How Do I Love You; Let Me Count the… Demands   2 comments

These reflections are just my thoughts, things that have helped me.  Please forgive me if I sound dogmatic.  I don’t mean to be.  If these thoughts don’t help you, then by all means dismiss them; or if you disagree, argue with me in a comment (though remember my tale is not done).

It seems we all try to control others in various ways, and we are usually blind to what we are doing.  We think, and even say, that we only want the best for them, not realizing that if they are pressured or forced to make better choices, those new behaviors will not nourish their heart, but shrivel it, because they are not freely choosing out of a loving relationship with God and others.

Sometimes, especially with children, control is necessary for their own safety and health, so that they can live long enough without significant damage to grow into understanding.  But if this is the default teaching method, the greatest life lessons the child will learn are that her feelings don’t matter, that she must live from obligation (another word for bondage or lack of freedom), that what she does is more important than who she is.

Let me give a simple and common illustration from my own upbringing.  My mom and dad naturally wanted to keep in close touch with their children when they “left the nest.”  I was the youngest and last to leave, so their feelings were especially acute towards me.  I was on my own for the first time and enjoying my freedom, and I didn’t keep in touch as much as they would like with letters and phone calls.  Not only did they miss me, but I expect it made each wonder subconsciously, “Does he really love me?”

I Need You to Change!

Under the force of these emotions, they believed I was remiss in connecting with them.  I was to blame for their bad feelings, feelings which I could so easily allay. It would cost me very little (so they thought) to keep in touch, and they pressured me in this direction.  When I phoned them, their first statement was usually, “Well, we haven’t heard from you in a long time,” by which they intended to push me to show my love by calling more often.  To the extent I bowed to this expectation, I was reacting from a “should” and not from compassion.  In fact, the more pressure I felt, the less I was able to respond from genuine love. To my parents it felt like love when I deferred to their wishes and called more often, but somewhere deep inside they must have known that “loving” acts resulting from pressure do not mainly spring from love.

If they had shared their genuine feelings without making me responsible to fix them, it would have drawn out a natural love… I would have wanted to phone them instead of “having” to phone them.  If they said, “We really miss you and miss hearing from you,” and genuinely did not hold me responsible for their feelings, but were only sharing their feelings, it would have made a world of difference.  Of course, then they could not trust that the outcome would be to their liking since they granted full and genuine freedom.

Sharing your feelings with me without the assumption that I should fix them is a huge invitation into your heart and opens me up to welcome you and share my heart.  But telling me about your feelings in order to get me to conform will make me resistant and closed.  I will hear the message that I am bad unless I change and I will react to protect myself.  If I do yield because of the pressure, because I believe I am responsible for your feelings, it will damage us both, and hurt the relationship.  It may feel good, but it will encourage a legalistic view that love is conditional, dependent on my behavior.

I learned from an attractive friend of mine that insecurity does not only come to the daughter who is shamed for her looks, but also to the daughter who is praised for her looks in a way that makes her think her worth depends on it—she may seem proud, but is really filled with fear.  The issue is not whether someone is valued, but why they are valued, and if they are primarily valued for conforming to our expectations (being a “good” child), they will always fear “misbehaving” lest they lose their parent’s love which appears to them very conditional and therefore precarious. The same is true in friendships and marriages.

If I am loving towards my wife when she does as I wish, and withhold love (act cool, snipe, act the martyr) when she does not, she will respond out of fear of losing my love.  As long as she conforms, she will feel good about our relationship, but it instills a deeper insecurity.  That isn’t to say I should never get frustrated or irritated or discouraged.  That isn’t to say I should never express those feelings to her.  Feeling all my feelings and expressing my feelings are key to good relationships.

But when I share my feelings as a means of getting her to do what I want or need, she feels unsafe with me, and she closes up her heart to protect herself.  From my family’s perspective, why would I share an aggravation or disappointment unless it was to get her to change?  If I didn’t need her to change, I would say nothing and just deal with it in my own heart and mind, I would silently accommodate.  It is when I felt I needed her to change that I would share my displeasure, in order to get her to change and so free me from my unhappy feelings.  It was her turn to accommodate.  Let us just say it was a very bumpy ride for several years.


Posted August 9, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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2 responses to “How Do I Love You; Let Me Count the… Demands

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  1. Wow, you appear to have really changed

  2. Pingback: As I Was Saying… « Janathan Grace Reflections

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