A Short Guide on How to Love is an ambitious title for a blog, but there are essential elements of love that can truly fuel it. Here are the three key elements:
- Know that person’s life story.
- Listen to that person as unerringly as possible, as often as possible.
- Stand beside that person in the face of adversity.
One, two, three—love. Does it seem too good to be true? It isn’t. And it works for romantic love, for friends you love or for one’s children.
Know the Person’s Life Story
It’s impossible to love a person without knowing his or her life story. That’s because each of us is a narrative, with chapters reaching all the way back to childhood. The people and events that shape us become part of that narrative and, without knowing 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 the high points of someone’s story is nice, true love requires 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 that person came up short, felt powerless or acted in ways he or she regrets. 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.
As the late and great author Leo Tolstoy wrote, “When you love someone you love the whole person just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.”
Listen to the Person
Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
To love, you must really, really listen to the other person. That requires getting quiet and focusing, in order to reassure him or her that you’re invested in what she is thinking and feeling and saying. Human beings want and need to be heard, but it’s rare 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. Those deeper levels of inquiry will allow you to empathize with what you are hearing. 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
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.
To paraphrase an anonymous quote I once read, True love means standing with the other person on good days and standing with him or her even closer on bad days, no matter what.
When you stand with a person against a crowd of detractors, you’re loving that person. When you show up when he or she is sick, you’re loving that person. When you note mistakes the person made in relationships or in business or in any other way, but also don’t take a single step away, you’re loving that person. Painful times are the times that offer your relationship the most potential power.
So . . . there you have it. Your Short Guide on How to Love. If it sounds easy, it isn’t. It’s not supposed to be. That’s part of the magic, too.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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