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Robert J.

Sternberg and Ibn Hazm

On the Nature of Love

Suprayetno W

Suprayetno W, lahir di Medan pada tahun 1963. Menyelesaikan pendidikan dasar pada tahun
1976 di Sekolah Dasar Islam Persatuan Amal Bakti (PAB) Medan Estate kemudian
melanjutkan ke Sekolah Menengah Pertama di tempat yang sama dan selesai pada tahun 1980.
Cita-cita untuk menjadi guru direalisasikan dengan melanjut ke Sekolah Pendidikan Guru
Negeri I Medan dan tamat pada tahun 1983. Program Sarjana Strata 1 ditempuh di Fakultas
Tarbiyah IAIN Sumatera Utara dan diselesaikan pada tahun 1990. Tahun 1997 menyelesaikan
program Master di Institute of Islamic Studies McGill Univesity, Montreal, Canada. Saat ini
sedang menekuni program Doktoral di Program Pascasarjana IAIN Sumatera Utara. Karya-
karya tulis yang pernah dihasilkan antara lain. (1). “Robert J. Sternberg And Ibn Hazm On
The Nature Of Love” dalam The Dynamic of Islamic Civilization diterbitkan oleh Titian Ilahi, Yogyakarta tahun
1998. (2) “Perlukah Anak Hukuman Badan ?” dalam Kumpulan Artikel Psikologi Anak diterbitkan oleh Intisari
Mediatama, Jakarta tahun 1999. (3) “Modernisasi Sistem Pendidikan Pesantren” dalam Pranata Islam di
Indonesia yang diterbitkan Logos Wacana Ilmu, Jakarta tahun 2002. (4) “Kepribadian Individu Dan Masyarakat
Muslim Dalam Tantangan” dalam Kepribadian dan Pendidikan diterbitkan Cita Pustaka Media, Bandung tahun
2006. (5) “Tantangan Psikologis Era Reformasi Dalam Penegakan Jati Diri Muslim Indonesia” dalam Pendidikan
dan Psikologi Islami diterbitkan Cita Pustaka Media, Bandung tahun 2007. (6) “Hubungan Interpersonal
Konselor-Klien” dalam Pendidikan dan Konseling Islami diterbitkan Cita Pustaka Media, Bandung tahun 2008.
Sejak tahun 1992 sampai saat ini mengabdikan diri di IAIN Sumatera Utara sebagai dosen Psikologi Agama.

It has been said that love is the most important thing for human kind, that is why people

feel that life without love is incomplete. At the same time, people have very divergent opinions

about the nature of love. Some psychologists emphasize the mother-child relationship as the

prototype of all love relationships,1 while Freud stated that the patterns of interaction between

parents and their children can lead to various kinds of pathological disorders or strengths in

personality development, including the capacity to love.2 Another psychologist, Sternberg, has

developed a different theory about love.

Ibn Hazm is referred to as a classical philosopher, but in my opinion his writing on love

1 Robert J. Sternberg and Michael L. Barnes.ed., The Psychology of Love, (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1988), p. 14

2 Freud, Sigmund., "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego" in The Major Works
of Sigmund Freud, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica), p.664-696

“Tawq al-ammah f al-Ulfah wa al-Ullaf”, can be classified within a psychological framework as

he bases his observations concerning love on people's motivations and how individuals actualize

their love. It is in this respect that Ibn Hazm’s work can be contrasted to the psychological theory

proposed by an author in psychology of love, Robert J. Sternberg. In this paper I will compare the

different theories on the nature of love between Sternberg and Ibn Hazm to contrast how love has

been differently interpreted on a psychological level. I chose to compare these authors as they

both based their theories on human observations concerning people’s motivations and how they

actualize their love. While they analyze these from a psychological perspective, they do so from

two different disciplines [psychology and philosophy] and in different times and places. Ibn Hazm

wrote his work in Spain in 1022, and Sternberg wrote his work in the United States in 1988; as

love is an inherent capacity of human beings, it is interesting to acknowledge the similarities and

the differences from both theoretical perspectives from different points in history and from

different social contexts.

