I still believe in love. Yes, like many of us, I’ve been betrayed, disappointed, verbally and emotionally abused, misunderstood, unseen and disrespected by people who vowed they loved me even while speaking and acting in ways that might be interpreted as terribly unkind.
And, I know they did love me. In their bodies, in their hearts, in their minds, they felt that inexplicable warmth that opened their heart with a longing for connection that only love can answer. They loved me viscerally – and perhaps, I loved them too.
But that is not important, because feeling an emotion does not require the participation of the other person. In fact, their love had little to do with me. I may have been the stimulus, but the feelings lived in them. WHAT? Well, think about it. If I could cause someone to love me, Clive Owen and I would have been an item long ago.
The point I am trying to make is that for the most part, the love we feel is generated inside of ourselves, by ourselves. We feel it in our own hearts and minds, whether or not the other person loves us back, or is even still alive.
The most beautiful time is when that feeling happens at the same time with someone else and the two of you can say, “We are in love with each other.” Or, perhaps in the case of a parent, or a friend, we simply say we love each other.
And then it gets tricky. What happens when one of us wants or needs something different from the other person in the relationship? How do you resolve it?
When you utter the words, “If you loved me you would _____________________,” (either silently to yourself, or aloud to the other) – love is transformed from a feeling inside of yourself to a contract with a physical manifestation. And how that contract gets navigated can empower the relationship or destroy it.
The contract is usually not about love itself, but about other needs we may have that helps us to feel loved. For example, one partner may need a great deal of companionship while the other needs solitude; perhaps one is very sexually driven, and the other prefers cuddling. Perhaps one is very communicative while the other is not. Do these people love each other less because they each have different needs? This is where we get very confused in relationships and often where things fall apart. When we forget to talk these issues out, we often begin to have negative thoughts about what and why our loved one is doing what they do. Our relationships become burdened by heavy baggage filled with miscommunication and misunderstanding.
I believe that when two people who care for one another can openly, honestly and kindly work through their needs together, there is more potential for a love relationship that works. We often make a lot of assumptions about what our loved one should do for us and vice versa and we have may have unexpressed expectations about how the other should behave. Is that loving, or is that judgment?
It’s a relationship. There is interdependence. It is essential for us to discuss our expectations and to agree on our agreements. For me, the love happens not because we agree, but in how we work together to negotiate ”the terms of the deal.” Are we open enough, accepting enough, awake enough to express ourselves without blaming or shaming or demanding – while also listening tenderly to the needs of the other? If so, perhaps we can find creative ways to meet most of our needs satisfactorily (or decide not to!) while holding our selves and our loved ones with care.
Most importantly, I’ve learned to own and to express my own needs. At the same time, I accept my loved ones as individuals with their own set of needs that are equal to mine. Not more important or less. And none of us are obligated to, (or even capable of) meeting all the needs of the other!
Yes, I believe in love. I know that I may feel love, and yet be unable to negotiate a contract that works well enough to support a thriving relationship. On the other hand, I also believe it is possible to have both. I’ve learned a new way to speak to, and a new way to listen to those for whom I feel love. Through the practice of compassionate nonviolent communication, I find I am more skillful at interacting with my loved ones, and for that, I am grateful, and filled with hope.
My wish for you is that you also find a way to successfully embrace the love in your life in a satisfying and sustainable way. Here’s a list of some books that have helped me on my path, should you find them useful:
The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz
Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
Loving What Is, by Byron Katie
Happy reading, and much love to you and yours!