When we hear the words “loving relationships” we tend to think of relationships between two people who are intimately involved on a romantic level. We often forget that loving relationships also include the relationships between families, siblings, parents and children, friends, etc.
Why is that? Could it be that we only associate the joy and warmth of love with romance? Could it be that, compared to romantic relationships, we’re more aware of the work it takes to sustain the other types of relationships, and less aware of the rewards?
What does a loving relationship feel like to you? We all have varying perspectives of love. What may feel loving to one person may not feel loving to someone else, yet all too often we place our own perceptions and judgments on others. Some expressions of love are universal, but many more are quite personal. How do you define love? What feels loving to you?
Part of being in loving relationships means accepting others for who they are, and not looking to change them. As we learned in our examination of forgiveness, this concept of accepting is often misunderstood. It does not mean that you like everything about every person you’re in relationship with – that would be unrealistic – but that you accept them without judgment.
This acceptance tends to come most easily to us early on in any relationship, before there has been time for more familiarity, and the challenges that emerge from that unavoidable increased scrutiny. That’s when the road begins to get rocky.
This is true in all loving relationships because as we spend more time with another person, and we ourselves grow and change, our sensitivity to any differences of opinion – or faults we perceive in that person – become harder to ignore.
Why is that? Well, relationships tend to go through stages. First we see only each others’ virtues, which are what attracted us to them as friends or potential romantic partners in the first place. We’re excited about this new opportunity, and want it to be as perfect as it seems at first glance. Later, after we have spent substantial amounts of time together, that initial excitement has long since worn off and we go through a period where we can see only each others’ faults.
If we manage to get through this second stage, we finally move into a lasting phase when we can see each other for who we really are, and truly be friends.
Parents often say at various stages of their children’s lives that they love their child, but they “don’t like them very much!” That doesn’t mean they aren’t loving parents, it’s just an acknowledgement of an undeniable fact of human emotions. It’s hard to feel loving when we see, or have to adjust to, behavior that is challenging or even downright obnoxious to us. Especially if that behavior interferes with our plans for our own lives, the “interruptions” caused by the escapades of children of all ages can be quite inconvenient.
To be in a loving relationship over the long term, however, we have to find ways to love even when it isn’t easy. This doesn’t mean that we have to ignore or deny hurtful or harmful behavior! Ignoring, being in denial, or pretending everything’s ok when clearly it’s not, will only make it harder to feel loving toward them. It means we have to find ways to understand, accept and deal with these behaviors in ways that are loving, respectful and compassionate – to both of us.
In order to focus on what it means to be in loving relationships, it’s helpful to use this acronym:
Hear and Listen with your Heart
Feel with your Heart: don’t Judge
Evolve and Flourish
Talk Openly and Lovingly
In this, Part 1 of our article series on Relationships, we’ll be looking in detail at the elements represented in the first half of the acronym: “HEART.” Here’s what they can teach us:
Hear and listen with your heart
Look for each other’s loving intentions. Don’t judge. None of us is so close to perfect that someone else couldn’t judge us harshly as well. If we look for flaws and negatives, we surely will find them. If we look for positive and loving qualities we will just as surely find those, too.
When we put up walls to protect ourselves from being hurt, those same walls will also keep us from experiencing the joy and pleasure of closeness. The first step to achieving true connection is being willing to open the door just a crack and invite someone else in. When we can simply learn to communicate lovingly, respectfully and compassionately, we are already more open and receptive to both giving and receiving love.
To lovingly accept the people in our lives means no longer giving into the urge to judge them. We may not ever like everything about them, but we absolutely can learn to accept people the way they are. We can learn how to give up believing that for us to be comfortable they need to be how we want them to be. The beauty of truly loving relationships is that in environments of love and acceptance we all grow and flourish. In relationships fraught with tension and judgment we shrink back in fear, and all fail to grow.
We need to respect ourselves first, and then look for what we respect about the people we love. If we actively look for those qualities that are valuable and worthwhile, and therefore deserving of respect, our hearts open up and we are able to see the good in them. If we judge and criticize, and see only what’s wrong and what we don’t like, then we undermine the very relationships we say we want to nurture. What qualities do you choose to focus on in the people who are most important to you?
Trust needs to be nurtured in our relationships. That means we must choose to act with integrity. While we cannot control how other people behave or act, we do get to decide how we want to handle their behaviors. We also can choose to TRUST in our ability to cope effectively when their behaviors are less than stellar. In loving relationships we count on trusting each other to be loving, compassionate, respectful and committed to what is best for each other. Since we are human, and we will make mistakes, working through the issues while TRUSTING that we are working for our greater good is imperative.
We hope this has given you plenty to think about as you move through the all many and varied relationships in your own life this week.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Relationships Series, coming soon!
Also, don’t forget about our in-person workshops on Forgiveness, Healing the Healer and From Distressed to De-Stressed, and our teleseminars on Relationships, Conflict, Mindfulness and Intimacy and Anger, Holidays and Mindfulness – all juicy topics, and all coming up soon, so be sure to register now!