Ibn Hazm states that people have divergent opinions about love which have been debated

at great length. He considers "Love as a conjunction between scattered parts of souls that have

become divided in this physical universe, a union influence within the substance of their original

sublime element".3 He also concludes that love is something from the soul itself. Although some

times there is love that is motivated from outside the soul, it passes away when the cause itself

disappears. Because of this our physical forms have a wonderful facility of drawing together the

scattered parts of human beings' soul. When one is in love the soul becomes beautiful, and this

affects how we perceive everything outside of ourselves; hence women and men are attracted and

unite in love when their souls perceive a correspondance in their images. Thus according to Ibn

3 ‘Al ibn Amad ibn azm, Tawq al-ammah f al-Ulfah wa al-Ullaf, (Bayrut: al-Mu‘assasah
al-‘Arabiyah lil-Dirasat wa-al-Nashr, 1993),p. 93. Transl. p. 23

Hazm, humankind yearns for perfectly symmetrical images which are then reflected in the souls of

those who are in love. If individuals do not discover similarities between their souls, their

affections go no further than their flesh and remain at a level of carnal desire.

Ibn Hazm believes that there are many kinds of love. The first type of love, he says, is

motivated by religious beliefs, thus this love between two people is based "in God". Love is also

derived from kinship or family ties, familiarity, friendship, from shared goals or aims. Love can

also be the result of coveting someone’s worldly success or can based upon a shared secret or

love for the purpose of sexual enjoyment and satisfying desire. He concludes that passionate love

is caused by the union of souls.

Most types of love, says Ibn Hazm, are based on motive. Their existence and the quality of

love depends on these motivations. If there is an increase in motive love will also increase, but

when motives are decreased love decreases, or if there is no outer motive love will disappear. The

only exception to these types of love effected by motives is true passion, which is long lasting and

will not end until death.

He substantiates his argument that passionate love is a fusion of souls, by illustrating with

an example of an old man or woman whose partner has died. They can be reminded of this

passion; the memories of this love will make him or her feel joy, intense emotions, create physical

yearnings, or cause melancholy, moodiness, or distractedness. This passionate love can be stirred

in ones' souls.

In his book, “The Triangle of Love”, Sternberg states that love consists of three key

components which always are maintained, even if other attributes vary. These key components are

intimacy, passion, and commitment. He bases his theory on the nature of love on four factors: 1)

he believes that all aspects of love are factors or manifestation of these three components; 2) he

proposes that while there are diversities across cultures in some aspects of love, these three

components always appear and carry varying amounts of importance "in virtually any time or

place"; 3) despite the fact that these three components are distinct, they are also related; and 4)

that all accounts of love are somewhat similar. He purports that most importantly his theory on

love works, but he does not explain further how this theory works.

Intimacy includes many qualities, such as the desire to promote the welfare of a loved one,

experiencing mutual happiness and respect, understanding and communication, being able to

count on one another in times of need, sharing oneself and one's possessions, and valuing the

loved one. To achieve this intimacy, people do not need to experience all of these feelings, as

these may vary. According to Sternberg, "trust, honesty, respect, commitment, safety, support,

generosity, loyalty, mutuality, constancy, understanding, and acceptance"4 are the keys to intimacy.

Furthermore, he states that self-disclosure is the starting point to achieve intimacy, as a couple

needs to bridge the gap between them. He argues that intimacy forms the foundation of love,

which develops slowly and can be difficult to achieve. Thus, he states:

Moreover, once it starts to be attained, it may, paradoxically, start to go away

because of the threat it poses. It poses a threat in terms not only of the dangers of
self-disclosure but of the danger one starts to feel to one's existence as a separate,
autonomous being. Few people want to be "consumed" by a relationship, yet many
people start to feel as if they are being consumed when they get too close to
another human being. The result is a balancing act between intimacy and autonomy
which goes on throughout the lives of most couples, a balancing act in which a
completely stable equilibrium is often never achieved. But this in itself is not
necessarily bad: the swinging back and forth of the intimacy pendulum provides
some of the excitement that keeps many relationships alive."5

Sternberg believes that passion is the expression of desires and needs, and that its strength

depends on the individual, the situation, and the type of relationship. The expressions of needs are
4Robert J. Sternberg, The Triangle of Love : Intimacy, Passion, Commitment, (New York
: Basic Books, c1988). p 40

5 Sternberg, p. 41-42

multiple, including self-esteem, nurturance, affiliation, dominance, submission, or sexual

fulfilment. Passion in love tends to interact strongly with intimacy, and often they stimulate each

other. While a relationship may be stimulated by passion in the beginning, intimacy can facilitate a

closeness in a relationship; however sometimes intimacy and passion can work against each other.

