beloved love

Union with the Beloved

6:00:00 AMClarissa Traub

I was truly astounded when I was surfing the web the other day and came across an article about divorce rates in 2013. 

It said that the average length of an American marriage is 8.8 years. I was familiar with the statistic of the percentage of marriages that end in divorce, but I had never heard the duration of an average marriage. Still in college, I cannot wrap my feeble brain around the challenges of married life, but still I wonder, “Is it really that bad? What goes wrong?”

In this discovery, I was interested in the principal reasons why couples divorce. Common motivations included: lacking individual identity and having different priorities and interests. The top reason was getting in for the wrong reasons such as for money or thinking it would be “happily ever after.”

There is an underlying theme in these motivations that von Hildebrand illuminates in his philosophy of love: the contrast of selfishness with selflessness. In his book The Nature of Love, von Hildebrand speaks of the various elements that constitute love. He suggests that the most misunderstood element of love may well be the intentio unionis, or the desire for union with the beloved person.


Von Hildebrand says that in relations of love we desire to be united with the beloved. This is sometimes seen as selfish because there is a connection of union and happiness. It perhaps leads to the misunderstanding that we seek union with another person only for selfish reasons, in order to fulfill our own desire for happiness.

This concept would be rejected by von Hildebrand because when we seek union with the beloved, the primary yearning is for union, not happiness.  In other words, happiness is the result of the fulfilment of our desire for union. Simply speaking: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl and wants to marry her (be united with her). From this union, boy is happy.
The moment a man is more interested in his own happiness than in union with his beloved, he stops wanting real union.


This would play out as so: Boy meets girl, girl makes boy happy, boy wants to keep girl around for his own happiness. This is selfish in that man does not want “union” with the beloved. He wants “possession” of the beloved. Perhaps this is why some marriages have ended in a divorce. But take heart! Von Hildebrand illuminates true union with the beloved beautifully.

The desire to benefit the beloved ought to dominate, as seen in intentio benevolentiae. In desiring union with the beloved, one should also desire their good, otherwise love becomes malformed. The beloved is presented as intrinsically important  and worthy of reverence and love in herself. This motivates him to act in her best interest, in accord with her good. He desires to be united with her, but this is balanced by a desire that she flourish in her true good.


When desiring union with the beloved, one yearns for a return of love and seeks a mutual commitment in his/her beloved. In this union, the beloved becomes a source of happiness for the one who loves.  Though love brings about the greatest happiness, the focus of love is never that happiness itself. We do not love others merely in order to make ourselves happy. The focus is the beloved and what is truly in accord with her good. Through union with the beloved, happiness is given as a free gift.

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