How to Love Someone is a pretty heady title for a 600 word blog, but there are some elements of love too often forgotten. Here are the three steps:
- Know the person’s life story.
- Listen to the person as unerringly as possible, as often as possible.
- Stand beside the person in the face of adversity.
One, two, three—love. Does it seem too good to be true? It isn’t.
Know the Person’s Life Story
It’s impossible to love a person without knowing her life story. That’s because each of us is a narrative, with chapters reaching back to childhood. The people and events that shape us become part of that narrative and, without knowing about that history, no one can truly “love” the other person. We can certainly become interested in the other person, “taken with” the other person, even infatuated with the other person. But to love the other person, we must internalize that individual’s journey and, therefore, be a trustworthy custodian of his or her deepest feelings. And while knowing about the high points of someone’s story is nice, the glue of long-term attachment (and true love) is knowing about the low points. Knowing—really knowing about a person’s pain–binds us most intimately to that person. It’s easy to read someone’s resume; it’s tougher and far more loving to metaphorically “read” the stories about when she came up short, felt powerless or acted in ways she wishes she hadn’t. Why? Because those stories require us to embrace the whole of the other person. And being embraced wholly is the only way to feel truly loved.
Listen to the Person
Really listen. That means getting quiet and focusing, in order to reassure the other person that you’re invested in what she is thinking and feeling and saying. Human beings want and need to be heard, but it’s a rare event to truly be heard. And it feels—as it should—like love. When you’re really listening you’ll also be ready to ask the next meaningful question and the next one, rather than just settling for the initial, surface-level story you’re hearing. That’s because truly understanding generally requires some gentle or persistent digging for deeper levels of the person’s truth. So, when you say, “I’m trying to understand the reasons you’ve not spoken to your sister for years, and something still feels like it’s missing. Do I have the whole story? If there’s more to it, I’m all ears.” People want and need to be coaxed to reveal the deeper levels of what they have lived through and are living through. The coaxing, when heartfelt, feels like love, because it is.
Stand Beside the Person in the Face of Adversity
The good times are gravy. Sharing them is part of the joy of life. And, let’s be honest, it’s easy, too. Sharing the really tough times is the way you love someone. When you stand with her against a crowd of detractors, you’re loving her. When you show up when she’s sick, you’re loving her. When you note mistakes she’s made in relationships or in business or in any other way, but also don’t take a single step away from her side, you’re loving her. Painful times—are the times that offer your relationship the most potential power.
So . . . there you have it. Six hundred words (594, actually) on how to love someone. If it sounds easy, it isn’t. It’s not supposed to be. That’s part of the magic, too.
Dr. Keith Ablow
Check out Dr. Keith Ablow’s latest ebooks on relationships: 30 Days Back to Love, Pain-2-Power for Marriage: Eight Steps, and Pain-2-Power Parenting