For example, Sternberg states that "in a relationship with a prostitute, a man may seek to

maximize fulfilment of the need for passion while purposefully minimizing intimacy". 6 So while he

supports the strong interaction of these components, this interaction may enhance or diminish


A decision or commitment to love consists of two aspects. In the short term, there is the

decision to love someone, whereas in the long-term there is a commitment to maintain this love.

These two aspects do not necessarily occur together, as a man can decide to marry a woman

without love which happens in arranged marriage, or reversely, a couple can maintain a love-

relationship without deciding to married. It should be noted that a decision to commit to a

relationship keeps the relationship together, as it helps to get “through hard times and for

returning to better ones".7 A commitment to love interacts with both intimacy and passion, and it

is also possible that a commitment to a relationship can create intimacy and passion.

Sternberg asks us “how do people love?” and in what “ways do people love?” He divides

love into different ways of loving. Infatuated love results from the experience of passionate

arousal without the intimacy and commitment components of love. He elaborates how high levels

of psycho-physiological arousals are manifested in infatuations which cause bodily symptoms.

Empty love or a just a decision to love can occur either at the end of a long relationship or at the

beginning of a relationship, such as an arranged marriage. Companionate love is a combination of

6 Sternberg, p. 43

7 Sternberg, p. 46

intimacy and commitment, without passion. Complete love, he says, is a combination of the three

components equally and this occurs most often in romantic relationships, whereas non-love is the

absence of all of the three components.

For Ibn Hazm, true love is a spiritual approbation and a fusion of the souls. He insists that

two persons cannot love each other without an affinity in the natural attributes between them.

When a man or a woman are attracted, and unite in love with each other, their souls perceive a

similarity in their images and once united true love is established. If their souls do not discover

these similarities their affection goes no further than the form. In other words, this similarity

between the lovers plays a key role, and the more numerous the resemblances, the greater will be

their congeniality and the firmer their affection. Ibn Hazm uses hatred as a comparison to love. He

states that two persons can hate each other for no other reason than simply because one has a

wholly irrational hostility for the other.

Ibn Hazm further states that love has certain signs: One sign has to do with vision or “ a

gaze” which is direct or indirect. A brooding gaze is common and can be seen between lovers. As

well, a lover will direct conversation to the beloved, even when they are talking to someone else.

A lover also wants to be close to the loved one forever. At other times a sudden confusion and

excitement may occur when lovers meet each other unexpectedly. As well, a man and woman who

are in love will give to the limit of their capacity. Lovers almost always feel excited to hear the

loved one's name pronounced. Sleeplessness is a common affliction of lovers, and a lover may

love their lovers’ kin to the same extent that they love their own family, themselves, or their


Ibn Hazm states that there are also other signs which happen when people are in love.

They can have evil thoughts of one another when they are jealous; one suspects every word which

their partner utters, and can misconstrue it wilfully. Irrationality can overtakes lovers such as,

when a lover hopes to meet the beloved but some obstacle prevents their meeting, or when they

quarrel. Only clear communication can help to overcome jealousy and irrational behaviour.

Sternberg also addresses this issue. He says that there can be a number of sources for a

discrepancy between the way one person feels toward another, and the way the other perceives

these feelings. He concludes that one of the most powerful sources for misunderstanding is the

failure to express one's love fully in action. This discrepancy may also be caused by different

backgrounds or socialization in which individuals come to understand the meaning of behaviour


Sternberg further states that each of the three components of love is expressed through

particular actions. Intimacy can be expressed by "communicating inner feelings; promoting the

others's well-being; sharing your possessions, time and self; expressing empathy for the other; and

offering emotional and material support to the other".8 Passion can be expressed by "kissing,

hugging, gazing, touching, and making love".9 The expression of a commitment can be in the form

of "pledging fidelity, staying in a relationship through hard times, engagement, and marriage".10

