Day 28: Learning to Care

I’ve had a lot of relationships and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I remember my first serious love so well. I invested a lot of time and energy into making her happy, but didn’t think much about myself. At the time I thought this was love, but when it didn’t work out I realized that I’d simply put too much emphasis on her needs for our relationship to last.

Later in life I made the same mistake but in the opposite direction. After college I dated a girl, but I didn’t respect her enough. I thought if she just followed my advice she’d be happier. So I spend most of our relationship trying to convince her to do just that.

But of course it didn’t workout because I was only thinking of myself. I pretended I was thinking about her, but I was just being selfish.

While I’m not particularly proud of who I was in either relationship, I’ll never forget what they taught me about real love.

Real love

Often when my clients struggle with relationships it’s because they either get attached to what their partner wants or they get attached to what they want.

They think they’re expressing love, but what they’re really expressing is grasping desire.

You see, the Western romantic cannon has it wrong. Love isn’t about desperately wanting another person who desperately wants you back. Love isn’t about two incomplete pieces that feel whole when they’re connected. And love isn’t about the one person you are fated to be with.

Nope. That’s not love. That’s rampant desire with a good PR department.

Real love is about two whole people who honor each other’s wholeness. Real love is about real people’s whose flaws come together to make a sweet perfection.

Love is about being on an imperfect team, taking imperfection action, and bearing the challenges of life together.

This is just as true of romantic love as it is of familial or friendship love. And the key to practicing this kind of love is learning to embody a two-fold nature of caring.

Two-fold Caring is:
1. Caring for the other person and
2. Caring for yourself.

This may seem obvious, but so many of us get caught in self-serving or self-sacrificing love. It’s essential to remember that real love is found at the border between these two views.

Caring for another person is about letting them be who they are, supporting them, and being willing to tell them how you really feel.

Caring for yourself is about being yourself even when that makes things harder, being willing to try different strategies to meet your needs, and being open to hearing how someone else really feels.

It’s just that simple. And of course it’s not that simple.

How To Practice Two-Fold Caring

Here are some things I do to practice twofold caring in my romantic, familial, and friend relationships.

1. Be vulnerable – This is the most important thing you can do to create twofold caring. When you hide or guard your feelings, connection is difficult. But when you step into vulnerability not only to you reveal your real self, you invite others to reveal themselves as well.

2. Talk slowly – Don’t take this literally of course. I’m not suggesting you sound like a tortoise. Instead talking slowly is about giving you and the person you’re speaking to enough time to say what they want and be heard.

The faster you talk the more likely you are to speak from reactivity or create it. So sit down, slow down, and listen to this person. Reflect what they say. Give them empathy. And then share yourself with an open honest heart.

3. Find out their love language and use it – People have different ways of expressing and receiving love. Your job is to figure out how someone receives love and then do that. (as long as it’s safe and moral.)

If someone likes compliments, pay them. If someone likes time, spend it. Don’t get hung up on the right way to express love. Try things out, see what works, and be open to new ways of showing how you feel.

4. Tell people what you want – Love is not about mind reading. If you want someone to express their appreciation in a certain way ask for it. Yes it’s nice when someone does just what you want without you having to think about it. But don’t mistake luck for love. It takes even more love to do what isn’t natural.

5. Love the boring stuff – Love isn’t about the passion. It isn’t about friends you always have an amazing time with. And it isn’t about having a great conversation every time you talk to your mom.

Love is about doing the bills together. It’s about listening to your friend complain about their job. It’s about calling your mom, even when there’s nothing to say.

The best way to see that I love my cat isn’t to watch me when I play with her or pet her. If you really want to know I love my cat all you need to do is watch me clean out the litter box day after day.

Love is made of the small things. So learn to value these tiny acts of love.

OK now for your turn.

Challenge #28 Caring

1. Practice:
Identify one relationship in your life where you’ve fallen into one fold caring or the other. Either because you’ve thought of yourself or the other person too much.

Then do one thing to shift that balance. If you’ve been too selfish, admit it, and do something for to make it up. If you’ve ignoring yourself, admit it, and either ask for what you need or do something for yourself.

2. Reflect:
Once you’ve tried the practice, reflect on these questions:
Are you normally more self serving or self sacrificing in relationships?
Why do you think that is?
What would it be like if you were the opposite?
What happened when you tried to shift the balance of your relationship?
What would it be like if you practiced two fold caring in all of your relationships?

3. Share:
Finally please share in one or all of the following ways:
Blog – Write a post about the kinds of relationships you’ve been in and what its taught you. Or write a post about your two fold caring practice and reflection experience.
Post – Using #30dayhappy and/or sharing in our Facebook group tell us which relationship you worked on and how it went.
Comment – Let me know what you liked or didn’t like about the challenge in the comments below.