, helping them understand each other’s experience.
•Once they had agreed to make it work together they were keen to
use the sessions to explain their experience to the other, with the help
of the ‘interpreter’ or ‘referee’, who could remind them of what the
other had intended.
•They became better at finding words to overcome the negative body
language and non verbal communication that had trapped them in a
negative spiral for so long
• They began to work as a team and to take on dealing with
communication with the children and third parties, together, as a
couple, learning to stand together and support each other.
• Series of pictures drawn in a session without
• First picture of how Cathy was before she met
• Bubbles of thought, spikes on her: inhibitions
and lack of ability to get on with people
• No mouth: not sure what to say or not to say
• First meeting with Cliff
• Neither has a mouth: didn’t know how to talk
to each other: were talking over each other’s
• Spikes are now going in rather than out,
thought bubbles have gone
• He is getting to her and becomes more like
Cathy and Cliff with their kids
• Cathy is now bigger than Cliff as the children
need her more than him
• The two boys have thought bubbles and are
sensitive like her, the girl is more like dad
• Half circle under the children is the safety net: it
had plenty of holes in it through which the kids
• She cut herself off from the children in order not
to provoke Cliff into vengeance for her being too
close to them
• Cathy and Cliff at their worst: too much going
on in Cathy’s head
• Red arrows from Cliff invading her
• She feared he enjoyed invading her space
• Worry-lines on forehead
• But because of worries she now has a mouth
and has to learn to express herself.
Cathy and Cliff Now
• They are whole people now rather than just
• There are lots of people in the background as
they have joined groups
• But Cliff too close to his screens: telly and
• She has her plants and books
• She is glad he is now polite and tries to show
affection for her
Cathy and Cliff in an ideal world
• Children are more of a presence
• Cathy and Cliff more substantial
• In contact, though not holding hands,
• Independence remains important for them
Cathy as she is now
Shoulders straight: a new pride in herself
Lots of mouths, for lots of moods
Can’t be smiley all the time
The thoughts are still there, but more under
control and varied
• Asks questions and that is good
• Feminine pleasure in her necklace
•Once they had agreed to make it work
together they were keen to use the sessions to
explain their experience to the other, with the
help of the ‘interpreter’ or ‘referee’, who could
remind them of what the other had intended.
•They became good at finding words to
overcome the negative body language and non
verbal communication that had trapped them
in a negative spiral for so long
• They began to work as a team and to take on
dealing with communication with the children
and third parties, together, as a couple,
learning to stand together and support each
We affect others and are affected by
• The Interbrain: the connections of the chain
• Butterfly effect: each action causes re-action,
each emotion has an impact on the other
Learning to be acouple:
• Is learning about life, each other and
ourselves; we learn to be, by living and
overcoming our mistakes and pay attention to
each other and ourselves.
We are never but an aspect, an element, a part
of a wider context. Relationship is essential to
our very survival and inspires everything we do.
(Deurzen, 1997: 95)
• Most people are subjective toward
themselves and objective toward all others,
frightfully objective sometimes –
but the task is precisely to be objective toward
oneself and subjective toward all others.
• (Kierkegaard, 1998: 72)
The individual cannot become
human by himself. Self-being is
only real in communication with
Alone, I sink into gloomy isolation –
only in community with others can
I be revealed in the act of mutual
discovery. My own freedom can
only exist if the other is also free.
remember to face up to life together:
• It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship
that makes unhappy marriages.
• (Nietzsche, 1844–1900)
If you are serious about your life
Give love a chance
Don’t be afraid of the shadows it casts