Sternberg reenforces that it is important to consider love as it is expressed through action,

because action has many effects on a relationship. In the first place actions can affect the level of

the three components. As well, Sternberg states that actions lead to other actions, and the way

you act is likely to affect the way the other feels and thinks about you. Furthermore, your actions

will almost inevitably have an effect on another's actions, therefore leading to a mutually

reinforcing series of paired action sequences. Without expression, even the greatest of loves can
8 Sternberg, p. 81

9 Sternberg, p. 81

10 Sternberg, p. 81


I take this as a point of departure in discussing the two perspectives of the authors on the

nature of love. Interestingly, while Sternberg supports that without the active expression of love,

even the greatest of loves can die; a love which one would assume from his theory has been a

romantic love combining all of the three key components. Sternberg thus sees the death of the

greatest love, through the actions of individuals in their lives which does not touch on elements of

the soul or the afterlife. Ibn Hazm on the other hand, states that on a psychological level, even

after the death of a loved one, a true love produced by the fusion of souls does not die, but can be

rekindled in the memories of an individual to produce powerful emotional and physical effects.

He thus creates a link between the psyche of individuals and their souls; Sternberg does not make

this affiliation. Ibn Hazm believes that a love which causes the fusion of souls during life,

dissipates at death. I believe, however, that the soul continues after the death of the body, thus

this love between souls still exists. The premise that the soul continues after death is supported by

Islamic doctrine, as well as many other religious faiths.

In describing the kinds of love, Ibn Hazm states that the first rank of love, which he

considers as the noblest one, is the love which based in God. For me this kind of love is motivated

by looking for blessing from God. Therefore, it can be said that when we have faith in God this

motivation and love exist, but when our faith in God disappears, this noblest of love disappears. It

seems to me that Ibn Hazm does not consider that one's faith could change and effect this noblest

of all love. He also maintains that a true love perpetuated by the fusion of souls ends at death and

does not consider the implications of the remnants of this type of love involving the soul, in

relation to the afterlife or when in Islamic doctrine, our souls return to God. As well, Ibn Hazm

does not consider the love of God, beyond the love in God, which is affiliated with the sixth sense

and the soul. 11

Sternberg does not create a link with love and the soul in his theory of love. I believe that

he also overlooks some important dimensions in his "universalizing" theory. While he says that the

three components of love are present, to varying degrees, in all times and places, I question this

premise on the basis of the cultural and social diversities which are present "world wide". While

these components may be present in the actualization and manifestation of love, the meaning or

understandings of these components could drastically change the interplay between these elements

on a psychological level for individuals within differing cultures. It is perhaps too "essentializing"

on Sternberg's part, to propose that a theory works universally without giving some sound cross

cultural evidence; otherwise he glosses over the very subtleties of love in his theory of love.

On another level, neither Sternberg and Ibn Hazm discuss love, which exists outside of a

heterosexual relationship; they both disregard same sex relationships and the implications for their

philosophies or theories. As both authors base their premises on observations and the analysis of

human action, behaviour, and psychological understandings, they make oversights in the

connection between love and the spiritual realm of the soul, the meaning of love in cultural

context, and love in homosexual relationships; these also come into play in the nature of love.

While the differences in their fields of study frame their theories on the nature of love, it is

difficult to delimit where theory and subjectivity begin and end, how the time frame and location

affected their work, and how this can effect what both authors choose to observe and interpret.

While Hazm focuses on the spiritual levels of love as the ultimate forms of love [ with God and

the spiritual fusion of the souls of individuals]; Sternberg focuses on the psychological processes

of human social interaction. I would conclude that an analysis of love could transcend the

limitations posed by both authors by focusing on what people do and what people say about love,
11 al-Ghaz_l_, Ihy_' ‘ul_m al- d_n, (Dimashq ; Bayrut : Dar al-Khayr, 1990), p. 255

considering multiple levels of expression, actions, and motivations, including spirituality and the

psychological processes of human interactions. This perspective would perhaps be more akin to

an anthropology of love, to explore the complexities of the inherent capacity of humans to love

from different cultural perspectives.


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