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Gordon, R.M. (2006) Psychoanalytic Reflections on Love and Sexuality: Book Review, in Issues in Psychoanalytic Psychology,28, 2, 85-89.

Psychoanalytic Reflections on Love and Sexuality 
 Gerd H. Fenchel
University Press of America, Inc. New York, 2006, 136 pp.

Reviewed by Robert M. Gordon
(prepublication manuscript)

Gerd Fenchel's first publication about the psychology of human interaction was in 1951 (Fenchel, Monderer, & Hartley, 1951). And now, fifty-five years later, with his recent book, Psychoanalytic Reflections on Love and Sexuality , we have the benefit of Fenchel's years of teaching, treating and scholarship on sexuality, intimacy, gender, culture, spirituality, philosophy, art and psychoanalysis. Fenchel's range of knowledge is reminiscent of Freud, with his broad European view of humanity. It is a rare scope of scholarship in this age of over specialization and reductionism. Fenchel weaves through the history of human passions and beliefs as an orchestral conductor of ideas. Fenchel introduces themes from art, mythology and science and then zooms into the primitive fantasies of the unconscious. It is his grand lecture on "the ways of love, the 'meaning,' as it were of our humanity."

Science is based on experimentation, verifiable observations and theoretical formulation. Psychologists often forget that theoretical formulation is the highest level of science. Freud started as an excellent laboratory scientist. However, he understood the problems with reductionism and ecological validity in the study of complex human passions and conflicts. Freud could have only developed his ideas of the unconscious in the context of a therapeutic intimacy. His naturalistic research and theoretical formulations gave the world a treatment and an understanding of individuals and the human condition that is still being refined to this day. Conversely, after one hundred years of laboratory research in psychology, we mostly have the insightless management of psychological symptoms. The strength of Fenchel's book is that it is not a review of laboratory research. It is a review of ideas and further development of the psychoanalytic understanding of human intimacy in its destructiveness and curative powers. With this goal, Fenchel has produced a scholarly contribution.

Let me share with you my favorite chapter, the last, "Love in Psychoanalysis".  Read it first. It alone is worth the price of the book. It is here that Fenchel is most eloquent and brilliant. One can be a scholar about love, but never a master of love. In this chapter, we can see Fenchel's scholarship on love and his scholarship and mastery of psychoanalysis.

The chapter begins with the section, "Critique of Psychoanalytic Theory." Here Fenchel presents us with Norman Brown's argument that psychoanalytic theory is too rational.  For Brown psychoanalysis must concern itself with the mysteries of the heart and soul, which requires the integration of religion.  (Fenchel prefers spirituality to conventional religious prescriptions.)  Fenchel then challenges the reader to sort out Freud's bind of love as part of the cure, and love as a potential destruction of the treatment.

In the section, "Soldiers of Eros," Fenchel introduces Martin Bergmann's belief that the practitioners of psychoanalysis are in fact the solders of Eros. In addition, Fenchel goes on to state that Freud wrote that transference love was not at all different from ordinary love, and it is as powerful a force inside of treatment as well as outside. However, Freud felt that a mutual expression of love would derail the treatment. That is, the patient's and the therapist's erotized love could both be a resistance to treatment enacting conflicts rather than resolving them through insight.

Fenchel writes about Freud's concerns, "When the patient acts upon them too uninhibitedly, he says she needs to be reminded of 'social morality'! Does it not seem somewhat contradictory, however, that Freud in instructing us that transference love is the cornerstone of psychoanalysis... is also concerned to combat it by invoking social morality?... Clearly, the concept created tension for him as it threaten the very staid moral climate of early 20th century Vienna.  How indeed, in such a climate, was one to sell the idea of a cure that relied upon 'falling in love with one's doctor' as a necessary enactment to work through the aspects of infantile incestuous sexual wishes for one's parents siblings and guardians?"

Fenchel points out that Freud appreciated the importance of a humane concern for the patient. However, Freud realized that although love might have healing powers, its failure might lead to suffering and trauma. In addition, maturation and sublimation comes about by not gratifying primitive needs. With the safe guards of the ground rules, Freud considered analysis as a reeducation facilitated by the love in transference. Fenchel adds, "... are we not closer to the truth if we redefine it as an education in the art of learning how to love again?"

The last section of this chapter is, "Psychoanalysis and The Curative Power of 'Eros.'" Fenchel begins with Groddeck who during the time of Freud, was a physician who took a deep personal interest in each of his patients. Groddeck viewed illness as having the element of the pleasure of suffering and the hoped for return to the nurturing good mother. Groddeck felt that a loving safe relationship was an essential aspect of cure. Ferenczi and later Balint also considered the defects or basic fault in the foundation of character that needed repair by a loving relationship with the analyst. Fenchel looks at Laing, Hohut, Winnicott, Thompson, Gans, Mitchell and Aron, Ogden, May, Mann, Bachant, and Loewald, all of whom have found ways to bring love and empathy into the analytic frame without falling into the slippery slope of derailment and harm.

Fenchel carefully presents his argument that psychoanalysts are soldiers of Eros armed with loving concern, empathy and limits to help the patient resolve deficits and conflicts. Fenchel does not speak of a reaction formation type of faked 'love', but rather an existential intimacy that is constructive at the hands of a highly skilled professional.  Fenchel armed with Eros extends Freud's psychoanalysis as a treatment of both love and truth.

