We are born to love. But how do we do it? Are there certain keys to loving to help us love more effectively, and most importantly, get the love we want?
Clients tell me that they will do almost anything to be in a loving relationship. They long for this.
And then these same people get in a relationship and find themselves unhappy, and often debating whether to leave or stay. They have valid complaints about their partners. Things are not just working out as planned.
We'll do anything to be in relationship and then can't find love even when we're there!
What is going on?
Although we are born to love, we all get caught up in old beliefs, old stories, that make loving challenging and often impossible. These ingrained stories go back to our early childhood experiences with our fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters.
I encourage most of my clients to attend our emotional healing retreats. At these events we work to change these old stories that create unhappy patterns in our lives.
We learn how to free ourselves from the past and learn to give and receive love in the present. We learn the difference between genuine love and counterfeit love that is really only about gratifying needs. We experience the joy of loving in in an intentionally loving community. And we learn how to create more love in our lives so that we return with tools that can help us.
I’ve written about the Principles and Skills of Loving, formulated by Gerald and Elizabeth Jud, that have guided hundreds of people towards healthier relationships. Learning how to apply these skills in our lives, these keys to loving, is a big part our retreats.
Another perspective on learning to love is from the work of David Richo, a psychotherapist influenced by mindfulness and the work of Carl Jung.
In his books, especially How To Be An Adult In Relationships, Dr. Richo speak of 5 keys to loving, or as he puts it “the five A’s.” These are:
When we were growing up if we received the focus of our parent's attention we felt seen and safe. But when we were told too often “children should be seen and not heard” or “go away I am busy now” etc., we may not have received this invaluable attention that helps each of us grow into ourselves. We may feel unworthy of another person's attention and even behave in ways that attract negative attention.
Yet even if we did not receive much attention as a child we can learn to attend to others in the present moment without fear or anxiety. We can welcome others by paying attention to them.
Meditation practices are one way to begin to heal ourselves. We learn to attend to our parts with unmet needs, including those parts that crave attention. As a meditation student I've earned to gradually free my attention, my awareness, from the past so I can be more present to myself, and present to others. (For more on meditation go to my benefits of meditation page.)
Sometimes when we did not receive our parent's attention as a child we turned inward, and developed our creative, imaginative side.
When we experienced acceptance as a child we felt okay, validated, approved of. We felt that we were good and our sense of self got stronger. We were able to relax, enjoy life, and breathe more deeply.
As an adult we can practice acceptance of others, learning to accept them without preconditions, as they are, not as we might want them to be. We can respect who they are. As we learn to do this in relationships we increase intimacy with our partners.
When children are appreciated, their self confidence grows even more than with acceptance. Appreciation is a loving energy that helps us grow into ourselves.
As an adult we can give this key of loving, the gift of appreciation, to our partner which helps them feel safe, relaxed, home. We all bloom when appreciated. This naturally leads to...
When we received affection we felt we were lovable, worthy of receiving love. When we didn’t receive enough affection we may have felt worthless and unloved. This could set up a life time of hiding from potential love, living on the edges of life rather than embracing it.
As an adult we express loving through affection, which offers this gift to another. But if we offer our affection with strings attached, it is not a true gift, not part of true loving, which is always freely given.
When we were allowed to be who were were as a child we felt validated to explore our own values and needs. Our sense of self grew deeper.
If we grew up in a more rigid household we may have learned to deny aspects of ourselves, suppress them.
Our task in becoming a loving adult may be to learn to explore, accept and allow parts of our nature that have been in hiding! We may discover that our lives need to go into a whole new direction and take the time to develop self confidence in a new career or lifestyle. It's never too late to find yourself!
As an adult we can give the gift of allowing to others, allowing them to be who they are without rigidity. Allowing is the opposite of controlling, which can smother relationships.
As an adult we can learn to give all the 5 keys to loving to our partners.
Each one of these skills can be learned and practiced in our relationships. They help create an environment for intimacy, for healthy loving and caring.
It's also important to have a balance of these keys to loving. If we receive too much affection, for example, we may feel smothered and want our own space. Allowing can balance affection.
And we can use these same skills with ourselves to free ourselves from past patterns of relating that keep us trapped in the pain and loss of old stories. Practicing these keys to loving with ourselves can be a first step towards developing healthy relationships with others.
Most of us have had some degree of these five A’s growing up, but are still trapped because there were important times when we did not get what we needed. We still have a deep yearning for the keys to loving, for one of the 5 A's: for attention or acceptance or appreciation or affection or allowing.
We project these unfinished needs onto present relationships, and repeat old patterns. We expect our partners to solve the issue for us, to solve our loneliness or hurt or grief.
We haven’t yet mourned our unfulfilled childhood pain and so we bring this pain to our current relationship. Instead of two adults being in relationship, it is often two children struggling to learn to love and be loved.
Growing up itself is not necessarily painful. The process is one of opening to the suppressed pain of not being seen and heard by others. We love can ourselves, breaking the spell of the old stories, so that we can live into a richer more fulfilled life. We find that we hold the keys to loving, that they are within us.
To learn more about uncomfortable feelings go to our Emotions Page