The topic of “love” seems like something we should keep strictly at home, and only if we’re lucky enough to find it. But love is everywhere.
People talk about loving their job, loving a favorite book or film, loving the actions that others have taken, and of course loving individual people. So what about receiving love? It should be as simple as opening your arms and welcoming it, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. If your version of love is based on idealism or conditions, or if you come from a dysfunctional household, receiving love can be quite difficult. As a therapist, I can tell you that nearly all couples attend therapy because they have difficulty receiving love, especially if they rely on certain behaviors and allow those to dictate what love is or should be. How can we build successful relationships?
Plus, the same goes for individuals in therapy struggling with relationships at work. The belief is that love is meant to be selfless and unconditional. But rather than focusing on what love is or should be, perhaps the focus needs to shift to what makes receiving love so difficult. Are you receiving love openly in your relationships? Relationships are not only spousal—they include friendships and co-workers. Ask yourself what the primary role is that you play in relationships and why. Once you have the answer, you will know if you are able to give and receive love openly. Other questions to ask are:
- Where did I learn about love and relationships?
- What is my relationship like with my parents?
- Which of my parents’ (or caregivers’) love behaviors do I resemble most? Why?
- How do I see myself in comparison to the person I love? Better? Worse?
Answering these questions can lend way to helpful insight on how you have learned to interpret love and, therefore, function in relationships. They also help identify if there has been difficulty developing emotional connections over time. What you’ll hear yourself say if you have emotional difficulties is, “For Pete’s sake, please love me!” These thoughts and feelings are typically formed in your early childhood years when you are constantly seeking approval from the significant people in your life.
If your parents only show approval when you do things right, you grow up believing that you only deserve love when you’re good. When you’re not good, you’re not loveable. This becomes part of your subconscious, so as an adult you hear, “You have to live up to my expectations to win my love.” This renders love conditional and unhealthy. People are their own worst enemies at times. Do you look on with disdain when you see a couple whose love appears to come without a struggle? Or when you see someone who is happy at work despite serious difficulties around them?
Some individuals, especially those who cannot welcome love openly, harshly criticize these people. This, by nature, is a reflection of the inner struggle of receiving love. What about if your partner, boss, or colleague practices giving gifts to display their feelings for you? Do you find it difficult to accept that praise? Do you assume it’s insincere? Do you criticize them for not getting something right or for not doing it enough? Keeping your guard up, as in these situations, is a guaranteed way to keep love out. Your inability to let love in could also indicate a form of self-rejection, which will consume you.
So how do you let love in?
Consider loving unconditionally, with no limits. Open yourself to the risks involved with loving and being loved by others. Life is about living, and living involves taking risks. Learn to give yourself loving kindness and gratitude, which helps you feel less painful emptiness and isolation. Create opportunities to be vulnerable with those you love. Vulnerability is a gateway to acceptance and resilience. Your partner or friend will learn to love those idiosyncrasies and appreciate them more than the “good” things about you. End all forms of self-rejection, denial, and hatred. These are common wisdom relationship and love killers. There is life-changing power in unconditional love. At home, at work, and everywhere in life.