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The subject of love has been written on more than any other human emotion.  Books, poems, songs, plays, and films accord paeans to its sublime nature, its transformative qualities, its power to both lift us up and to cause us pain when it is lost.  And it is complex, with writings on the subject identifying not just one type of love, but several, including eros (romantic or erotic love), phila (love of a friend), and agape (love for mankind).

Certainly, these types of love are not all equally noble; some are loftier than others.  But there is one attribute of love that is especially low in my estimation – what I call possessive love.  This is a type of relationship between partners where either or both of them feel a certain possessiveness towards the other.  I cringe when I hear at a wedding or other romantic moment the line “I am yours, and you are mine,” implying a sort of ownership or power over the other.

Of course, one might argue that such language is only a figure of speech and should not be interpreted in a literal manner.  But there is a reason that it uses the language of possession. The truth is that there are plenty of people in this world who see their partners as someone over whom they feel a pathological sense of dominion.  This usually exhibits itself as some sort of control over the other’s thoughts or actions.  For example, this may take the form of one partner using their power to constrain the other in some way so as to thwart their individuality or their sovereignty over their own lives and destinies. (I speak here not of the compromises partners in a healthy relationship must engage in to ensure that the relationship is based on fairness and mutual benefit, but rather of the overbearing manner in which many partners dominate the other unfairly.) The power to control may be rooted in, for example, differences in wealth, the insecurities of one partner, or, in too many societies, in law.

True, healthy love is actually just the opposite of this sort of possessive love. When you love, you want to liberate the other – to set them free from whatever is holding them back from the full realization of their soul’s yearnings.  This you do even if it means you have to let go of the person.  Perhaps the romantic line referred to above should be rephrased to read: “I love you and so will work to set you free from any constraints that shackle your spirit.”  A bit wordy perhaps, but I am sure you get the gist.