Love is Not a Stranglehold

Love is not about control; that might seem obvious, but sometimes it’s good to get really clear on that concept, because we’re all only human, and when you love someone, whether it’s your child or your parent, your partner, sibling, or best friend, you become vulnerable; there’s no point fighting that reality. You have a body with an unknown expiration date, you have a gorgeous heart which is capable of incredible love. Human beings are designed to need each other, and to reach out, so loving is part of the equation, as is the inherent exposure to loss and suffering that go along with loving. We never know how much time we have, or how much time anyone else has. We never know what will happen next.

It’s human and very understandable that we want to control certain outcomes; we want to do whatever we can to make sure those we love are safe, healthy and happy. Those are good, loving desires, but things get sticky when our ideas about what is good for someone differ from their own. We can all step back and agree that certain behaviors are self-destructive, and are very likely to lead to pain, injury, or worse. If you have a loved one who’s putting himself in harm’s way, of course you try to step in and find help and support.

I’m not talking about that, though, I’m talking about the pain that ensues when we try to manage or control another person’s feelings. Have you ever told someone they shouldn’t be angry? “Don’t be mad.” “Don’t be sad.” “Don’t be scared.” Why do we think we can tell other people how to feel? There can be a difference between how you feel, and what is happening. Maybe you feel like your partner never listens to you, and your partner disagrees. It does not matter who’s “right”, you feel unheard. Now you have an opportunity to look at that together. Is this a theme in your life? Did you feel unheard or unseen as a child? Did you have any evidence that the way you felt about things had an impact on the world around you as you were growing up? Does feeling unheard make you feel disrespected? Invisible? There’s a lot to examine, and if your partner is willing to examine this stuff with you, without getting defensive about whether they actually do a good job of listening or not, there’s an opportunity for real intimacy to emerge. If your partner has to tell you that how you feel isn’t right, communication breaks down. Now they’re invested in convincing you that they do listen, and that your feelings are wrong. We don’t have to agree with how someone feels in order to work with their reality. If you love someone, you want to know them, right?

If you want to be right all the time, love is going to be a tough gig for you. If you want to possess or own another person, you’re in for a rough time there, too. You don’t own your children. They aren’t possessions, they’re people, with their own paths and ideas and needs and wants that will emerge if you allow them to, or become buried if you do not. When we bury what’s deep in our hearts, what’s true for us, we suffer. Love can be brutal; you may love someone with everything you’ve got, and they may leave you. Maybe that’s what they need for their own growth. Who’s to say? It may break your heart in a million pieces, but you can’t block the door, y’know? You can’t tell them they don’t feel the way they feel. You cannot control what another person will do, say, want or need.  You can’t save anyone except yourself.

Love has open hands and open arms and an open heart and mind. It doesn’t cling or manipulate or try to control. It’s an embrace, not a stranglehold. When you love someone, you want for them what they want for themselves. You want to support their growth and expansion. It requires your bravery and your trust, and your willingness to get hurt. I’m not telling you to be reckless with your heart; choose where you put it carefully. But when you love, you might as well do it all the way.

Ally Hamilton

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