Love Therapy: Definitions and Strategies


Dennis McCallum


The system of personality evaluation and counseling known as Love Therapy owes its definition to Dr. Ralph Ankenman.

The basis for love therapy is the biblical notion that a key to solving most emotional problems is the development of "victorious love output." According to this notion, learning to build deep, mature relationships will naturally bring to light our relational deficiencies and these in turn are usually the main problems we face in life. While love therapy is compatible with dynamic model approaches that focus on discovering deep causes for emotional and mental problems, it focuses mainly on a different question: Where do we go from here? Love therapy assumes that insight has accomplished little until we observe tangible improvement in the heart of human living: clients’ relational lives.

Love therapy attempts to define the main aspects of biblical love relationships and associated problem areas from a biblical perspective. After carefully defining love, we use the definition as a yard-stick by which to measure or identify various deficiencies in a person's relational life. While the client's problems may in part be a result of the actions or attitudes of other people in the client's life, we assume that, in the final analysis, clients suffer from their own failure to victoriously love others.

This approach has born excellent fruit with people suffering from common problems and even from moderate neuroses. I have little experience to suggest it is adequate for more severe personality disorders or with major mental illness, although others have reported favorable results even in relatively severe cases.

In love therapy, the key to success in one's emotional life is expressing victorious mature love output, rather than getting love input. In other words, no matter how those around us behave or treat us, we are always able to employ biblical principles of love, and in non-clinical cases, this should eventually result in improved emotional health. Love therapy defines a person's tendencies in relationships (or lack thereof) before developing a practical strategy for advancement in love-giving. In theory, advancement in loving, especially in those areas where the client is weak will minister to the individual's most central needs.

In this paper, we will define ideal biblical love. Then we will study various commonly found deficiencies in relational patterns. Finally, we will examine some typical strategies for relational development for various types of people.

Biblical Love Defined

The biblical ideal of Christian love could be defined as: A commitment to give of one's self in every area for the good of another.

Put differently, "mature Love" in love therapy includes four aspects. These aspects can be conceived as parts of the whole as the following diagram shows.

Sacrificial Forgiving
Emotional Disciplining

We will examine each of these aspects in turn.

The Sacrificial Aspect

The sacrificial aspect of love is based on passages such as Mark 10:45 where Christ explains that, "The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve." Here, positive servitude is seen as the example of Christ--complete willingness to give of one's self for the good of another. In John 15 Jesus says, "Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends." We see that Christ did live this way. But we must also see that he commanded believers to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12; 13:34).

Such servitude does not require that the other person even request help. Initiative in serving is an important component of Christ-like love because, although "no one seeks for God," we find that, "while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." (Rom. 5:6) Put differently in I Jn. 4:19, "We love because he first loved us." This means that the idea of positive servitude is an active, rather than a passive concept. The lover is not responding to love demands, he/she is seeking ways to serve and meet needs.

It also means that biblical lovers won’t complain that, "no one has called me on the phone," or that, "It’s always me who has to do the asking," etc. To the Christ-like lover, initiative is always viewed as an opportunity, not as a burden. The creativity and work needed to come up with new ways to initiate love giving are part of the sacrifice of love.

Self-sacrifice means that I have waived all personal rights within a relationship. Christ certainly had basic human rights such as justice and equality. Yet these were voluntarily waived when he allowed himself to be crucified while innocent. We do not find Christ complaining that "It isn't fair" as the nails are driven into his hands. Mature Christ-like love, then, rejects the idea that "I have a right to be treated in such-and-such a way," and instead, has not only accepted the unfairness of life, but sees self-sacrifice as more important than fairness.

Fairness is still a useful concept to mature lovers, because some relationships should be governed by fairness rather than self-sacrifice. Examples might include business dealings, crime and punishment, and a just war. Most of these relationships are not love relationships, and deal more with social ethics than with individual ethics.

Self-sacrificial servanthood is probably the most central theme in biblical ethics. When viewed from this perspective, we see that biblical love is not primarily a feeling of affection for another, although it is certainly compatible with affection. Instead, love is primarily the action of serving another (see John's definition of love in I John 3:17, where love is seen less as a feeling and more as an action). Such serving action can be rendered whether feelings of direct affection are present at the moment or not! Because giving love is a matter of willing commitment rather than the presence of a feeling, our definition of love begins with the phrase "commitment to give of one's self. . .."

