Love Beyond ‘Friendship’

By Richard Fitzgibbons, M.D.

Love develops by attraction, desire and goodwill within the person and finds full realization in their interpersonal relationship. The true unification of persons takes place when the persons focus on “we” instead of “I.”

True love is, therefore, a synchronization of attraction, desire and goodwill.

Betrothed love, which is self-giving and surrenders the “I,” goes out toward the other person to a far greater degree than love’s other forms. Betrothed love goes even beyond friendship. It doesn’t seek just the good of the other, but totally surrenders to the other.

By this self-giving, both the subject and the interpersonal relationship are enriched. By betrothed love, the relationship becomes more than friendship.
The most uncompromising form of love consists precisely in self-giving, in placing one’s inalienable and non-transferable “I” at the service of the beloved.

In the order of love, a person can surrender to God, or to another person. Human persons have their own dynamism and their own laws of existence and growth. Jesus said, “He who would save his soul shall lose it, and he who would lose his soul for my sake shall find it again” (Matt 10:39).

Take away from love the fullness of self-surrender, the completeness of personal commitment, and what remains will be a total denial and negation of it.

This self-surrender presupposes a mature value system and a prepared will. Betrothed love is never a “happening” or a fortuitous event in the person’s inner life. By betrothed love, the human “I” determines to give itself.

Betrothed love always involves just one other chosen person, (as in a surrender to God). Therefore, betrothed love is apt for marriage, where there is a clear surrender to the chosen spouse.

In marriage, the woman feels that her role is surrender, while the man’s experience is quite different. Examination of the marital relationship shows that the man should give himself in return for his wife’s self-giving.

If the man withholds this total surrender, then he is in danger of using his wife as an object. Even though their self-giving is different, both man and woman must make a mutual self-surrender.

Unfortunately this “gift of self” is often interpreted as purely sexual. In truth, self-giving cannot be limited to sexual activity, because without a total self-gift, sexual activity is utilitarian. One can feel used. Here the personalistic norm is clearly in agreement with the moral code, which identifies marriage with the full surrender of betrothed love.

Monogamy is necessary because self-giving to a chosen person must preclude self-giving to another person. Marital intercourse, by focusing love on the spouse, helps to develop betrothed love. Only when limited to the spouse, can married love be truly ready for the child who is conceived from intercourse. This connection between sex and the person is manifest in the special awareness of the “I,” by which every sexual giving always requires a giving of the whole person.

Betrothed love absolutely needs the other forms of love, especially goodwill and friendship. Without these “allies,” self-sacrificing persons might find a void within themselves. They would then become helpless in the face of internal and external problems.

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons is a Catholic psychiatrist in private practice outside of Philadelphia. Visit his website ( for more advice on how to build a happier marriage.