Loving relationships are not just the relationships between two people who are intimately involved. Loving relationships are those relationships between couples, families, siblings, parents and children, etc. What does a loving relationship feel like to you? We all have varying perspectives of love. What may feel loving to one person may not feel loving to someone else, yet all too often we place our own perceptions and judgments on others. Some expressions of love are universal, but many more are quite personal. How do you define love? What feels loving to you?
Part of being in a loving relationship means that we have to accept the other person for who he or she is, and not look to change him/her. This does not mean that you like everything about the other person, but you accept him/her without judgment. This tends to be easier to do early in any relationships before challenges emerge, and the road gets rocky. This is true in all loving relationships because as we spend more time with another person, and we grow and change, our sensitivity to any faults we perceive in that person become harder to ignore. Relationships tend to go through stages. First we see only each others' virtues, then we see only each others' faults, if we get through this stage then we can see each other for who we really are and truly be friends. Parents often say at various stages of their children's lives that they love their child, but they don't like them very much. It's hard to feel loving when we see or experience behavior that is challenging or downright obnoxious. To be in a loving relationship, however, we do have to find ways to love, even when it isn't easy. This does not mean that we have to ignore or deny hurtful or harmful behavior; it means we have to find ways to deal with these behaviors in ways that are loving, respectful and compassionate.
In order to focus on what it means to be in loving relationships, I find it helpful to use this acronym: HEARTFELT
H - Hear and listen with your heart--- look for each other's loving intentions. Don't judge. None of us is that perfect that someone else couldn't judge us harshly, as well. If we look for flaws and negatives we surely will find them. If we look for positive and loving qualities we will just as surely find those, too.
E - Emotional vulnerability. When we put up walls to protect us from being hurt, those same walls will also keep us from experiencing joy, pleasure and closeness. When we communicate lovingly, respectfully and compassionately, we are open and receptive to both giving and receiving love.
A - Acceptance: To lovingly accept the people in our lives, means we stop judging them. We may not like everything, but we have to learn to accept people for who they are, not who we want them to be, or think they should be, etc. The beauty of truly loving relationships is that in environments of love and acceptance we grow and flourish. In relationships fraught with tension and judgment we shrink back, and fear to grow.
R - Respect We need to respect ourselves first and then look for what we respect about the people we love. If we look for those qualities that are valuable and worthwhile and therefore deserving of respect, our hearts open up and we are able to see the good in them. If we judge and criticize and see only what's wrong and what we don't like, then we undermine the very relationships we say we want to nurture. What qualities do you choose to focus on in the people who are most important to you?
T - Trust : We need to nurture trust in our relationships. That means we must act with integrity. While we cannot control how other people behave or act, we can decide how we want to handle their behaviors, and TRUST in our abilities to cope effectively when their behaviors are less than stellar. In loving relationships we count on trusting each other to be loving, compassionate, respectful and wanting what is best for each other. Since we are human, and we will make mistakes, working through the issues while TRUSTING that we are working for our greater good is imperative.
F - Feel with your heart: don't Judge: Like listening with your heart, feeling with your heart helps you to pay attention to your inner voice and pay attention to how you feel. We know way down deep inside when something feels loving, respectful and compassionate and when it doesn't. To be in a loving relationship, means you can acknowledge when something feels uncomfortable, hurtful, painful, etc. while still respecting YOUR feelings enough to speak up! This connects to loving communication and vulnerability: vital in all loving relationships!
E - Evolve and Flourish: when you feel loved, supported and accepted, you can evolve to become the person you were meant to be. You have gifts that you bring to your relationships. You yourself are a gift! As you feel increasingly better and more loving towards yourself, you will increasingly allow your gifts to be expressed and shared. When you are with people who love, accept and respect you for who you are, you are able to evolve and grow even more, and you can feel yourself and your world open up and expand. Take a deep breath and just let this truth resonate within you!
L - Laugh!!! Life is serious, and we must make time to lighten up and laugh with each other and at ourselves. As the saying goes: we don't stop laughing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop laughing. Let your spirit soar, and your heart take wings: Laugh with those you love loudly and often!
T - Talk openly and lovingly. Remember to always speak with LOVE, RESPECT and COMPASSION, and let the people you love and want to love know how you feel. Share your loving thoughts and feelings, breathe deeply and know that as long as you are speaking honestly and compassionately, your loving intentions can be seen and heard.
Love is a wonderful and necessary part of our lives. When we feel loved, or are in love, we find ourselves feeling easy, free, warm and cozy as well as all its other wonderful descriptive adjectives. All relationships, however, require WORK, as well as our time, attention and patience so that they can grow and flourish. Our loving relationships really are labors of love, and hopefully as you bring your heartfelt attention into your life, you will feel increasingly loving and loved in return.