Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer and psychology professor Brent D. Slife shared his findings on his understanding of love and how love is also unexplainable at Tuesday's Forum. He used his own marriage to his wife, Karen, as an example. He hopes to incorporate this understanding in his meetings with married couples he counsels.

Slife noted that love is a difficult subject for psychologists to study because love does not deal with objective data, which psychologists usually handle.

Slife described himself as egotistical and used himself as an example of how current explanations of love do not explain the love he has for his wife and the love he said many of us feel for others.

“I’m generally friendly [but] there’s no evidence that I could love someone over the long haul,” said Slife.

Selfishness should be a problem in Slife’s marriage, but it is not, said Slife. Nor is the fact that he and Karen are so different. Usually, people do not get along with people who are different from them or who are “others.” These two points defy the research of economists, humanists and psychologists.

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

Slife sees conflict in marriage as a way to deepen their relationship.

“Imagine how our world would be if we stopped seeing differences as obstacles to relationship but rather saw them as the healthy tension that can promote character, deepen intimacy and kindle friendship,” said Slife.

Slife referenced the French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion who thinks that love is unexplainable because people are using the wrong ideas to understand relationships. Marion said these wrong ideas were popularized by the philosopher Rene Descartes who thinks that everything people see and experience is how they interpret it. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”

Marion argued that Descartes’s philosophy is selfish because it says people perceive things the way they want instead of how they actually are — that people struggle when their representations of something do not align with the reality of that thing.

In contrast, Marion said that some human experiences are “saturated,” or so deeply touching that it is hard for a person to find words to describe it. Marion calls this “gracious love.”

“Gracious love is gracious for Marion because it is never deserved or rational; it is a pure gift without strings attached, without logical justifications or without ulterior motives,” said Slife.

Slife referred to Marion’s perspective that love is so illogical that a person cannot give pure love to someone else without first feeling purely loved from someone else. The greatest gift of pure love is God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Slife explained 10 practical implications of Marion’s understanding of love, which are quoted below.

  1. Love is to some degree ungraspable, so don’t get upset when your spouse’s description of his or her love is inadequate.
  2. Love isn’t deserved; it’s a gift. We don’t deserve true gifts; otherwise it’s not a gift at all; it’s a business transaction. We don’t ask true givers to justify their gifts. We accept them humbly, we enjoy them, we respond with gratefulness and then give gifts to others who don’t deserve them, like us.
  3. Avoid “calculator relationships” where we keep track of units of love given to one another. If we’re keeping track of them, they aren’t units of love at all.
  4. You don’t love someone so that they can be happy. Love isn’t the means to something else; it’s the end. The quality of your relationship is the main thing, not the emotional satisfaction of the individuals in the relationships.
  5. Love is widely recognized as crucial to mental health, but psychologists often interpret it as an instrument of individual happiness rather than a crucial pathway out of our egoistic world.
  6. Unlike egoistic theories of the social sciences, we are completely capable of unselfishness, whether it is love of a country or love of a person. And, perhaps surprisingly, true unselfishness isn’t necessarily experienced as sacrificial, because the other who is loved is literally part of us.
  7. Otherness is not the enemy or disrupter of relationships. Loving someone who is different can make us vulnerable, but this vulnerability is part of us giving up control and getting in touch with the real world.
  8. When otherness is not the enemy, marital conflicts are less threatening and more productive.
  9. The otherness of gracious love is pivotal to our initial and continuing development as persons.
  10. Otherness ultimately becomes the spice of our relationships; solely loving similarities is akin to loving a mirror-image of ourselves, which is just another kind of selfishness.

Next Devotional: Keith Wilson, Ancient Scripture

The next BYU Devotional address will be given by Keith Wilson, associate professor of Ancient Scripture, on Tuesday, May 23, at 11:05 a.m., in the de Jong Concert Hall.

His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYU Radio and will be archived on speeches.byu.edu.