The Forgiving Aspect of Love

Another implication of the imitation of Christ is the idea of forgiveness. Jesus emphasized the need to forgive others (Mt. 6:14,15; 18:21-35). Therefore, bitterness, remembering of wrongs and retributive acts are excluded from our understanding of authentic biblical love (I Cor. 13:5; Eph. 4:32).

God's insistence that we forgive others is based on the fact that he has forgiven us, and just as his forgiveness covers all sin, our forgiveness has to be complete and without exception (Col. 3:13 "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."). Therefore, Christians who relate to God on the basis of his forgiveness, while at the same time insisting on the right to refuse forgiveness to others, are fundamentally hypocritical. Stated positively, the recognition of our own sins and the depth of God's forgiveness provides motivation to voluntarily forgive others.

Unresolved anger and resentments involving current or past wrongs can be highly disruptive to relationships. Resentment and hate are terrifically draining emotionally, and these are sure to follow when we fail to forgive from the heart. The depression and hostility resulting from lack of forgiveness can manifest itself in other relationships as well as in our functional lives, rendering us unable to complete demanding tasks and reducing our reliability.

The Disciplining Aspect of Love

However, forgiveness does not imply passivity in the face of evil. Practicing Discipline is also an important aspect of biblical love. According to many passages, real love includes the responsibility to discipline, admonish, rebuke, or oppose others for their own good (Mt. 18:11-14; Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 5:5-7; II Cor. 7:8-12; Gal. 6:1; Col. 1:28; 3:16; I Thess. 5:14; II Thess. 3:6,14; I Tim. 5:1,2; II Tim. 2:24-26; 3:16,17 Titus 1:13; Heb. 12:5-12; III Jn. 9,10; etc.). When dealing with Christians, we should be guided in the application of discipline by the desire and goal of seeing other's conformed to the image of Christ. Christians are also called to grow up to "the fullness of the stature of Christ" (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 13-15). When dealing with non Christians, we still have a basis for discipline, mainly focusing on general principles of relating which we can negotiate with others for the common good.

Discipline in love must be carefully differentiated from any principle of justice or fairness. The point in discipline in love is not to punish fairly for wrong-doing, but to help the other person change for the better. Therefore, the believer is free to be "unfair" in the sense that more grace may be shown than would be warranted by the other's attitude or actions. Likewise, different people can be treated differently even though their actions are identical. When practicing discipline in love, our focus is toward the future (seeking redemptive change), whereas the focus of justice is on the past (matching the punishment to the crime).

Discipline in love is never the product of an angry loss of self-control. Discipline is a carefully measured response to observed behavior or attitudes. Anger may be incorporated into a disciplinary discussion for the sake of emphasis. However, such anger would be an "anger without sin" (Eph. 4:26) because it is not a selfish reaction to the violation of one's personal rights. Like Jesus, who demonstrated anger when cleansing the temple, we may realize that some people will listen only when we demonstrate a certain level of indignation.

In our earlier definition of love, the disciplinary aspect can be seen in the phrase, "for another's good" rather than simply, "for another." This is because what another wants and what that person needs may be completely different.

The Emotional Aspect of Love

The emotional needs of other people are important as well as their practical needs. Therefore, true biblical love is committed to meeting legitimate emotional needs when possible and appropriate. If we serve others in a cold and unfeeling way, we are loving sub-biblically. The examples of Christ, who wept for the sheep of Israel who had no shepherd, and who wept at Lazarus' tomb, as well as the many examples of nurturing emotion found in the writings of Paul both demonstrate the importance of emotional encouragement, disclosure, empathy and compassion. Scripture calls on believers to be "kind and tender-hearted" and to speak words that edify (Eph. 4:29,32).

According to love therapy, our focus is not merely on trying to constantly feel strong sensations of affection, sorrow, or ecstasy for another. Rather, our focus is on expressing these emotions based on the truth. Thus, emotional expression can and should go beyond the immediate feeling of the one expressing it. The larger context of the relationship may dictate that I express affection and care, even when I do not feel spontaneously compelled to do so. Such expression would not be manipulation because what I express is actually true, and because I am expressing it in order to give, not to take. In fact, expressing nurturing emotion often more truly reflects the truth about a relationship than would a lack of such expression.

