Ways to Love Well

Truly Listen- Truly listening takes a lot more work than we are typically used to. We often do as little true listening as possible, only trying to catch the important bits, or sit there, not listening, but formulating our own response. When communicating with a loved one, don't just sit there waiting until it's time for you to talk, truly focus and pay attention to what the other person is saying.

Spend Quality Time- Put away the computer, turn off your smart phone, and just focus on spending time with each other. I saw a travel ad in the airline magazine on a flight recently with a photo of two people on a beach at sunset and it said, "sometimes you need to disconnect in order to re-connect," and I agree whole heartedly. Set aside time to really spend time focused on the other person, truly listening, and also truly sharing. Talk about your hopes, dreams, fears. And also, just have fun! Love doesn't have to be all work and no play. Sometimes quality time isn't serious, but just goofing off and enjoying the company of the other person.

Be Independent- A good relationship will only exist between two people who are strong and independent. While dependence might seem romantic, it actually infantilizes people rather than promoting growth. The more you're dependent on someone else, the less of yourself you have to offer, and the more your relationship becomes parasitic. You aren't nurturing your own or the other person's spiritual growth when there's dependency involved. Be in your growth zone! Take leaps into the unknown! It will grow you as a person, and your relationship will become richer and richer as you grow!

Commit Yourself Wholly- Ultimately, to love well, you have put all your chips in. You have to stop holding out on the other person waiting to see if maybe something better will come along, or waiting to see if "things work" out or not. I can't remember what movie this is from, but in a proposal scene the guy makes a terrible proposal and says, "Sometimes you just have to shit or get off the pot, you know?" and even though that's an awful way to propose to someone, I agree with him. True love means saying, I'm here, I'm in it with you for the long haul. Committing to someone is a big deal and shouldn't be taken lightly, but I believe that real love can only flourish in an environment where neither person is looking around for better options, and is fully present in nourishing the relationship.

Criticize Lovingly- Be thoughtful and reflective when criticizing, don't just speak in anger or say the first thing that comes to mind. Because I'm better at writing I usually try to write out my thoughts or criticisms before I bring them up. Writing it out can give you time to process what you're really thinking and feeling, and can help you to figure out exactly how to say what you mean. A lot of conflicts arise from miscommunication, so avoiding that, especially when you're offering a criticism, is very important.

Control Emotions Healthily- This is a huge part of self-discipline. Emotions are powerful things, and can be nearly impossible to control at times (oh hey, PMS). I know I'm not that great at expressing my emotions logically or healthily at times, and it almost always causes pain or conflict in my relationships. That's where the self-discipline comes in. You wouldn't expect a wild horse to do what you want it to do, whenever you want, unless you've trained that horse and honed it's strength through discipline. I'm often caught off guard by crazy emotions, but I realize, retrospectively usually, that I don't spend a lot of time disciplining myself to control those emotions in a healthy way.

Encourage Separateness- Have your own interests and hobbies. Doing things together is great, but it's also nice to have something that is just your own. Even try to have your own space in your home (if space allows), even if it's just a desk or a corner where you have your own chair where you read or write.

Cultivate a healthy "base camp"- While it's important to be independent, it's also important to create and environment together which functions like a base camp "from which adventures can emerge and where adventurers seek nurturing," as Peck says. "If one wants to climb mountains, one must have a good base camp, a place where there are shelters and provisions, where one may receive nurture and rest before one ventures forth again to seek another summit." Our lives are adventures, and we each have a separate destiny to fulfill and create. I find that those adventures and destinies are enriched by love and commitment and partnership inherent in relationship, and that a great relationship will help each other on to those individual destinies.

Struggle Together- A huge part of love is supporting one another through struggles. This takes empathy, as you might not be experiencing the same struggle at once. For instance, my husband might be struggling with work, or have a lot of stress, but I might be feeling very good about my job and not stressed at all. Regardless of my own personal experience at the time, I should get down there on my knees with him through the struggle, supporting and encouraging. And he should do the same for me. In relationship, one person's struggle will inherently become a mutual struggle. If two horses are yoked together pulling a cart and one is stumbling, the other horse feels the struggle and instinctively pulls harder to support the load.

Self-Discipline - Any truly loving relationship is a disciplined relationship. Self-discipline stems from self love-- loving yourself enough to recognize that your time and efforts are worth something, because you are worth something. This naturally transitions into loving others. If you love yourself enough to discipline yourself to do things which you know are good for yourself, that discipline should translate over into loving others in a disciplined way.