Fenchel begins his book with a cultural observation, "...the breakdown of relationships have increased in our present day culture where an overly mobile and rootless society seems to exacerbate the process... this seems to increase the need for some kind of stability in compensation, causing individuals to seek refuge in love affairs but which, unable to bear such unequalizing pressures, tend, more often than not to end in disappointment."

In the chapter, "Love" Fenchel quotes Brenner, "... love that lasts a lifetime, though possible, is not the invariable rule in human relations is it seems to be in other species, say, for example, as among swans." Fenchel then quotes some of my ideas (Gordon, 2006 d, 2006b). I go from evolutionary history and biology to current psychological context with five main contributions to passion: species traits, individual temperament, relational internalizations, beliefs and context. As people mature, the instinctive pressures fade and more positive introjects, healthy values and reality contribute to loving. Since we are not swans, we need to work hard at learning to love better and the psychoanalytic intimacy is the best means for learning this later in life.

Fenchel notes of the narcisstic aim of romantic love, "The problem with such narcissistic cures, however... is that they can attain only temporary and fleeting harmony until the real world asserts itself." Fenchel writes that symbolization is necessary for normal self-experience and the capacity for normal love. Fenchel does not believe that symbolization is inborn. "The infant needs the loving help and nurture of those surrounding him in order to develop this capacity. The capacity to achieve symbolization, however, can be adversely affected if the infant is overwhelmed by strong affects in the early stages of its development. It needs a 'good enough' maternal environment if the process of symbolization is to take root."

In the chapter, "Freud on Love," Fenchel begins with, "Freudian tradition places love at the center of his theoretical formulations... the libidinal drive under goes sublimation... The nature of the attachment to this early lost love object, 'the mother', and the degree of successful separation from her will determine the degree to which we are successful in finding a substitute that is gratifying of both sexual and affectionate currents in our need to love." Furthermore, we need to overcome the fear of incest, over idealization of the lover and the acceptance of the good enough relationship.

In the chapter, "Sexuality," Fenchel remarks, "it takes a well structured personality with well-developed boundaries to be able to weather (and integrate) the ambivalences inherent in any relationship..."

Fenchel writes, " Hebrew the etymological root for 'eroticism' is be found both in the word 'holiness' and 'prostitute.' ... passionate love therefore has the power for both good and evil.  It can both exploit the beloved's need for illusion, while providing a sense of transcending mere mundane reality for a higher truth."

In the chapter, "Intimacy," Fenchel considers the aggression that comes from the narcissism of minor differences that often occurs in intimacy. Fenchel reviews the Romantic poets' idealization of romance and hoped for magical transformation. But he warns that" marriages of more pathologically regressed individuals such as with borderline personalities and manic-depressive individuals involve dynamics based upon more primitive internal fantasies and are expressed by manifest magical and mystical expectations... Paramount among these expectations includes the need for total gratification, instant intimacy and fusion."

In the chapter, "Development of Love," Fenchel writes, "... in order to enjoy non-conflicted sexual love in a mature state, both boys and girls have to master, the incestuous 'undertones' born of their infantile romance with the parent of the opposite sex... Freud's notion of mature love, as remarked earlier, was a blend of romantic passion and disenchanted realism."

In the chapter, "Considerations on Both Male and Female Development," Fenchel deals with the problems of gender stereotypy. He writes, "short of sociological and cultural pressures to repress opposite sex identifications, bisexual identifications occur naturally in the development of both sexes making sexual difference less rigid by allowing into consciousness and appreciation for the fact as Groddeck (1961) said, that in every male there is something feminine or 'female' while in every female there something masculine or 'male.'"

In the chapter, "Cultural Influences On The Development Of Love," Fenchel reminds us that, " is by definition a social enterprise occurring within a cultural context." In this chapter he pulls together Omar Khayyam, the Hebrew "Song Of Songs", anthropological data on New Guinea (Melanesia) initiation rites where by young men get their strength from other men by ingesting their semen through fellatio, Wagner's "The Ring of Nibelung", Goethe, Marcuse, and Gilligan and the myth of Psyche and Cupid versus the myth of Oedipus.

The chapter on "Commitment," Fenchel writes, "...couples who stay together have mastered techniques of soothing each other and are able to prevent undue stress to one another during times of conflict... the more effective a couple is in regulating affects within the system, the longer-lasting is the relationship... concern for the other appears to be the magical ingredient that cements a successful relationship allowing it to last through the ups and downs of the effects of conflict and defense in the context of instinct generated turmoil."

I would like a second edition of Psychoanalytic Reflections on Love and Sexuality with shorter sentences to make Fenchel's grand ideas easier to digest. The 136 pages are dense and aimed at the knowledgeable professional. I do think a rewrite would let a greater audience have the benefit of Fenchel's mind and grand view of love, sexuality and psychoanalysis. Meanwhile, for us students of passion, Fenchel's book is essential reading.




Fenchel, G. H., Monderer, J. H., & Hartley, E. L. (1951). "Subjective status and the equilibration hypothesis". Journal of Abnormal & Social Psychology, 46(4), 479.

Gordon, R. M. (2006 d). "What Is Love? A Unified Model of Love Relations". Issues In Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28,1,25-33.

Gordon, R. M. (2006b). I Love You Madly! On Passion, Personality and Personal Growth. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge,LLC.


(Contributor description)

Robert M. Gordon, Ph.D. ABPP is a Diplomate of Clinical Psychology and a Diplomate of Psychoanalysis, a Fellow of the Division of Psychoanalysis and served on the Governing Body of the American Psychological Association. He served as President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and received its Distinguished Service Award. He recently authored I Love You Madly! On Passion, Personality and Personal Growth.

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