In theory, as we learn to express emotions, the present experience of those feelings becomes more frequent and real. As in other areas life, believers can find their feelings coming into line with what they know to be true. The emotional aspect of giving in love is expressed in our earlier definition by the phrase, ". . .in every area. . .." This phrase is important for those who would give in other areas, but who would not easily give emotionally.

Those who are already strongly emotional may need to consider how they express emotions as well. Negative emotional expressions should be controlled. If we feel justified in "venting" our feelings, even though they are unedifying or even destructive to others, we are practicing a selfish form of love alien to the Bible. Likewise, if we demand that others express certain emotions in certain ways we violate the concept of sacrificial love mentioned above. These are love demands, which are antithetical to the notion of self-giving.

On the other hand, we might find it appropriate to take loved ones to task for their lack of emotional expression, but only if such confrontation is for their own good. Anyone who cannot express caring emotion has a problem with will inhibit relationships. Therefore as seen earlier, we may be moved by the principle of discipline in love to approach others with their need to change lest their own relationship (perhaps including the ones with us) suffer.

Deficiency Patterns in Love: "Love Spheres" - Who We Love

In love therapy, we refer to "love spheres." Love spheres refers to our pattern of choices regarding who to love. Two terms are used to describe this area: the Tribal love sphere, and the Diffuse love sphere.

The Tribal Love Sphere

Some people form relatively few relationships and remain in those relationships as long as possible, even if they are destructive. Such people usually selfishly cling to old relationships because they find the process of building new relationships burdensome or even frightening. In extreme (though not unusual) cases, some people's circle of relationships is no larger than the nuclear family.

This type of relational pattern is called tribalistic. The term tribalistic comes from oral cultures where members of other tribes are often viewed as sub-human. Tribes commonly use the same word for both the name of their tribe and for "human being." When people look at the world this way, they have little interest in relating to members of other tribes on a personal level. Relationships with outsiders are usually limited to a very superficial level involving business or diplomacy.

Many Westerners demonstrate the same mentality, defining their family as their "tribe." Relationships with those outside the tribe are neither sought nor welcomed, except on a very superficial level. People outside the tribe are treated virtually like symbols rather than actual people. Meanwhile, relationships within the tribe are expected to completely meet all relational needs. Such expectations are really love demands, and other family members feel burdened and suffocated because they can never fulfill such demands.

When tribalistic people need to form new relationships (perhaps because one's tribe is gone), this presents a serious problem. Overly tribalistic people will have difficulty forming new relationships, reaching out to the lost with God’s love, using their gifts in ministry, and valuing people outside the tribe.

According to love therapy, some people naturally lean toward a tribalistic pattern of relating. Strangely, the we observe that narrowness in relational life is often connected to a general narrowness or rigidity in most areas of life. Tribalism in non-relational areas of life is called "functional tribalism." The functionally tribalistic person derives a sense of security from "sameness." Even though the status quo may not be particularly satisfying, it’s better than changing to something new. Therefore, tribalistic people tend to live with a great deal of routine in their lives. The same schedule every week and every day will tend to be comforting to the tribalistic person, while not knowing what is going to happen next causes anxiety. The diffuse person would feel trapped by the same routine that makes tribal people feel secure. For functionally tribal people, messiness is very disturbing, while a diffuse person often has no problem with messiness. This characteristic rigidity may extend into all areas of life, reflecting a desire for structure and predictability. The tribalist’s insistence on a strict routine may interfere with the need to adapt to new conditions at work or elsewhere. In extreme cases, the tribalist may eventually lose the ability to function in any but one way.

This desire for predictability may lead to a form of relating based on controlling loved ones. The tribal person may interpret another’s submission to their control as love. Yet, as the love feelings resulting from control of, let’s say, the other’s schedule wears off, the tribal lover feels the need to exert further control in other areas just to keep up the same feelings. Those who love tribalists may end up jumping through incredible hoops to avoid punishment.

