by Linda Parker, LMFT
It was a few days before New Years and my Turkish friends, a group of lively retirees, invited me to speak in their English class. When I asked the question, “What would you like 2018 to bring to your life?” it was no surprise, that here, as in most of the world, the word LOVE came up more than any other.
Granted, this group of retirees were talking about the love of family while the younger set would no doubt name their dream guy or girl. But from whomever it comes, and despite whatever form the world has reduced it to, LOVE remains a basic and enduring need.
We talked about what some people do for love, how some will manipulate others to give them love, through flattery or being what the other person wants them to be. We also talked about dysfunctional behavior such as abusive anger or addiction that often results when a person doesn’t feel loved.
It was here that my dear friends asked an interesting question: “What do you tell people who don’t have much love in their life? How can they get love (in healthy ways, obviously)?” This is often a question among the couples and singles I work with. How can my spouse and I experience more love from each other? What’s keeping me from connecting with others and God? That is no easy question to answer, given the realities of how we as human beings seem to be blocking and destroying love more than building and enjoying it.
Before we can look at the question of how to “get” love, we must first define it. Sue Johnson and Kenneth Sanderfer in their book for Christian couples desiring to enhance their loving connection says, “This drive to emotionally attach – to find someone to whom we can turn and say “Hold me tight” – is wired into our mind, soul and spirit.” (Created for Connection, 2016, P. 22). Also in Created for Connection, or online in the link below, you can find the A.R.E. questionnaire developed by Sue Johnson that describes the experience of emotional attachment for couples and helps them have conversations that strengthen that bond.
If we are healthy, some of these questions such as “I find I can lean on my partner when I am anxious or unsure,” and “Even when we fight or disagree, I know that I am important to my partner and we will find a way to come together,” resonate with the deepest part of us that yearns for strong connection. But sometimes if we experience repeated rejection by significant others early in life we will turn off the need for emotional attachment as adults to protect ourselves from hurt and move away from, rather than reach out to others. We’ll gravitate toward substitutes such as money, pleasure, success to name a few and our Christian culture is not immune to these substitutes. Anyone in member care for very long witnesses the negative effects of Christian workers running after success in ministry or praise from others while neglecting relationships at home and with God. If we are aware of these defenses against the fear of rejection from others, we can acknowledge or confess these to God and others to begin the healing process.
At the end of my talk my friends and I read the Love Chapter, I Cor. 13. Its interesting to see that the attitudes and actions reflected in this chapter (love is patient, kind, doesn’t seek it’s own…) will result in the experience of emotional attachment that we have been talking about. My friends were surprised to see that this God of the New Testament they were reading actually wants us to experience this love from each other, and from Him. And, I said, when we have His love as a base from which to move out to others and give this kind of love, we are more likely to build those connections that we were created for.
I Cor. 13 cultural version
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