What a crazy question, right? Yet I find a lot of instances where people do not know what it looks or even feels like.
Yes, there’s romantic love, familial love, platonic love… but what they all should have in common is respect for the individual. It is not about controlling the other, or giving into the other person’s desires despite your own. That enmeshment creates a very unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship, also known as codependency.
Rather, there should be a very clear boundary between where one person ends and another begins. (The only exception is in very young children, before they even have a sense of themselves verses the outside world. More on this later in a post about “Attachment Parenting.”) These boundaries should be clearly articulated with expectations and follow through when they are violated so the love is not given or withheld as punishment. That would be very cruel and would teach someone that your love is conditional to meeting certain criteria. It would damage someone’s self esteem to think that they are not essentially loveable enough just for who they are as a person.
It’s been said by relationship gurus that “Love” is a verb, not a noun. It’s what we DO to show love to the other person. And how we love tells a lot about who we are as a person.
Therefore, I think it’s necessary to define my version of love since the 153Promise is all about reminding your child/significant other or anybody else in your life that you love them. I’ve thought about it, and I think I can boil it down to a very simple acronym… LOVE.
(As if you didn’t see that coming…)
Love is: Listening Observing Validating Empathizing*
Listening is a lot harder than you think. It requires time and attention. It means stopping what you are doing and really making them top priority. It’s not multi-tasking, like letting them talk while you are folding the laundry, or patiently waiting while they talk so you don’t interrupt them, all the while trying not to forget what YOU want to say next. Rather, listening requires taking yourself out of the equation while you only regard what they are saying. It is trying to learn who they are as a person as they share their thoughts with you. It is silently communicating with your eyes that you care what is coming out of the person’s mouth. (Has anybody ever said to you, “Are you even listening to me?” Chance are, you violated one of my definitions above…
Observing means realizing that to really love a person, you need to regard not just what they say, but how they say it, what they look like, and all the other clues they leave for you… either consciously or unknowingly.
Percentages differ upon the research, but it’s widely accepted that the vast majority of communication is non-verbal. Therefore, we need to be hyper vigilant in reading all the signals in a relationship. If a husband asks the wife if it’s okay to go out with the boys instead of making good on his promise to take her out for dinner and she says, “That’s fine,” look at her face. If she’s not sincerely smiling, and you take her response as a green light, you will be one sorry husband.
If you ask your son at the dinner table if anything interesting happened in school that day and he keeps looking down at his plate and is covering his peas with his mashed potatoes, you should know that he’s withholding something.
Or if you teenage daughter suddenly starts doing her own laundry when she always used to complain about it as a chore, you may want to beat her at switching it over to the drier. Chance are, she’s wearing things you didn’t buy.
I’m not suggesting being a helicopter parent or a controlling partner. But it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a lot more to showing love than giving them a chance to talk to (or at) you. You do NOT want to be that parent whose kids say to their friends, “Nah… my parents won’t even know/notice” when confronted with a temptation.
Validating is one of my favorite words. It means that you respect their point of view because you took the time to empathize with them. They feel like you really “get” them and that true communication occurred. It can be done through using phrases like, “What I hear you saying is…” or you can confirm that you understood by respecting their wishes or honoring their requests, as long as they are healthy and reasonable. It also establishes trust because if they come to you and you basically say, “I understand,” they will keep coming back to you.
Think of how many times couples fight because one comes to the other just to vent about a problem and the other responds with, “Well, you should have….” or “Here’s what you should do.” Did the person with the problem ask for a solution or criticism? Of course not. And the other person gets his or her feelings hurt because they thought they were helping, and it was not well receive. Double invalidation. Really, the first person should say, “I really need you to be my support right now and hear what happened to me.” And the other person only needs to say, “I’m so sorry you are hurting.” To which the first will say, “Thank you. I knew I could come to you.” Warm fuzzies all around. The same holds true with toddlers.
A little kid just wants validation that they are being heard. It’s not even that they really need to get what they want; they just want to know that you understood what they said. Once you validate a person, everything afterword becomes less crucial. There are not more battles of will or hurt feelings. It’s actually pretty magical when you start making validation a top priority in a relationship.
Encouraging has the word “courage” in it. (I am a self-confessed Word Nerd!) But that’s not all- “courage” has its roots from the French “couer,” or “heart.” That means when you encourage someone, you are actually helping them to believe it in their heart.
If your daughter doesn’t make the volleyball team, you encourage her that she’s still a great kid and that if she practices over the course of the year, maybe she’ll make it next time. Or you can encourage your friend to keep looking for a job, even though he’s not getting any bites and you may even introduce him to your neighbor whom you know is hiring.
So, that’s it: listening, observing, validating, and encouraging. If you do practice those four verbs, I truly believe that you will be fostering a healthy relationship and be well on your way to your daily 153.
*In later posts, I changed “Encourage” to “Empathize”