Distinguished lecturer uses psychology to examine love, relationships

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Slife said one of the major problems plaguing marriages is egoistic behavior, in which all motives and goals are oriented toward self-benefit.

“Egoism assumes that we’re all ultimately watching out for No. 1,” Slife said.

By contrast, Slife said he finds his behavior with his wife to be almost entirely unselfish.

“My point here is that conventional explanations could not predict or even render as plausible my loving behaviors,” Slife said.

Slife said a second problem facing marriages is the idea of otherness — a cultural view that differences in others are automatically bad. 

While “otherness” frequently points to problems in his clients’ relationships, Slife said his own marriage contradicts these ideas. He said the differences in his relationship are often its most enjoyable parts. 

“Unlike most secular understandings of relationships, I experience my love for her not in spite of our otherness, but because of it,” Slife said. 

Slife said the early ideas of French philosopher Rene Descartes prevail in today’s society, in which many people use marriage as a means to individual happiness. One key to an enduring love is treating a relationship as an end, not as a means to personal rewards, according to Slife.

Slife referenced another French philosopher, Jean-Luc Marion, who described love as a “saturated experience.”

“Saturation occurs when an experience touches us so deeply that we can’t explain or even fathom it,” Slife said. “Here Marion hits the nail on the head for me. My experience of Karen’s love is so luminous and so glorious that it feels unearthly.”

Slife said unlike the Cartesian approach, in which everyone must deserve the love they receive from the benefits they provide, love from Marion’s perspective cannot be controlled through reciprocal benefit and is never truly deserved or justified.

He said Marion’s ‘gracious love’ is the reason people are so tongue-tied when they try to explain or justify their love for each other, and the reason they rely on poems and songs to express love.

The only appropriate, realistic response to a saturated experience, such as gracious love, is a profound honoring and appreciation for it — commonly referred to as the term “blessed”, according to Slife. 

Gracious love, then, is so ‘other,’ so above and beyond, that it doesn’t fit our stereotype  or representation of the world,Slife said. “It throws us; it knocks us off our egoistic thrones as controllers of our own little universe.

Slife said the feeling of being knocked off base by love is the reason people feel so vulnerable when faced with love.

He said his relationship with Karen is part of his identity and helps to constitute who he is. Over the years, their ‘otherness’ gave way to a saturated sense of unity and oneness. Slife said the world would be a different place if everyone aspired to this type of love.

“You all know about the old couple who finish each other’s sentences,” Slife said. “Marion puts it this way, ‘I am only insofar as I love, and am loved.'”