In the 1980’s a popular band sang “don’t tell me you love me,” to teenagers and twenty somethings across the American landscape. As a teen in that generation, I echoed the sentiment, wondering how the love that came my way always seemed to end in pain and confusion. Throughout my own twenty/thirty something race, I learned more about love and life, often the hard way. In the moments that followed the pain of divorce, and then later losing someone I loved very deeply, it became quite clear: communication, dedication and the ability to love from the heart were vital to me. I want to believe in love, and I do.
As a “forty something” trekking toward the future with a vengeance, I have found that the most imperative definition for love comes from the Greek understanding of God’s agape love for His creation. First, I had to cement myself in what I really believed about faith, matters of my soul and who I am as a person. It was a good discovery, if you’ve never taken it. Don’t stress…there is no right time. I just found the real me this year amongst the ashes of the Phoenix fire. The grown up me and the 24 year old me are two totally different people. There is a drastic difference in our needs and desires as we grow in age and wisdom.
The need for love, however, burns strong. Two of the most well known phrases in the new testament speak of God’s love. John 3:16 offers the most important eternal truth of all time with the simple phrase “For God so loved the world.” Jesus added the commandment “Love your neighbor as you would love yourself,” written with a first person Greek understanding of the term “love.” It means seeking the other person’s highest good – regardless of the cost to yourself.
So then, “real” love (not the eros stuff, or the dependency borne of familiarity) is what we’re willing to give, give up and grow up over; it’s receiving love and being in community together. Agape is the truest form of love, and one that I understand. Here are five hard hitting and honest principals that will help you build healthy relationships. They changed my grown up girl love with hubster Brian into something that burns strong in every conversation, and hotter in those intimate moments. Who knew that learning each other would be so sexy?
1. Learn my language, and I will learn yours, too. Brian and I do not communicate the same way. Compounded by gender, many husband and wives are also “emotional and approach” opposites. I am highly conceptual, Brian is empirical. I love words, Brian numbers. I love coffee and NASCAR. My husband hates coffee, is addicted to Diet Coke and flies planes. We have learned over a decade of life to respect one another’s differences and likeness. We know what is important to one another, even when it is not the same within each of us. Brian doesn’t necessarily share my need for verbal affirmations, although they are important to him, too. I am a stay at home mom, full time writer and in grad school for counseling psych…he works full time as a CFO quite a distance from home. Still, it is natural that it is my time that he needs, quality time alone together that doesn’t involve the world of work. It is my love for Brian that seeds time into mini-vacations, long afternoon drives and midnight movies. My primary language? Affirmation. Brian’s? Quality time. So if he’s sitting next to me, in his mind, we’re communicating. If I am not hearing it, I don’t connect.
It takes deliberate action to translate and give what the other person needs. What are the primary needs for the person that you’re intent upon showing true love? It’s not only important to know the connection points with your mate and family…you need to know the trigger points for emotional upset that are based on the core fears that every person holds. Work regularly toward shoring up the confidence level of your loved one in areas where one another is weak. Remember, the first person who yells has lost. Everyone has a level of fear; be responsible for your own emotions and let your loved ones be responsible for theirs. Communicate with your mate without fear…and be someone who can be communicated with and be trusted. Never betray the trust of your loved one by relating sensitive topics outside that relationship.The first step in communication is listening, without becoming hurt or emotional.
Here’s a little mood music to make you smile…I love this song. It’s on at the moment, and I thought I would share.
2. I know who I am, and remain stable. Stability is important in relationships, but is hard to navigate. Investing in your understanding of self is important. I’m a relatively dynamic person – as such, I just went though the process of counseling, testing and therapy to make sure that I’m on track with my life goals, to tighten up a few loose ends as I transition fully into this new life, this present and now future. I know my strengths, my weaknesses and I’m really upfront about them with my hubster, and with my sis D who acts as my twin accountability partner. How do you rate your own mental health? Maybe you don’t have time to take all the assessments in the world -you can do other stuff on your own, too. I have spent time studying the concept of “love languages” and the psychology of how people grow in books by Dr. Gary Smalley, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. All have great websites with lots of free but fantastic resources, each is a fantastic author. It’s important that you research the people you read to make sure that they have the credentials…academic or life driven….to hand out advice.
It took several months of committed communication to find out what my true love model is, a tough discovery for a woman who spends all of her time focused on others well being. My own higher good is found in acts of service, on all fronts. My family shows their love for me in small ways that mean a lot to my hectic pace, and that alleviate stress. Brian fuels and maintains the car that I drive, has been known to fold and put away laundry and keeps all the home repairs under control. Every Monday when I am in class late, he has a “daddy daughter date” with our youngest daughter…that means a lot to me, that he gives her time and attention. As grad school charges on, we carve out special times of “no books, no ties” and simply take a day off here at home. Brian also acts as an editor on one of my book projects, so its not unusual to have a pre-publication chat about a scene or character issue. This environment creates a web of togetherness that helps maintain stability. We are open to help one another all of the time, without censure and judgment. As a person with a long term battle with anxiety and depression, it is important to me that I do not get overwhelmed, something that my family understands well. It is in this togetherness that we show true love.
3. Honesty is not about guilt. I am, like most people, guilty of being human. This is to say that I can say the wrong thing, understand the wrong concept, and in general create chaos in my own life and the lives of those that I adore. Every one has trials in life, regardless of their dedication to love. Love can become contaminated, though, if it is used for the purpose of guilt. If your confession of truthful pain causes another to react in a “desired” manner, you may have become guilty of manipulation. Guilt isn’t love, but a harmful side affect of abusing the principal foundation of love. When my family helps with responsibilities I normally maintain, I have to make sure that I do not take advantage of their willingness to participate by over emphasizing my own level of work or need. While I appreciate the contribution of helps, I also appreciate the ability to keep my house or preform acts of service for other members of my family. I often recommend that each person look diligently and honestly into relationships for healthy communication. Identify circumstances where you might find manipulation, or an imbalance of one person giving selflessly to the position of harm. Address it honestly, constructively.
