The Right Way to Love
There’s a pervasive myth in our society that there is a right and a wrong way to love. However, there’s not much clarity about what the right might be. We all have difficulty with relationships and difficulty with love. Therefore, we’re liable to draw the uncomfortable conclusion: “Everyone knows how to love correctly except me.”
This attitude leads to blaming, defensiveness, accusing and a general shutdown of any loving feelings. You may feel helpless, betrayed, incompetent, angry and lost. If you become defensive and withdraw from your beloved, things get worse.
There are actually as many ways of loving as there are people—and none of them is wrong. Some ways of loving work better than others. There are an infinite number of ways that work extremely well. This is good news, for it ends forever the fear that love can become boring, or that you can become bored with it. When looked at from this perspective, the object of relationships becomes to discover each other’s way of loving (lovestyle), to learn the style of loving your partner uses and to teach him or her the joys of your own style. In this way, each relationship adds to your options for love. Each couple synthesizes a new lovestyle out of the two they bring together; which is uniquely theirs and which can be restructured as their lifestyles change and grow.
Each of you has your own unique experience with love, and must define it for yourself.
Each of us experiences love in many ways: romantic, practical, spiritual, familial, unconditional, passionate, selfish, and more. Here, I’m talking about love at the practical level, as in our day-to-day relationships.
As we experience it in primary relationships, love is one person's positive experience of another.
Love tends to bring separate people together.
Love is sharing and caring.
Love unites us.
Love is your willingness to share yourself.
Love is a state of being, a feeling, not an action. It is warmth, connectedness, and a desire to be closer. It’s my concern for your well-being as well as my own. Love is someone's recognition in the other of the things he or she likes most about self. Love is not critical or separating; it is accepting and supportive.
We hear much, especially in popular songs, movies, etc., about how painful love is. I disagree.
• Love doesn’t hurt; whatever hurts in a relationship is not love.
• Love isn’t limiting, it’s freeing.
• Love is how you feel; not what you do. The expression of love is one degree removed from the feeling itself. How you behave is not necessarily an accurate barometer of how you love—that depends on your understanding of love and your ability to express yourself effectively.
• Love is a feeling; the expression of love is an art. As with any art, there can be a wide gap between what is expressed and what is felt. The difference between expression and feeling has several contributing factors: self-awareness, honesty, safety, intent and fantasy. As with art, practice and knowledge of technique are helpful.
COMMUNICATION AND MISCOMMUNICATION
Whether you love or not is subject only to your own opinion, no one else’s. The proper answer to the age-old demand, “If you love me, you’ll...” is: “Wrong. I do love you, but I’m not going to do that,” or, “I’ll do that, but it’s not a test of my love.”
Frequently in counseling I’ve seen people let themselves be talked right out of loving each other, like this: When person A says, “If you loved me, you’d…” most often he or she is feeling insecure and asking for reassurance, but asking ineffectively, because it sounds like a demand.
When B is also insecure, and if he or she is unwilling to do whatever is being demanded, B then tends to doubt his or her own loving: “Gee, maybe I don’t love you enough. I’m not willing to do that.”
When A gets this doubtful response on top of his or her initially insecure feelings, A panics: “Oh no! B doesn’t really love me!”
At this point, both A and B are convinced that it’s not working, and everything can go downhill from there, because of simple misunderstanding.
While love is not a behavior but a feeling, accurate and effective communication of feelings is important. It can be very frustrating to love and be unable to communicate that love. We all know the experience of loving someone very much and having them perceive our love as something else.
Marsha: “I loved him so much; I never wanted to be away from him for a minute.”
Bill: “She smothered me! She had no regard for my feelings! I hated it!”
Behavior contributes to accurate expression and is therefore important. It does you no good to love if your behavior is consistently interpreted as unloving.
As in any art, you need to know what you want to express to communicate it effectively. Your personal way of expressing and receiving love is your lovestyle.
My newest book, Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences is focused on helping people understand and communicating their personal lovestyles.
I wish for you a happy relationship, and a satisfied heart.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.