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Love Skills (Commentary)

by Roger Fritz

There's only one love skill, and that's to love. What does love mean? It means to treat someone well under any circumstances. If I say I love you, and treat you badly, I don't love you. If I say I hate you, and treat you well, I love you.

How do I know if someone loves me? To them, I have no faults. I only have some cute foibles and quirks. If some of my quirks are getting in my way, they'll tell me as a friend, but even then they don't judge me.

There's only one way love can fail, and that's to contract away from the relationship. The contraction is fear, perhaps of humiliation or abandonment. The result of the contraction is no more expression of personal thoughts or feelings, and no more concern about the other's welfare.

The way to stop the fear reaction is to stop taking humiliation and abandonment as insults and instead take them as wounds. To feel hurt is one thing. To feel hurt and angry is another. Instead of cutting off someone who hurts my feelings, I can accept the pain and disappointment, and I can continue to communicate with and care about my loved one.

How can I do this? By effort of will, by summarily replacing the woundedness of my heart with love. Love cares about the other person, even if and while they're hurting me. Bad habits are changed by replacing them with good habits, so I can replace habits of rejection and panicky recoil into isolation with habits of being willing to be seen in pain and helplessness and suffering. Step one is to catch the thoughts of rejection as they go by, and step two is to replace them with positive thoughts.

This isn't easy. It's a lifelong struggle to replace fear with acceptance. What do you do when a loved one betrays you? Do you react with anger and cut off closeness? What if you could remember that what looks like betrayal is usually panic, and respond to their panic with soothing instead of anger?

The same principle of taking things as wounds rather than insults applies to the rest of the world. Do I get angry when I have to drive home in 95 degree heat in a car with no air conditioner right through the middle of town in rush hour? Isn't that taking discomfort as an insult rather than a wound? What if I regard this trip as a warrior challenge and be the best driver-of-car-with-no-air-conditioning-through-rediculously-hot-conditions that I can be? What if I sprinkle water on my hair and clothes, turn the radio up loud and sing along with The Doors?

If there's a throbbing wound in my ego, one that makes me vulnerable to feeling insulted by misfortune, I need to find and heal it. Perhaps I wasn't loved as a child, or was abused. Perhaps I was kept in the dark or put in impossible situations (like needing to respect my drunken mother even as I take care of her). Fortunately, there are many ways to find and clarify what wounded me, and there are many ways to heal those wounds. Talking in fantasy with figures from my past to seek resolution and forgiveness is one way, or writing them letters I never send. Getting a loved one to hold me like a child can help heal old lack of love. I mention a couple examples.

But the central issue is that healing comes from within. One becomes more loving by determination to do so. There are many aids and many helpers, but we make ourselves into better people. More loving and accepting, less judgemental, more likely to make people laugh, and eventually taking ill fortune with a joke and a smile. A turn of bad luck doesn't mean I'm a bad person. An act of unlove from someone I love doesn't mean the first thing I should do is get away from them. Love doesn't fail for me when someone stops loving me or treats me badly. It fails when I give up on the relationship and withdraw from them.

To stay in love even when it hurts is life's greatest challenge.

This doesn't mean I should accept abuse. There's a fine line between allowing abuse and accepting acts of love as pain rather than insult. If the abuse is clear and unstoppable, I leave. But to leave over mistakes and misunderstandings, to over react to my partner's fear, will destroy the best thing in life. And who knows when I'll get another chance to love or be loved?

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