My husband’s an international boardroom coach and trainer, so he interacts with people from all kinds of backgrounds and nationalities. And he says there’s a common denominator. There comes a moment when he realizes, “This is not what it’s really about.” And then he can hear the question that everyone’s actually asking: “Will you show me what real love is?”
We’re all looking for real love, all the time. Whether we’re creating a special dinner or starting an argument, it’s what we’re after. So then, why aren’t we all living it? It’s because we’re doing some things that block it.
1. Using others to fulfill our love needs
As babies, most of us received the love, attention and praise that we need. But something unexpected happened around age two. We were still doing the same adorable stuff, but some of it became inconvenient to our adults. And they began acting differently toward us, using disapproval and even punishment to get us to “be good.” What was our response? “How can I get the love back?!” is all we could think about. And many of us are still doing it today – trying to get someone to prove we’re lovable.
We’re all driven to restore our early joy. So we look for someone who can give us what we need to become whole again. Our mistake is in thinking that our wholeness is that person’s responsibility because no one can fill our needs for love and acceptance. That’s an inside job, and only we can do it for ourselves.
2. Making people wrong
One of my friends always needs to be right because he believes being right proves that he’s all right. It’s a self-esteem issue. And the person he makes most-wrong is his partner. He truly believes she is wrong. After all, there’s plenty of evidence to prove it. That’s because our experience of life is the result of what we believe, so it always proves us right. My friend hasn’t figured out that his wife is right from her standpoint, which means no one is wrong.
What’s the answer? Criticizing and blaming need to be off-limits in relationships.
3. Trying to possess people
Friends of mine divorced recently, and their teenage daughter goes back and forth between their homes. She’s afraid of losing her dad, so she tries to restrict his freedom to hold onto him. She insists that his new girlfriend not be at the house when she visits. She’s afraid, and she’s trying to make her dad responsible for whether she feels happy and secure. And since that’s not possible, there’s no way he can resolve the situation. She’s so afraid of losing him that she’s losing him.
If we try to emotionally manipulate people, we’ll end up feeling drained and loveless. “I want to be your one-and-only, to have you for myself. If you go out tonight, I hope you won’t have a good time because I want to be the one who makes you happy. Otherwise, I’ll feel threatened.”
Real love doesn’t bind people. And the only way we can lack love is to believe that we lack love.
4. Falling in passion
We’re taught from childhood that love is based on a feeling of excitement. “Oh, you’ll know when it’s real love. You’ll get that funny feeling inside.”
We look at someone new and think: “Oh, he’s mysterious, strong, different from the rest.” “Wow, she’s wonderful, one of a kind.” The qualities are exciting, and our passion’s aroused. So we fall in love and enjoy the feelings for as long as they last. Then reality sets in, and we discover the real person – the one behind the image that we created during the romance phase. Then we say: “There’s no more romance in our marriage. Where’d the excitement go?” “She’s changed. She’s become so boring.” “Maybe we should break up. I’m not turned on anymore.” That’s passion, not real love. Passion’s fabulous, and it has its place. But it’s not the person who turns us on. We’re turned on by what we believe about the person – which is rarely who the person really is. And relationships built on passion alone don’t go the distance because they’re based on personal need. And they remain about the self-satisfaction of individuals.
When we mistake passion for real love, we tend to say: “I love you. I can’t live without you. You have to be with me. I can’t help myself. I have to have you.” If we ever feel as if we can’t help ourselves, that’s the time that we’d better help ourselves! We’re all choosers and deciders, which means taking responsibility for making decisions and living with the consequences. It means refusing to say: “I couldn’t help it. I didn’t have an option.”
5. Enabling instead of empowering
Enabling is about being afraid to speak up. Such as when we don’t hold people accountable for destructive actions and instead pretend that nothing harmful is happening. And we call it “being nice” because the relationship is safer that way.
Being honest can also be a problem, especially if we’re determined to teach someone a lesson. The way to keep it clean is to remove any vested interest we have in whether the person does anything differently. That means saying: “I’m willing to do anything to help you change if you want to change. And I’m also willing to do anything to prevent you from being forced to change if you don’t want to change, because I accept you exactly as you are. But I won’t pretend that what you’re doing is effective when I believe it’s not.”
So then, what is real love?
It’s not butterflies in the stomach, or something that happens to us, or something we fall into. It does originate from inside us though. So the only way we can experience it is to express it.
The bottom line is that real love is less about whether other people are lovable and more about whether we are loving. And being loving is a decision.
This article is featured on Grace de Rond’s blog at gracederond.com.