In marriage, this desire for control may also result in a variety of sexual dysfunctions. These could range from the need to have sex in only one way, to complete frigidity or impotence when the person feels unable to enter into an intimate, yet uncontrollable situation requiring improvisation and vulnerability. Paradoxically, some tribalists may come to interpret their spouses agreeing to sex as submitting to control. They then may begin to constantly demand sex as a sign of love.

Control is a key word for understanding the tribalistic love sphere. Extreme tribalists often develop control-related neuroses. Various phobic complexes can result from the inability of the tribalist to control some aspects of the environment. Anxiety can come to play an increasing role as the tribalist worries that he/she may lose control of the situation or of the future.

Family members who realize that they are expected to meet all of the needs of the tribalist often feel repelled. Ironically, tribalists often end up with quite alienated relationships even within their own tribe. The in-grown environment breeds relational ill-health, in-fighting, and simmering resentments. Hysterical episodes sometimes afflict extreme tribalists who feel they are losing control.

The Diffuse Love Sphere

The diffuse person is the opposite of the tribalistic. Diffuse people demonstrate a tendency to become quickly involved in a new relationship, and to immediately feel "close." However, they typically fail to invest sufficiently in the relationship especially after the initial enthusiasm wears off. Relationships tend to become "boring." As relational problems arise, the diffuse person often finds it easier to form a relationship with someone else than to resolve problems in existing relationships. Of course, even tribalistic people may decide to form new relationships in some cases, but the diffuse do so much more often. The result is usually a series of superficial relationships. In extreme cases, diffuse people may never actually form any relationships at all. They may simply meet people and interact on a sub-relational level, seeking stimulation which they interpret as love.

Just as the tribalistic individual desires structure and control in life, the diffuse person desires stimulation and freedom. Lack of stimulation leads to boredom, restlessness and often resentment toward loved ones. Diffuse people may find stimulation in either the functional area (video games or job changes) or in the relational area (moving from one romance to another).

Present Love Feelings vs.
Permanent Love Values

In love therapy, the stimulation sought by diffuse people is referred to as "present love feelings." Diffuse people falsely identify cravings within, believing them to be a need for drug intoxication or public acclaim, for instance, when they really long for present love feelings--the present sense of being loved. Present love feelings are evident when teenagers "fall in love." Such feelings are tangible sensations of excitement which generally cannot be maintained over a long period of time. To the diffuse person, present love feelings are love. Anything else is an unsatisfying imitation of the real thing.

Tribalistic people appreciate a different type of love feeling referred to as "permanent love values." The sense of security and relaxation that some people feel when sitting around their parent's or their own house in a familiar chair, with family members around them, are examples of permanent love values. Although we experience little sense of excitement associated with such love values, and often little overt emotional response at all, tribalistic people find such situations very attractive.

The diffuse person tends to develop assorted emotional disorders as time goes on. Typical types of disorders are drug addiction, alcoholism, obesity, and inability to succeed at a job, finish school or complete other complex tasks. This is because the failure to build deep relationships results in a sense of boredom, emptiness or void which demands solution. The diffuse person typically reacts to such feelings by seeking stimulation. The particular type of stimulation sought may vary, but there is little doubt that any satisfaction derived thereby will be only temporary. If the diffuse person is turning to intoxicants for stimulation, more will be taken in an effort to achieve the same temporary level of excitement, often resulting in addiction.

In marriage, a diffuse people may refuse to invest in a relationship now considered "old hat." Diffuse spouses may struggle with constant feelings of dissatisfaction in the marital sexual relationship because it isn’t as stimulating as other immoral relationships, or even as the married relationship was at the beginning. Divorce is very common among diffuse people for the obvious reason that their spouses are dissatisfied with the level of involvement in the marriage, and/or the diffuse one becomes convinced that another person would be more rewarding than the present spouse. Diffuse people are prime candidates for adultery. Their spouses often complain that they are never home.

Balanced Love Spheres

The goal of love therapy in the area of love spheres is neither to eliminate tribalistic or diffuse tendencies, but to achieve a relative balance between them. A mature biblical lover should be able to build deeply within a tribal framework, while retaining both the ability and the desire to establish new relationships and care for those outside the tribe.

