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Love Relations

Love Relations: Normality and Pathology

Otto F. Kernberg
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Love Relations
    Book Description:

    Dr. Otto Kernberg, the internationally renowned psychoanalytic theorist and clinician, here examines the success and failure of sexual love in couples, from adolescence to old age.Dr. Kernberg considers the two partners' conscious and unconscious emotional interactions and their unconsciously activated superego interactions. He also suggests that they establish a joint ego ideal as a couple, which plays an important role in the success of the relationship. And because the couple experiences love and sex in the context of the social environment, he studies the nature of relations between the couple and the group.After describing the biological and psychological determinants and elements of the sexual experience, Dr. Kernberg traces the nature of that experience over time in the light of object relations theory. He shows how the activation of unconscious, internalized object relations from the past triggers the most troubling conflicts and is also responsible for the most exciting aspects of a couple's love life. Throughout, Dr. Kernberg considers both so-called normal and pathological relationships, including the role of narcissism, masochism, and aggression in each. The result is a book that expands the boundaries of our current understanding of love relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15947-9
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1. The Sexual Experience
    (pp. 1-14)

    That sex and love are closely associated is hardly debatable. It should therefore come as no surprise that a book about love should start with a discussion of the biological and psychological roots of the sexual experience, which are intimately related. Because the biological aspects constitute the matrix within which the psychological aspects may develop, let us begin by exploring the biological factors.

    In tracing the development of human sexual characteristics, we see that as we advance along the biological scale of the animal kingdom (particularly when comparing low-order mammals with primates and humans) the psychosocial interactions between infant and...

  6. 2. Sexual Excitement and Erotic Desire
    (pp. 15-31)

    Affects are, in phylogenetic terms, a relatively recent characteristic of mammals, and their basic biological function is infant-caregiver communication, as well as general communication among individuals that serve basic instincts (Krause 1990). If feeding, fight-flight, and mating are basic instinctive organizations, the corresponding affect states may be considered their components, which acquire hierarchically supraordinate roles as we ascend the evolutionary ladder, particularly in primates and, of course, in humans.

    Sexual excitement occupies a very particular place among affects. That it is rooted in biological functions and in structures serving the biological instinct of reproduction in the animal kingdom and that...

  7. 3. Mature Sexual Love
    (pp. 32-47)

    Now we come to the most complex stage of the developmental transformations that, starting from sexual excitement as a basic affect, lead to erotic desire for another person and culminate eventually in mature sexual love. Poets and philosophers have undoubtedly described the prerequisites for and components of mature love better than psychoanalytic dissection could achieve. And yet, the wish to better understand limitations in achieving the capacity for mature love relations warrants, I believe, an attempt to carry out such a dissection.

    In essence, I propose that mature sexual love is a complex emotional disposition that integrates (1) sexual excitement...

  8. 4. Love, Oedipus, and the Couple
    (pp. 48-63)

    In my earlier discussion of core gender identity, I reviewed the controversy as to whether an original psychological bisexuality for both genders be sustained or whether the earliest identity of both genders is either masculine, as postulated by Freud (1905), or feminine, as proposed by (1975a, 1985). I expressed my agreement with Person and Ovesey (1983, 1984), whose view that infants establish a core gender identity that male or female from the very start dovetails with the findings of studies hermaphrodites and with observations of early childhood. Braunschweig and Fain (1971, 1975), presenting psychoanalytic evidence for an original psychological bisexuality...

  9. 5. Psychopathology
    (pp. 64-80)

    In what follows, I provide clinical illustrations of how significant psychopathology interferes with the development of mature love relations. I contrast the consequences of severe and less severe borderline conditions, narcissistic, and neurotic psychopathology by means typical clinical cases.

    In some of the most severe cases of borderline personality organization, particularly patients with significant self-destructive and self-mutilating tendencies, or with narcissistic pathology, antisocial tendencies, and ego-syntonic aggression, a remarkable absence of the capacity for sensual pleasure and skin eroticism may prevail. Both male and female patients may experience an absence of any sexual outlet, no pleasure in masturbation, no sexual...

