Love talk

Couple communicating

Almost 25 years ago, Dr. Gary Chapman published his book The 5 Love Languages, which has become very popular. So, he proposed, we express love in different ways and if two people can’t speak the same love language, they can’t communicate, they can’t be happy, they might be in constant conflict.

However, we are not even conscious of our understanding of what love is or how we expect it to be expressed. And still, we wait for the other to share the same meaning, same perspective, and to express love the way we do.

The circumstances in which we grew up, the way we were raised, our family’s composition, our community and school, the impact of personal experiences, the media, are all factors that influence how we define love and relationships. They can affect our behavior, our feelings, our capacity to connect to another person, and even our learning processes. 

Couples’ therapist John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Harmony Books, 2000), has researched, written, and taught classes on how to predict if a marriage has a future and how to work for it. Based on the systematic observation of interactions between couples, Gottman drew conclusions about what obstacles interfere with harmony in a relationship, and he made recommendations on how to establish and strengthen intimacy and know each other more deeply.

When Gottman speaks of intimacy, he focuses as much on the erotic aspect of the relationship as on the empathy and compassion the couple could experience. To encourage them, he designed “love maps,” a series of questionnaires and games that fill in the gaps of information about how we define love, and what did we learn consciously or unconsciously about how to love. Since assumptions built from former personal experiences fill these gaps, there is a need for clarification and open communication about our beliefs and expectations. Assumptions feed the individual’s doubts and fears, usually generating misunderstandings and conflict.

If we seek to be in a relationship to satisfy emotional needs—such as a need for approval, company, or acceptance—our wants will be greater than the love we could offer. In our search, we would be regressing to that first stage of life, in which love is mostly egocentric, where I love you because I need you—possessively. This is the kind of love in which I want to become part of you to complete myself. Or, I would try to control you and mold you in order to satisfy my needs. 

The alternative is getting to know each other deeply, to clarify misunderstanding, to openly express needs and wants. The more you know about the other, the more comfortable love becomes, the less conflict will arise.

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Barriers to love

BDcard“Love is all there is,” some say. But really?

I find that we live in a society where all too often telling the truth, and I am talking about your inner truth, is not valued as an asset. I see people smiling when they feel like crying or shouting out loud in order to hide their grief or their fear. I also see people refraining from expressing their political positions or preferences openly maybe because they are afraid of engendering discord. Especially among the so-called “spiritual communities” debate is seen as undesirable. It’s like we have built a society where only likeness could be trusted.

But in the world of duality in which we dwell we find ourselves constantly swimming between two waters.  Call it whatever you may: the law of polarity; the unity of opposites; Thanatos and Eros; destructive vs. constructive forces; yin and yang.

Our lives are driven by opposing drives or forces. One day, we love; the next, we hate. Today, we have faith; tomorrow, we worry or feel overwhelmed by doubt. We navigate through life driven by either duty or pleasure, pride or guilt and shame.

If we could at least honestly acknowledge the inevitable truth of our dual nature, we would not carry on pretending to be loving people when deep inside we are maybe despising others or pulling them out of our lives on the grounds that, for example, they are not as evolved, knowledgeable or spiritual as we are…

I’m aware that loving those who are different could pose a challenge. And there is no doubt that those people who are difficult to love are usually the ones needing love the most.

Friendship, partnership… any meaningful relationship for that matter… must be built on love, that’s true. But not love of the very mushy nature depicted in novels and movies! True love is strong and veritable, long-lasting and loyal. And I am not referring solely to a personal kind of love, but also of love for humanity, for other sentient beings, for the planet. Even unconditional love might be strong and bumpy.

When we invest our love on others, it’s better not to expect that they would behave or feel or talk in a certain way, that would be loving a potential not what is. Love is based on acceptance. I love you for who you are not for what I want you to become. We could, of course, deliberately choose whom to love based on our preferences and yes! we need to set proper barriers to keep bullies outside of our physical, emotional and mental spaces. But what if it’s love that chooses us. For example, we’re tied to our family and we didn’t choose it. We’re tied to our peers, etc. Then we need to look at duty.

I think that if we’re constantly comparing our object of love against some ideal we set up early in live, we’re likely to become disappointed more often than not. Expectations often come from an unconscious desire for perfection. Perfectionism comes from growing in an environment that required perfection as a requisite to be accepted and loved.

Not being true to ourself, idealizing the person we love, being unable to accept the other, are all barriers to love.