The scriptural mandate for such a balance is clear. Jesus critiques extreme tribalists in Matthew 5:46, where he rejects the idea of "loving only them that love you." This is sub-biblical selfishness because it ignores the needs of those outside one's family or affinity group. Likewise, the Pharisees' attempt to evade responsibility to love outsiders was rebuked by the example of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). All of the passages that call for outreach to the lost (cf. Matthew 28:19) are also, by implication, against excessive tribalism.

Excessive diffuseness would be antithetical to the biblical call for deep love relationships, such as Eph. 5:25-29. The principle of "remaining in that condition in which you were called,"(I Cor. 7:20) is antithetical to excessive diffuseness also. Stimulation is a poor substitute for real love.

Balance can be enhanced by two means: 1) Learning to appreciate the missing love sphere, and 2) Recognizing and limiting excesses in the preferred love sphere. We will consider practical ideas for both of these later.

When dealing with love spheres, we may encounter a confusing twist, especially with men. Some people are functionally tribalistic, and relationally diffuse. Others are relationally tribalistic, and functionally diffuse (although this is more rare). In the first case, the man will be a rigid, dominating family man, but also may have an occasional affair with his secretary. The functionally diffuse will have no interest in new relationships, but continually begins new hobbies, sports, or maintain a gambling habit for stimulation.

Some people are already relatively balanced in the area of love spheres. These people’s problems are likely in other areas, such as love defects.

Love Defects - How We Love

In addition to the question of love spheres (who we love) love therapy defines patterns in the area of love defects. These are deficiencies or distortions in the way we love. We will define three patterns of love deficiency. They are "Work Substitute," "Work for Love," and "Infantile" patterns of love.

The Work Substitute

"Work substitute" describes a love deficiency in the area of emotional giving. This syndrome is commonly found in men, although a very small number of women also manifest the syndrome.

Typically, the work substitute is an adult male who draws much of his love feelings from his career. He may seem like a "cold fish" because he does not feel able to express positive emotion, complaining that it makes him feel like a sissy, or a phony. He usually can express anger and resentment. The work substitute commonly cannot understand what others want from him in the area of emotion. He is aware that his wife and others complain that he is unloving, but finds this confusing. He points out that he brings home the pay check, that he bought his wife a new car, and that he spends time with the family, unlike a lot of husbands who run around all the time.

Actually, the work substitute is guilty of substituting the enjoyment of goal attainment at work for the fulfillment of love relationships. Likewise, he replaces expressions of love with "doing things" for others. Overt emotional statements and actions seem mushy, ridiculous, and unnecessary to the work substitute.

The work substitute may have less imbalance in the area of love spheres than other types, but this can be misleading. Although the work substitute is willing to relate to outsiders and to insiders, the type of relationship involved is deficient in both cases.

When seeking an emotional component in relationships, the work substitute often replaces positive nurturing emotional expressions with a practice called "pig-tail pulling." Pig-tail pulling derives its name from a typical practice of 10 year old boys. A boy at this age may feel attracted to a girl in his class, but lacks the maturity to express his feelings in a positive way. Instead, he pulls her pig-tail (or kicks her in the shin) during recess. She yells at him and perhaps chases him, thus completing an immature relational interaction which, although not ideal in the mind of the boy, is better than nothing.

Adult work substitute men continue to relate to friends and family members in this immature, negative way. A work substitute man may come home and pinch his wife in the rear, commenting that she is gaining weight. He later wonders why he does such things, protesting that it’s all in fun. His wife complains that it’s not fun, and feels that her husband is deliberately mean. Actually, his lack of emotional maturity, knowledge, and humility leave him without effective means of positive nurturing relating.

It is imperative that the work substitute learn how to express positive emotion, and that his pig-tail pulling be curtailed and moderated substantially.

The Work-For-Love

The work-for-love defect is a deficiency that nearly always afflicts women. The work-for-love woman is a caring, loyal woman who is committed to her family or tribe. She is by definition tribalistic. She is kind, emotional, and sacrificial. The traditional, 1950’s image of an American mother is usually a work-for-love. These women build their lives around their children and husband. Their selfless giving is motivated by heartfelt affection and duty, but there is a catch.

The work-for-love eventually begins to feel resentment about the fact that her family doesn't appreciate her enough. As these feelings of resentment arise, the work-for-love reacts by working harder than ever. Hence, the term work-for-love. She actually works and serves those in her family, not in an authentically sacrificial way, but in order to buy love from them.