  10. 6. Aggression, Love, and the Couple
    (pp. 81-96)

    Having explored how sexual excitement incorporates aggression in the service of love, I now turn to the interplay of love and aggression in the couple’s emotional relationship.

    With sexual intimacy comes further emotional intimacy, and with emotional intimacy, the unavoidable ambivalence of oedipal and preoedipal relations. We might say, to put it in a condensed and simplified way, that the man’s ambivalence toward the exciting and frustrating mother from early childhood on, his deep suspicion of the teasing and withholding nature of mother’s sexuality, become issues interfering with his erotic attachment, idealization, and dependency on the woman he loves. His...

  11. 7. Superego Functions
    (pp. 97-112)

    In describing the contributions of libido and aggression to the sexual and emotional relations of the couple, I referred to the crucial role played by the superego. Let us now examine the role of that agency in more detail. We have seen how the couple becomes the repository of both partners’ conscious and unconscious sexual fantasies and desires and their internalized object relations. We have also seen how the couple acquires an identity of its own in addition to the identity of each of the partners. I suggest that the couple as an entity also activates both partners’ conscious and...

  12. 8. Love in the Analytic Setting
    (pp. 113-126)

    The analytic setting is the clinical laboratory that has permitted us to study the nature of love in its myriad forms. The transference in conjunction with the countertransference is the vehicle for our study of these forms.

    The main difference between the original oedipal situation and transference love is the possibility, under optimal circumstances, of fully exploring in the transference the unconscious determinants of the oedipal situation. Working through transference love implies working through the renunciation and mourning that normally accompany the resolution of the oedipal situation. At the same time, the patient has to learn that the search for...

  13. 9. Masochistic Pathology
    (pp. 127-142)

    In my view, masochism may be described as a broad field of phenomena, both normal and pathological, centered on motivated self-destructiveness and a conscious or unconscious pleasure in suffering. It is field with imprecise boundaries. At one extreme, we find such severe self-destructiveness that self-elimination or elimination of self-awareness acquires a central motivational importance—Green (1983) called it the “narcissism of death”—and masochistic psychopathology merges with the psychopathology of primitive and severe aggression.

    At the other extreme, a healthy capacity for self-sacrifice on behalf of family, others, or an ideal, the sublimatory functions of superego-determined willingness to suffer, does...

  14. 10. Narcissism
    (pp. 143-162)

    Narcissistic psychopathology in couples ranges widely. One couple makes conscious efforts to maintain an unrealistic public image of their relationship as one of total mutual gratification. Another couple unconsciously colludes in the ruthless exploitation of one partner by the other. Psychoanalytic investigation shows that the proverbial image of a narcissistic partner matched with a masochistic partner does not necessarily coincide with the character pathologies of each. More generally, a partner’s unconscious identification with dissociated and projected aspects of him or herself, together with the partner’s mutual induction of complementary roles by means of projective identification, may result in a role...

  15. 11. Latency, Group Dynamics, and Conventionality
    (pp. 163-175)

    Having examined how the individual’s disposition to sexual excitement and erotic desire is gradually transformed into the capacity for mature love when he or she becomes part of the sexual couple, let us now explore the relationship between the couple and its surrounding social network. My focus is particularly on the small and large groups within which couples find each other, with which they interact in complex ways, and which have an important influence on the vicissitudes of the couple’s love life.

    I am referring not only to actual groups but also to the fantasies that individuals and the couple...

  16. 12. The Couple and the Group
    (pp. 176-188)

    Adolescent sexuality starts out under the impact of the reawakened sexual excitement and erotic desire evoked by the hormonal changes of puberty; the perception of bodily changes results in a heightened responsiveness to erotic stimuli. Partial regression in ego functions develops, and splitting processes are activated to deal with renewed unconscious conflicts regarding sexuality that are manifested in sharply contradictory behavior patterns, particularly the alternation between periods of guilt and suppression of sexual response (the ascetic swings characteristic of adolescents) and periods of polymorphous perverse infantile sexual strivings. The decrease in repressive ego mechanisms is related to the partial regression...

  17. References
    (pp. 189-198)
  18. Index
    (pp. 199-203)