Understanding love

Happy (belated) Love Day my friends!

Phew! I am exhausted. After a full month of blogging all things relationships, I’m a little drained. And a little confused. And I don’t know if I’m all that much wiser on this thing called love. Are you?

We looked at intimate couple love and fighting and breaking up and being single. And we explored love as requiring components of acceptance and compassion and communication and reality.

But it very much feels like there are some glaringly obvious holes. And I’d like to acknowledge (some of) these. As a single, white, childless, heterosexual woman who has never been married (or divorced), my personal experiences are somewhat limited when it comes to relationships. So my inspiration for the content may have been a little vanilla, or lacking in diversity. Despite this, I believe that everyone deserves to be able to love and be loved. In the respectful relationship of their choosing.

As an example, I never mentioned LGBTIQ relationships. So I’ll quickly mention one thought I have on these relationships now. According to law in Australia marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. I think this law is ridiculous. This being said, I believe that the choice to marry should be available to all of us regardless of the sex of our partner. I believe all members of the LGBTIQ community should have the same opportunities to celebrate their relationship and be afforded the same respect, love and recognition from their community as that of their heterosexual counterparts. And I look forward to a time that the law reflects these beliefs that we are all a bit more equal in a more socially just society.

I also didn’t discuss the complexity of domestic and family violence. Because it’s so hard and complex and tragic. And it would have taken me months and months.

So, instead we barely scratched the surface of love and relationships over the past month. And it’s all pretty confusing, but I recently came upon this beautiful definition that might just help us a bit more.

“love is understanding”

For the more religious of us out there, this definition comes from a medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas who was trying to define what Jesus was getting at, when rather than be shocked by particular people around him, he continually embraced them (E.g., apparently in Matthew, chapter 8 Jesus is approached by a man with leprosy. He’s in a disgusting state. But Jesus isn’t shocked, reaches out his hand and touches the man. Despite the horrendous appearance, here is someone (in Jesus’s eyes) entirely deserving of closeness and kindness. In a similar vein, at other times, Jesus conspicuously argues that tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves and adulterers are never to be thought of as outside the circle of love).

In this way of talking about love: if we truly understand love, we could possibly love anyone. In other words: love isn’t specific in its target. It is open to everyone. All of humanity, even (and in a way especially) its less appealing examples.

And we do this often. Express our love as understanding. For some of us, we commonly do this with our extended families. If I had a dollar for every person who upon disclosure of me being a psychologist replied “Oh, you should come work with my family”, I would not be renting anymore. And it is the same in my own family. We’re all highly functioning and get along very well. But things are a little bit weird round the edges. But it’s only because we really, really know the intricacies of our families and what’s gone before for decades and decades that help us to understand. But despite all of this, we still love. We understand and we love.

Working in a therapeutic role assists greatly with this level of understanding. As therapists we get to ask heaps of questions and listen. And as you hear the stories of a human developing, whether it be through a story of childhood trauma or an unexpected incident, we can begin to understand why a person might be behaving in a particular way. A person is not a ‘sex offender’ or a ‘drug user’, but another human with needs and imperfections.

We’re all flawed. It’s part of the human condition. But we’re social creatures and I reckon that means that part of our job as humans is to love. Not the romantic head over heels love with one person only. The effortful love. The love that takes work to see beyond the outwardly unappealing surface of another human – in search of the tender, interesting, scared and vulnerable person inside. Our minds tend fiercely to resist such a move. For instance: if someone has hurt us we naturally want to see them as horrible. The thought they might themselves be hurting themselves feels very weird. If unpleasant events happen in someone’s life – if they keep on losing their job or acquire a habit of drinking too much– we’re tempted to hold them responsible for everything that happens to them. It takes a deliberate effort to move the mind to understanding. But the more energy we put into looking at love through understanding, the more we might be able to love more people than we initially thought.



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