Because she is actually bribing her family to love her, she finds it impossible to appropriately discipline. She is vulnerable to manipulation by others at the same time that she is guilty of using manipulation on them. A typical method of manipulation used by the work-for-love is the "guilt trip." The work-for-love begins to manifest a martyr complex to family members. Her suffering is real, but it does not move her family to compassion because they sense the manipulative element. The work-for-love’s failure to discipline others selflessly leads to a lamentable lack of authority, and even respect, in those relationships. Instead, the work-for-love's martyr complex becomes self-fulfilling, as her family truly does take her for granted.

Later in life, when the children leave home, the work-for-love reaches a serious crisis in her life. Her husband, who is often a work- substitute, cannot meet her emotional needs, and she has failed to build other deep relationships outside of the family. She usually has not built skills and interests in the functional area either, other than cooking, sewing etc. for the kids. As a result, she may become increasingly depressed, neurotic and extravagant in her efforts to attract attention from her uncaring family.

A key to identifying a work-for-love female is found in the area of confrontation. Any one who is frequently confrontational and contentious is probably not a work-for-love. Confrontation is also key in therapy for work-for-loves. She must learn to love victoriously, rather than selfish clinging.

The Infantile

The term infantile is used in love therapy to refer to a stage of emotional development typical of children. Children live on a simple level emotionally, but one that is deficient from a biblical love standpoint. Children feel deeply for others existentially, but there is also a very strong self-centeredness in their feeling. They tend to take their parents' efforts and sacrifices in raising them for granted. They can't understand why they shouldn't be able to gratify all of their desires immediately. If they meet with limitations or frustrations, they may cry or throw a temper-tantrum.

Children will sometimes be very giving, but they also expect to receive, and feel that they are being treated unfairly when they don’t receive what they think they should. When children quarrel with one another, they cannot understand the perspective of the other child, and continue to feel that their own view is correct and that they have the right to use force if necessary to get their way. They often have a highly developed sensitivity to how others affect them, but very little sensitivity to how they are affecting others.

Unfortunately, many of these features are also found in adults. Although all people will occasionally manifest an infantile characteristic, many people see a gradual decrease in such characteristics as they move into adulthood. This is especially true as they form their own families. However, other people retain most of the attitudes of childhood. The result is a pattern of emotional selfishness that interferes greatly with important relationships.

Common complaints from those who are close to infantiles is that they are never satisfied. They have difficulty appreciating the extent of the sacrifice others make on their behalf. They may exhibit explosive tantrums, or withdrawal tactics similar to the child who threatens to eat worms or to hold his breath until he dies.

The most devastating deficiency of the infantile is lack of forgiveness. The infantile will usually feel that to simply overlook a wrong done by another, or to forget it permanently is a betrayal of justice. In the case of active temperaments, this makes the infantile quarrelsome and sometimes nasty. In more passive temperaments, the infantile's lack of willingness to forgive will lead to silent treatment tactics, and long rehearsals of past sins, sometimes from years earlier. Both types of infantiles lack one of the main components in biblical love--being easy to please (I Cor. 13:4,5 "Love is patient. . . is not easily angered. . . keeps no record of wrongs. . .).

On the positive side, infantile people are often enjoyable to be around for a variety of reasons. They are often more emotionally expressive than others. The vast majority of artists, musicians and scholars fall into the infantile category. Other infantiles are typically the life of the party. It would be a mistake to think that the infantile love defect is any worse than the work-for-love or work- substitute love defect. All three reflect relational deficiencies that can be healed by the power of the Holy Spirit as the believer takes seriously his/her own spiritual growth. All three are also present in varying degrees of intensity. Some may be extreme infantiles, in which case they may be extremely difficult to relate to. Others may have infantile tendencies although they are sufficiently under control to pose no serious barrier to close relationships.

Since both infantiles and work-for-love types can manifest tribal or diffuse imbalances, it’s not enough to identify a person's love defect. Different approaches will be needed for those with different love sphere imbalances. Infantile people can sometimes be helped by structuring relational situations where the client must give love, but cannot receive it back. They must also become aware of their lack of forgiveness and develop deep biblical convictions about the importance of forgiving from the heart.

