How Altruistic Are Western Attitudes in Love Relationships?

The Christian ideals of agape, which have been prevalent in Western cultures, placed a greater emphasis on the value of altruistic agape love as opposed to passionate Eros love.

Passionate Versus Altruistic Love

On the one hand, the experience of passionate Eros love makes a lover more likely to be egocentric, possessive, and sexually obsessive.

On the other hand, when a lover experiences altruistic Agape love, he or she is more likely be unselfish, act benevolently, to give freely, and be willing to sacrifice for others (Nygren 1989).

Throughout the centuries, one and another kind of these cultural values have competed with one other in the minds of romantic lovers inspiring various love story plots. The most romantic stories, however, inspired lovers to put the interests of the beloved first, above their own, prioritizing altruism over passionate possessiveness.

What Does It Mean to Love Altruistically?

Individuals with predominant altruistic love in heterosexual relationships perceive the beloved as an idealized, unique individual. Their passion is to make their loved one happy. Their love is capable of overcoming selfishness in a relationship centered on the well-being of a partner.

Such altruistic lovers are willing to give up a lot of things in their life for the sake of the person they love and care about.  The well-being of their beloved is the most important thing in the world to them. For the sake and life of a beloved, they are willing to endure inconvenience, discomfort, suffering, and pain, and if necessary, even death. This altruistic love, known as agape, is very romantic. It may look not less romantic than passionate love (for example, Ben-Zev & Goussinsky, 2008).

Their selfless attitudes prioritize the well-being of the beloved. Their altruistic attitudes go beyond their self. Reciprocation is not important: they do not expect anything in return. they are willing to give the beloved rather than receive from him/her.

Giving for them is a joy of love. They give everything they have and themselves without considering the material or psychological cost of what they do. As Erich Fromm (1956) once beautifully noted,

“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” 

(Fromm, (956/2006, p.21).