Love should not harm, but build. Here is another tip: please, remember that half the truth is still a lie. If you’re going to be honest and transparent, you can’t do that with half-truths. Nothing built on contaminated foundations will endure.
4. Seek counseling, accountability. There is little in the world that is more important than your family, and those relationships that are formed with those you love. What plan for growth do you have? Every journey requires direction. Note: running from the past is not considered direction. That is just running. Hang up those sneakers and get out a life map. There are many forms of constructive counseling that are available at various costs, and/but not all are psychological. There are both great and horrific licensed mental health counselors, pastors, psychologists, etc. Put some due diligence into finding someone who can help you confront your truth. Don’t have major mania? Read mental health anyhow, or stretch your faith with great bible studies that are available from real people like Beth Moore. Self help books are topping the charts, from stable people like Dr’s. Townsend and Cloud, and of course, Dr. Oz. Churches offer life groups with emphasis on particular aspects of growth. If your faith supports it, get plugged in to a local congregation that resonates with your family and who offers small group meetings through the week. I’m not typically a congregational person, but Brian is – so we vary church attendance based on our own understanding of faith.
Talk openly with your family about what you can do corporately to improve the family function and strength. Build accountability to communicate by structuring the family time that suits you, as a couple and with your extended family in the household. Don’t forget, if you’re a parent, that rolling on the floor, laughing and reading cannot be replaced by electronic babysitters like TV and games on your iPad or eTablet. If you’re one of those ultra-busy people, make sure that you take time to have fun with your loved ones. Pick something constructive and decent to participate in, including fun puzzles, board games, decent movies, and low cost trips to places like the park, on picnics and family dinner time. Axe the TV trays for a real table, turn off the electronics ~including the cell phones~ and talk to one another. Another aspect of counseling – you can work through your issues without “emotionally dumping” your guilt and anxiety onto your spouse. Treat that person that you love with care and respect – seek good emotional health though the appropriate source, and give your spouse your best moments.
5. Commit. Where your head goes, your heart will follow. You cannot be in love with the person your with if your mind is constantly on someone/somewhere else. Perhaps the “other person” is really a job, a hobby, an addiction. Yep, porn addiction is cheating via the soul, and it always will be. But not all relationships come under fire from infidelity or money. I recently counseled a young woman who was upset with her new husband for his lack of communications capability. Without understanding the differences in their ability to connect, she attempted to force him to meet her needs. Not understanding how to meet his needs, she became frustrated with the relationship over all. The word “divorce” was a ready alternative to learning to communicate. Have we made it to easy to throw in the towel? It is true that there are instances when a relationship is formed on very poor foundations, doomed to failure once the physical wears off. If you are in relationship with someone who is unable or unwilling to give their best, to be loyal and dedicated…you’re really not in much of a relationship.
If you love someone, however, there is a need to understand that commitment requires faith in the hard times. Relationships are not easy. You will often give more than you get. Love, that seeking the highest good for one another, endures all. Brian, by rights, should have quit on me a year ago and walked away. I was a mess. But love isn’t easily offended, it doesn’t fade, it doesn’t quit. He stood firm in his resolve to honor what is us. We talked and loved it out, we listened, we trusted, we got it all out in the open. There were hard moments from losing our business to my tenure with the church, lots of stuff that simply came between what was always a great love story. Today? No secrets, no hiding, no unforgiveness. I can’t imagine me without him, like it was for so very long…because no matter what day, date or time, children home or grown, Brian is the person that I want most to talk to in the world. He interests me, challenges me, fascinates me…and I him. So resolve to yourself that there is no need to trade your mate out for a less difficult model when the going gets really rough, not if you’re both willing to talk it out and make the changes that need to happen. If you will agree on this principal on trust and in faith, there is little that you cannot communicate and love through. This is often the most important point in a relationship, the safety that you offer those you love when they know that you will walk through every situation with them.
Get serious about your agape love, your intimate dialogue and your intimate affairs. Yes, the love that you make counts. Bring that spice of life, that passion for being whole and real to the bedroom as well. There is a strong correlation between your own attitude toward your love and your self and the results of your efforts. You cannot speak negatively over your situation or your relationship and expect that you will have a positive result, even when you are talking with your unrelated friends and acquaintances. You are always hearing what you say; there is not an escape from your own soul when you negatively speak over your family or your mate. Be real but imperatively positive. Even if your workplace or home gets negative, maintain your own speech and thoughts in the positive; remember that what you plant, you reap. Bless those you love with honest praise, especially when they are not listening.
Authors Note: If you know that you’re in a circumstance that is not healthy, seek professional help. If you are verbally, mentally or physically abused, know that this behavior typically escalates. No one deserves to be hurt. Change your state today. Perhaps your marriage is on shaky ground. That is okay: there are lots of people willing to help, no matter if you ultimately decide that you stay together, or seek a future apart. Seek counseling in church, at a local community center, county mental health agency or preferably with a qualified marriage and family therapist. It is important that your attitude maintain a positive frame of mind for those moments of stress.
Again….here is a word of honest caution…if you are in danger from physical or mental abuse, seek help immediately. Contact the Victim’s Assistance center, the police or a trusted member of clergy. Abuse is not your fault, nor is it “biblical” to submit to abuse. It is important to understand that love does not bruise the flesh or the soul, and is not grown in fear. Codependency is as lethal as any cancer or cardiac problem, and it will kill you soul first. As a woman who suffered in a (former) abusive relationship, I can attest to the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Seek help, and find peace.