Personality Factors in Continuums

We can describe several aspects of personality relevant to love therapy in terms of continuums. Treatment for imbalances in these continuums normally involves relational work in a community. Not only the nuclear family, but the larger Christian community is the ideal venue for treating most relational problems. These continuums are actually describing the balance or lack of balance in a person's life between two characteristics. The tribalistic-diffuse continuum has already been described above. Other continuums to consider are:

1. Emotional - Critical. This is a very important distinction in determining whether men are in the work-substitute or infantile category. Emotional refers to nurturing emotion, and caring feelings, rather than anger or outrage. Examples of nurturing emotion would be being moved to tears relatively easily, or having little or no problem "sweet talking" others. The one who feels uncomfortable with emotional expressions of affection is demonstrating relatively less emotional orientation, while the one who has his/her feelings hurt easily is demonstrating more. Sexual relationships should be viewed as an exception because they may involve emotional and physical expressions of affection from any personality type. However, people at the emotional end of the spectrum will typically be interested in sex within marriage more often than others, assuming there are no complicating tensions in the marriage. The critical person tends to approach life from a thinking, rather than a feeling direction.

Therapy for these types of people can involve teaching them the complimentary love skill they lack. The feeling person has to be taught to think rationally and objectively about relationships, and to judge feelings in the light of truth. We might call on thinkers to discuss feelings and emotional factors in relationships, including those areas that they don't understand. They may have to be trained in exhibiting feelings that they realize are true, even if they are not presently being felt. Emotional people might be called on to learn what it means to walk based on truth rather than feeling.

2. Rigid - Spontaneous. These terms are another way of understanding the tribalistic--diffuse continuum. Here the focus is on the issue of structure and love feelings. The tribal individual tends to be rigid, as mentioned earlier, but can learn to exercise spontaneity in certain situations. Eventually, the tribalist can be taught to enjoy the fruit of spontaneity, even if the act remains somewhat uncomfortable. For example, mixing with strangers in a group after a meeting may be uncomfortable, but as new relationships are formed, the rigid person realized the tension is worth it.

The diffuse, spontaneous person loathes routine and is often undisciplined. In the area of relationships, this usually implies unreliability and various irritants to the partner in relationship. The irritants may include mishandling of money, failure to succeed at a job, inability to enjoy relaxation, failure to make appointments on time, and a restless dissatisfaction with the status quo. The spontaneous person can be taught to follow a routine, and can even begin to enjoy it, or at least the fruits of it. Acceptance of routine is a key step in healing the relational and functional problems in his/her life.

3. Empathetic - Confrontive. Both work-for-love and infantile people may over-empathize and even sympathize with others even when they are wrong. This can result in a failure to understand the truth issues in the other's life. As mentioned earlier, the work for love has difficulty disciplining others at all. This is, in fact, the most debilitating aspect of the work-for-love defect. It is essential that the work-for-love learn to separate her empathy for the feelings of the other person from actually making excuses for them. The self-giving act of confrontation in love must be practiced by the work-for-love, as she accepts the attendant risks of temporary negative reactions from the one disciplined.

The counselor may have to actually accompany the work-for-love in an effort to confront a loved one at first. At the very least, we need to examine closely any claimed confrontation in order to differentiate actual from pseudo-confrontation. Interviewing the others supposedly confronted will often reveal that they never perceived that a confrontation occurred.

Some infantiles are also highly empathetic. This will not prevent them from confronting others, but it will lead to a damaging confusion regarding the issues. Instead of balanced other-centered confrontation, infantiles may wait until frustration builds up, and then explode, often over a completely unrelated and sometimes unimportant peripheral issue.

All highly sensitive empathizers have to learn to define their principles for living. They need to develop the ability to objectively compare the actual behavior of others and the principles of behavior that should control and inform relationships. Confrontation is the correct loving response to damaging behavior or attitudes in another, not the opportunity to vent petty frustrations.

Overly confrontive people need to learn restraint and empathy. Only when naturally aggressive people have been fully convinced of the need to first prayerfully empathize with others can their confrontation be trusted to be non-manipulative and sacrificial.

