Books are a great place to look for the answers to questions. Sometimes there is one especially excellent book on a subject with all the answers. Other times different books contain elements of truth that can begin to make sense when they are combined. I’ve read lots of books about a subject that seems simultaneously both simple and amazingly complex. While there are many more books yet to read, here are a few ideas from books about love.
We say that we love our pets, our family, our friends, certain foods, a work of art, our partner. The same word can mean so many different things, no wonder it is confusing. M Scott Peck’s defines love in his book “The Road Less Traveled” as: “the will to extend one’s self to nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual truth.”
This definition includes self-love. We must begin with loving ourselves in order to be capable of both loving others and receiving love. To love ourselves, we need to fully realize that we are loved simply because we are alive. A higher power is one completely reliable source of unconditional love. Since we are all loved, it follows that all deserve to be treated with love, wherever we are on our travels.
This definition also implies effort. Love requires our on-going efforts to keep it growing, like a garden that we plant. Love is either nurtured and grows or neglected and dies. We either choose to act lovingly or we choose not to. We learn to communicate, or we don’t. We accept others as they are, or attempt to control them.
If we have not learned how to love, we may believe that love can be found by pursuing praise, power, pleasure, and safety. Greg Baer calls this Imitation Love in his book “Real Love.” While these things are not inherently bad, they will never provide true happiness when they become a substitute for real love. We may choose these forms of Imitation Love simply because we do not realize there is another choice.
When we do not receive unconditional love, we feel empty and afraid, and learn getting and protecting behaviors, which are actions to get others to like us or to avoid and prevent others from hurting us. Brief satisfaction may result from these behaviors, but the long-term damage is considerable, the worst effect being that they make it impossible to feel Real Love even when it’s actually being given to us. Only when we take the risk of telling the truth about ourselves is there the possibility of unconditional love.
We may not have learned how to act lovingly, but if we do not change, we continue to be defined by our past. In “All About Love” by Bell Hooks, the author lists actions that convey love. Actions that express love include: care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, trust, recognition and communication. Conversely, actions that destroy love include hurt, abuse, neglect, disrespect, manipulation, and controlling. We can learn to act lovingly towards all people, but love reaches a deeper level with some who touch our hearts. When this happens it is quite mysterious.
While love is a gift freely given, healthy relationships are about balanced appreciation and mutual respect. We show love by giving our time and attention, especially by actively listening. Gary Chapman describes the “Five Love Languages” as acts of service, quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, and gifts. One love language speaks most clearly to us, and it may be a different one for your partner.
Life is change, but often not in ways that we might expect. Since nobody is perfect, there’s usually something we would like to change, in ourselves as well as others. But change is the ultimate self-help project, making efforts to change others spectacularly ineffective and problematic.
In “Real Love,” Greg Baer says that attempts to control others indicate that we are not accepting them. This does not mean we must accept unloving behavior; it does mean setting your own limits and requesting what you want without demanding it or expecting you will always get it. There’s so much more to learn, it’s time to read more books!