Thich Nhat Hanh also says, “To love without knowing how to love, wounds the person we love.” We don’t all enter the world knowing how to love, though. If you were very blessed, you might have learned this at home, but even the most loving parents don’t always have the tools to love with open arms, open hearts and open minds. So many people confuse love with possession or control, or they make it conditional. And, it should be noted, there are many people who were born into violent homes, and have a lot of unlearning to do, before the learning can begin.
So yes, for most of us, we’ll spend time flailing around as we figure things out, and we are both likely to hurt, and to be hurt as we do this. Friendships may fall apart, romantic relationships may crash and burn, we may find that trusting anyone in any situation is a challenge. Whatever your past, you’ll have to reckon with it so it doesn’t determine the quality of your present and future.
Here are some things to think about, if you’ve been struggling in this area. Love is freeing. When someone loves us and sees us and accepts us, we’re safe to relax and open. True love gives us permission to be more of who we are. If you’re in a relationship and you feel diminished, that’s not love. If you’re in a relationship and you feel you have to edit yourself in significant ways, that’s not love. If you’re in a relationship and affection is given or withdrawn based on whether you do or do not show up the way the other person wants you to, that is not love. If you feel unsure of yourself, insecure at every turn, doubtful about where you stand, that is not love. If you’re being emotionally, verbally or physically abused, that is also not love.
Having said all of that, you may be with someone who’s trying to figure out what love is, and who has no frame of reference. This doesn’t make him or her a bad person, you’re dealing with someone who has deep wounds. They may be doing the best they can to love you with the tools they have. I’m not saying they don’t love you. I’m saying they don’t understand yet what love is. If you’re being abused, you cannot stick around and be a punching bag while they figure it out. You are not here to be that for anyone.
If you’re with someone and you’re both trying to figure it out, and you’re both willing to listen and communicate honestly and do the best you can to look at yourselves and each other with compassion and honesty, there’s hope. You won’t avoid hurting each other as you go along your path, but it won’t be intentional, and you may learn a great deal about giving each other the benefit of the doubt, about forgiveness, and about creating a safe space to forge ahead together. So something that starts out as “not love” can turn into love, but only if both people are willing and ready.
Other things: we’re all human and we all blow it from time to time. Learn how to say, “I’m sorry”, without excuses or justifications. Learn how to do it while you look someone in the eye and allow yourself to be vulnerable. When people feel hurt, they put their defenses up, that’s understandable. So if you do something thoughtless or selfish or weak, it’s normal for your friend or loved one or family member to feel both hurt and angry, and they may come at you. The best way to diffuse an attack is to take ownership of your part (if you’re culpable, which you will be sometimes, because you’re human). Also, forgive as easily as you can. It doesn’t feel good to hold onto anger and be “right”. Don’t make lists and keep score of all the things your friend or partner has done, unless they’re lists of the good stuff. Resentment grows like weeds and it will strangle the life out of your relationship. Bitterness tastes terrible and it eats away at your stomach lining and makes it hard to sleep and who needs that?
Listen with your heart. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Listen the way you’d like to be listened to. Consider that your viewpoint might be wrong, but also stand strong when you know in your gut something isn’t right. Learn to express yourself calmly and clearly. Get help if you need it. I’m always amazed at the people who resist therapy. If you tried it once and the therapist wasn’t for you, try again, try someone else. It’s subjective, but if life isn’t going well, or your relationships aren’t going well, or your ability to express yourself is limited, or you can’t figure out what you need in order to be happy, use every tool available to get right with yourself. For me it was yoga, meditation, therapy, reading, writing, and having an amazing dog. You have to be willing to weep. You have to be brave enough to face your pain and own it and examine it so it doesn’t own your a$$ for the rest of your life. You have to free yourself because no one else can.
Then you can get busy loving. Love is acceptance and understanding and forgiveness and listening and nurturing and supporting another person’s growth and well-being. It doesn’t grip, force, manipulate or punish. It’s absolutely worth fighting for.
Sending you a ton of love right now,
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