The dynamics of people's concept of love.
The following is excerpted from the authors’ relationship book Maximizing Happiness Through Intimate Communication:
The dynamics of a relationship that a person calls love are either those of the most satisfying relationship she/he has ever experienced, or that relationship plus whatever was felt to be lacking in that relationship.
Many people’s concept of love grows and develops with progressively healthier relationships.
Pay Attention to Me
Other people need more. They crave attention; even negative attention is better than being ignored. These people need the confirmation that someone has taken an interest, however slight, in who they are or what they do. Chances are that as children these individuals did not receive the attention they craved from their parents. Perhaps their parents didn’t receive much attention from their own parents. Other parents place a higher value on their own endeavors such as (1) working late at night “for the family,” or (2) golf on the weekends “to maintain business and personal contacts,” or charities, volunteer work, and bridge clubs. These activities may have left little time for parent-child interaction.
Children from such families are apt to settle for negative attention, especially if it is the most meaningful attention they receive from their parents. These children and teens in particular know they can always get their parents’ attention by getting in trouble at school or with the police, or by acting out sexually. Some may even prefer to be abused than to be ignored because it means someone cares. Even when acting-out episodes contain major elements of hostility directed at the parents, they are also tests of love. The children get some reassurance from the fact that their parents do interrupt their scheduled activities to pay attention to their urgent needs. The reassurance is worth the hassle and the negative attention. For them, negative attention may be taken for love.
Some people take positive attention to be an expression of love. As children, their parents did spend some enjoyable time with them and did consider their wishes. Most sweetheart relationships through high school begin as positive attention. Meeting and talking between classes, five phone calls a week, a Coke date after school—all may be taken for love. This and other positive-attention relationships are characterized by giving and receiving positive attention by both parties. Some relationships don’t progress beyond positive attention. To the independent observer, this attention can be scant, indeed.
What is received as positive attention by one person may be thought of as simply being helpful by the other, such as routinely giving someone a ride to school or work, or being a counselor or sounding board for the other person.
Let Me Give To You
There are other positive-attention relationships in which one person is motivated by the attention received and the other is motivated by the need to give. Many people have a deep need to give something of themselves and may interpret the validation of someone receiving from them as love. A love relationship may be motivated by each person having a need to give and by having found a willing and validating recipient in the other. Usually they give each other different “things.” We call this a mutual need-to-give relationship.
People with a “need to give” may form relationships that exploit the other person. Whether or not exploitation exists in a given relationship depends on the balance of respect each has for the other. For example, it is laudable to want to help others. Giving to someone who is downtrodden psychologically, socially, or even physically for the sake of matching one’s ego ideal and feeling superior is exploitation. It is to be contrasted with giving that is motivated by genuine respect and concern for this individual.
This next concept of love is “accept me,” where the individual desires: “Accept me for the person I am. Don’t try to change me. Don’t push me to get a better-paying job, to go to church, or to change the way I dress.”
These individuals have the family childhood experiences in which nothing was ever quite right. “I would make four A’s and one B at school, and all I would hear about was that B.” It can be pretty great to really feel that you measure up to someone else’s expectations, to be accepted as you are, without being asked to change this or that about yourself. This may be confused with love.
Others will settle for admiration, calling it love. They have never been in the limelight, never had much prestige, and never made any team, let alone the football squad or the homecoming court. These people like to receive flattery even when they suspect it is not completely genuine. It is great to be thought of as “cool.” Some will even challenge authority or engage in risky behavior for the admiration of others.
These individuals have backgrounds that are similar to those who desire to be accepted, but they want more than just acceptance; they want to be looked up to.
Understand Me and Believe In Me
The desires for the partner to “understand me” and “believe in me” are not prerequisites for love; rather, they are indications of the depth of love. They grow as the love grows.
To what extent will you believe in your partner if, for example, she/he quits a job “on principle?” The decision can probably be accepted and respected, and that is enough for love. But will you, can you, understand why she/he had to? And, furthermore, will you also believe in her/him?
Our Definition of Love
Love is caring almost as much about the other person’s happiness as you care about your own. In some moments, we would expect the individual to care more about the other person’s happiness than his/her own. It is easier to be heroic and endanger one’s self for another in some dramatic moment than it is to be really caring in the little everyday things, day after day, week in and week out, year after year.
√ Let your heart take the lead and set the pace, but use your head to set the direction and distance you want to go.
Time can prove whether feelings are based on love or simply sexual attractiveness. Part of mature love is the sharing of hopes and fears and sadness and happiness. You may commit yourself to someone with whom you can relate on many levels, someone you can trust and whom you can trust to love you.
Thinking about and discussing these issues is important, but don’t analyze all the pleasure and spontaneity out of your relationships. Lead with your heart, not your head. But at some point in a relationship, stop and use your head to decide if you should give your heart full play.
Too often people mistake having a fundamental need met as feeling loved. Those who crave recognition, acceptance, someone to receive what they have to give, or admiration are missing their potential for a fuller and more encompassing love. Love is caring almost as much about another’s happiness as you care about your own. Love returned is experiencing the other’s caring about your happiness as his/her own. It goes far beyond and is more meaningful than having one’s need to be admired met.
©Copyright 2004 by Marshall L. Shearer, MD and Marguerite R. Shearer, MD.
Read the expanded version of this article in Chapter 12 of Shearer & Shearer’s Maximizing Happiness Through Intimate Communication, available through DocShearer.com, your favorite online bookstores, or by calling toll-free 1 (888) 795-4274.