4. Present love feelings - Permanent love values. This distinction in love feelings has already been defined above. Here it is sufficient to point out that in dealing with therapeutic prescription, the diffuse have to be encouraged to cultivate a taste for permanent love values, while the tribalist needs to be reminded that others need present love feelings, and therefore effort should be expended in supplying them, or in learning to appreciate stimulating situations.

Applying the Continuums

In developing action-oriented therapy, the four continuums are particularly helpful. Love therapists usually follow a progression in counseling:

  1. First the counselor must spend time understanding the tensions and pain in the client’s life. During this process, the counselor should "invest" relationally in the client because the resulting love feelings will be a key motivator in change.
  2. Next the counselor must help the client develop a theoretical and doctrinal understanding of their problems and of biblical ideals in the relational area. Attempting to change others without them understanding and agreeing to the goals involved usually amounts to manipulation rather than biblical instruction and admonition.
  3. Finally, action on the part of the client (often involving relational activities in community) can provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to bring in permanent change.

In theory, a client who is unbalanced on a particular continuum should engage in activity that will tend to strengthen the opposite value. For instance, the person who is diffuse and addicted to stimulation (or present love feelings) may need to spend measured periods of time during the week in a situation involving routine, low stimulation (but not unimportant) work, and/or permanent love values.

Depending on the level of tolerance already present, the period of time may have to be quite short and infrequent at first. The therapist or helping third party may have to accompany the client in this activity to insure that there is no faking, and to make it easier. For example, it may be that the diffuse person does not know how to spend even one hour studying without talking or doing something else. In a good church it should be possible to find a friend willing to join the client for an evening that involves combining a period of quiet study with a period of social stimulation afterward.

A wise counselor or discipler should seek to assure that there are tangible rewards to such activity. If diffuse people are convinced of the rightness of discipline and consistency in their lives, and they see valuable rewards coming from investing in low-stimulation activity, they will likely build more affinity for such activity, and be able to branch out into other, similar areas. Eventually, tangible rewards may become unnecessary as the client begins to enjoy a disciplined way of life and the fruit that naturally flows from it. However, it would be easy to underestimate the amount of time needed for such a transition. Careful and patient work is called for in effecting lasting change in these patterns of living.

In a similar type of therapy, permanent love values could be taught through a combination of counseling, teaching, and practice. A married couple with one or both partners exhibiting diffuse imbalance, (a poorly developed appreciation for permanent love values) may be asked to practice a carefully structured evening of involvement.

Since the goal of the evening is to develop habits in the area of tribalistic love values, the environment should be relatively controlled for such an evening. There should be no interruptions from outsiders, which usually means that the phone should be off the hook. If the couple have children, the evening might be partly devoted to family tribal activity including the children. Special dinners might be prepared, and stories told, or other activities that are not rich in stimulation, but are rich in family "togetherness" values. After the children go to bed, a period of interaction between the married couple should be planned.

Since couples have often lost the ability to talk to each other, or may never have developed it in the first place, specific plans may have to be laid for this period. Some work-substitute or infantile men may have little idea how to initiate and sustain a conversation that make their wives feel loved. Here the counselor may have to suggest the specific types of questions that the husband or wife need to ask in order to have a constructive period of communication. Typical questions that might bear fruit would be:

"How have you been feeling this week?"

"Why do you think you have been feeling that way?"

"How have I made you feel this week?" "Why?"

We can expect that the work substitute man will find it very difficult to ask these questions, and carefully listen to the answers. Of course many kinds of discussions could lead to understanding and love feelings on the part both spouses. Sometimes, the wife may be urged to spend some time working with the husband or engaging in other activity that he interprets as "fun" (i. e. love feelings).

These examples should suggest how a counselor can creatively match an understanding of relational deficiencies with creative projects devised in advance. Many other types of projects can be used depending on the situation. For instance, single people can be urged to relate more deeply with room mates.

If we use care in developing a progression of projects, the client should gain substantial relational experience focused at the area of his/her weakness. Although we will realistically never see a complete change of personality, and weaknesses will always remain, sometimes even minor movement in these areas leads to considerable relief in troubled people's lives. Clients should be urged to build life-long habits along the lines of healthy relational patterns in precisely the areas they are weakest. Walking Christians who succeed in this long-term outcome report remarkable relational improvement.