Thoughts on Love

With Valentine's Day approaching, the obvious topic for a post is something to do with love or relationships. Right?


So here I am, still trying to decide what exactly to write about those topics. I could talk about how the opposite of love is fear and recommend you always choose love; I could explain how loving yourself is the only way to love others, how having kind thoughts is the way to start loving yourself and how we don't realize how unkind we are to ourselves in our thinking. It's also interesting to consider that all of our problems (with relationships, weight, money, work) are just one problem: a denial of love. Or I could blame Jerry Maguire for screwing everybody up with the "you complete me" line and remind you that you are complete and people who love you simply give you back to yourself.

But here I go with what I hope is the most useful coaching advice on relationships. And, who knows, it may end up including pieces from above.

1. Let go of control. For fun, let's start with what doesn't work. From my experience with clients and in my own life, the biggest obstacle to forming deep connections is our desire to control the people we care about. Why do we do this? Out of fear, of course. Fear that they may hurt, leave, embarrass, disagree with or reject us. We try to control what they feel and what they think. We want them to be happy, we want them to accept us and like us and make this whole relationship thing less risky. Well, here's the thing: It is risky but that's o.k. and it's worth it.  People we love will leave, some will do foolish things, and some will even die before us.

How to choose love and stay sane with so much risk? Martha Beck recommends we love unconditionally and unilaterally. I love how she follows this recommendation in The Joy Diet:

"But doesn't this strategy virtually guarantee that you'll get hurt? No, silly. It absolutely guarantees it...But as long as you never react by cutting off your willingness to love, you will always - always -emerge from these situations with more capacity for joy than you took into them."

This does not mean that you don't honestly express your feelings, acknowledge uncomfortable truth, or never end a relationship. This is where I find it helpful to think about what love is and consider that we can do all of these and still love...

2. Define love. What does love mean to you? I know, it's too big, too amazing to describe in words. However, I recently re-discovered this definition by M. Scott Peck, M.D. (psychiatrist) in The Road Less Traveled: Love is "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." This definition packs lots of implications. First of all, it implies that love is effortful and willful (a choice, and perhaps not always easy) and not merely a feeling but an action. Also, self love and love of others are the same, because we cannot be a source of strength without nurturing our own strength. To love myself is to love you and visa versa. I have clients who are making difficult decisions in their relationships. In the context of this definition, asking themselves "How can I choose love?" may be the same as asking "Which option best supports growth?"

3. Do nothing & truly listen. Here are a couple things that will deepen and enrich your relationships so much, that you won't even believe it. The first is to "do nothing," meaning: go to the place of stillness/your core of peace when with another person. Again, in The Joy Diet, Martha Beck describes its effect like this:

"I found that it is impossible to truly do nothing while interacting with another person and not fall in love with them...I see in each of them a being of such breathtaking beauty and value that I can hardly stand it."

When you do nothing, you detach from all of those judgments and personal agendas and "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." You see every person as someone who is looking to find and show the best parts of himself. Misbehaving kids are just that. People who are unloving have simply forgotten who they are. You'll find yourself caring less about control and feeling more present, which will lend itself to true listening:

"...the temporary giving up or setting aside of one's own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker's world from the inside, stepping inside his or her own shoes" (The Road Less Traveled, p. 127).

What also happens when you do nothing and truly listen is that the other people feel loved & valued. Then they go on to love & value you and others. And there goes this beautiful upward spiral of love & growth.

Happy Valentine's Day!

"To the ego a good relationship is one in which another person basically behaves the way we want them to and never presses our buttons, never violates our comfort zones. But if a relationship exists to support our growth, then in many ways it exists to do just those things; force us out of our limited tolerance and inability to love unconditionally." -Marianne Williamson in A Return To Love

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