We all love and are loved. Ask anyone if they love their families and friends and I can't imagine any of them saying no, except for the occasional teenager super pissed at his nagging parents. But loving well is not quite as common. How many truly healthy families do you know? Most often, confusion and dysfunction are the norm. In a society where performance and productivity have created cultures of insecurity and general senses of not being, doing, or having enough, and soft skills are second class citizens in the market place, being able to love maturely is desperately rare. That's because the growth and development process of this precious gift is extremely time consuming and doesn't fit into the rhythms of the 50-70+ hour work week. Am I saying they're incompatible? Yes.
But if you've come to a place in your life where you are no longer satisfied with your capacity and ability to love (others and yourself), here are several ways to improve how you can strengthen and deepen your most significant relationships.
Learn about the 5 languages by Gary Chapman. Know the love language of your loved ones and your own and get fluent. Start with yourself and take this assessment. Being aware of your own needs and how to fill your emotional tank goes a long way towards having empathy for those you want to love better. Think of it as putting on much needed equipment to see, hear, and feel what the other sees, hears, and feels.
Next, think about how to get those you want to love well to also take the assessment. Frame that initial conversation with why and how you want to improve how you love. Yes, this will be hard and awkward because it will require you to be vulnerable. So watch this first. Brene Brown does a wonderful job unpacking the power of vulnerability so that your heart will have a fighting chance against your head to make this courageous move towards transformation.
It makes such a difference when we love each other in ways that are especially meaningful and relevant to how each of us are uniquely wired. We feel that much more known, appreciated and understood. Knowing and being known is a very significant element of loving and being loved.
Love in Conflict
This is where our love usually breaks down. When sharp disagreement occurs and emotions get intense, we invariably find ourselves on the slippery slope of conflict. When our love is underdeveloped and trust has not been fortified, we simply lack the emotional muscles to balance and navigate peacemaking responses. To put it another way, there's little to no regulation of our fight / flight response. So we just run away or come out with guns blazing.
To get better traction and engagingly abide in the peacemaking responses, we're going to need to get better at crucial conversations (Joseph Grenny).
The keys here are the stories each person tells themselves which will determine whether they slip off towards silence or violence or abide in the dialogue pool of shared meaning. When we're in the safety zone and our fight / flight system is under control, our learning channels remain open so we can work at understanding the other's perspective. When we're able to comprehend each other's thoughts and feelings, we're that much closer to stepping into their shoes and helping them feel known and understood.
Our love gets better when our words and actions reflect authentic empathy and humility. Through awareness of each other's stories, we're empowered to connect meaningfully and be transformed. Deeper trust is built and we draw that much closer to each other.
Giving and Receiving Relational Comfort
Stress happens and at some point before long, we will seek comfort in some way, shape, or form. It may be certain activities, behaviors, or substances but it will always be something. But not all comforts are equal. Some are healthier than others. Relational comfort is definitely at the top. Since we're wired to connect, it only makes sense that our greatest comfort would be found in another person. And in order to love well, we need to work at finding relief and refreshment from those we're closest to. This is also the way to be addiction proof.
When you see your loved ones had a stressful day, offer to spend some time to check in to see what's going on. Here's an outline of a comforting conversation. As you can see, it does take some work in being open and vulnerable to bring things out into the light. But if things stay inside, we will use impersonal comforts which often lead to some form of addiction / enslavement. In being transparent, we are exercising our vulnerability muscle and the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. The stronger it gets, the easier it will be to share openly and receive the comfort we desperately need. The more relational comfort we can give and receive, the better we are at loving.
- Seek Awareness:
- “What’s your perspective on your problem / challenge?”
- “What feelings come up?” If anger, what’s underneath that anger? Check out soul words list.
- Bring hidden feelings into the light of your relationship. Negative feelings and pain lose power when brought into the light. Conversely, they remain when we keep them hidden.
- To experience comfort, we must take the risk to step towards the freedom that comes from being vulnerable. We draw out the emotions by naming them.
- Ask about the emotions felt in response to triggers / stressors.
- Invite the speaker to risk being honest and vulnerable.
- Ask why the speaker feels what they feel and if there were other times, past or present, when they felt the same.
- Explore where / when else the feelings are felt.
- Try to identify all the times / events that made you feel that way.
- Try to get clear about the general emotional state and what caused it.
- Silence and waiting for people to think and reflect deeply about the past.
- Clarify and validate - use reflective statements.
- Listener should not try to fix, solve, defend, or debate.
- Enter into speakers mindset / perspective, to see things from their point of view; check to see if what was heard is accurate.
- what comfort is needed; learning how to find relational comfort
- “What do you need?”
- “I hear you saying that you feel ___ and you need ___, and here’s what I can do…” [Be honest! Don't make promises you cannot keep].
Outline content taken from here.