Friday, February 13, 2015

As you love yourself

I thought an appropriate conclusion to this year’s Love Week series would be to address the importance of self-love. It’s a topic that gets a fair amount of attention. Lots of relationship experts say things like, “Your first relationship is with yourself,” and “You can’t love anyone until you love yourself.” But how many people can truly say they love themselves? What does self-love even look like?

When you love someone you:

1)      Enjoy their company and prioritize time with them
2)      Nurture them and respond to their needs
3)      Compassionately honor their thoughts, feelings, and experiences
4)      Stand up for them and disallow mistreatment
5)      Help them grow and reach their potential

I’m sure there is plenty more we could add, and certainly more nuanced variations of these items. It just gives you a starting point. Now consider, is it easier to apply these ways of loving to other people than to you? Would you rather tolerate the company of someone you don’t even like than to spend a day alone? Do you think it’s selfish to practice self-care? Is it difficult to relate to yourself with kindness just like you would a good friend? Do you struggle to set limits and say no to others, in order to say yes to yourself? When it comes to life vision does everyone else’s dream come true while yours is permanently on the back burner? And if any of these are true, wouldn’t that suggest the need for improvement?

I love how the Scriptures summarize all the relationship advice in the universe right here: 1) Love God with your all heart, soul, mind, and strength and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). In fact, there is no commandment greater than these. Most of us can embrace the love for God and love for our neighbor. It’s the “…as yourself” part that we often overlook.

The beautiful thing about self-love is that it’s for everyone regardless of gender or relationship status. Self-love isn’t just something for single women to focus on until they can find someone else to love them. It’s a lifelong journey of accepting every aspect of who you are and becoming who you’re meant to be in this world. This Valentine’s Day and every day after, I encourage you to commit to loving yourself more. Show love to yourself in these practical ways and see if it doesn’t improve how you love others.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lasting Love

For as long as I can remember I've been a sucker for TLC reality love stories. When I was in college it was all about A Wedding Story. In recent years, it's been Say Yes to the Dress and Four Weddings. The format is basically the same. A couple shares the story of how they met and how their relationship developed. Then we follow them up to their wedding. While I was always satisfied by the end of the show, I often wished they had updates. Were couples still together years later? Were they still happy? If they were, what was the key to their success? Since inquiring minds still want to know, I took time to poll several women in my life. I wasn't looking for new couples or newlyweds. I specifically wanted to hear from friends who have been in the relationship game 10 years or more. I asked them two simple questions and here’s a summary of their answers.

What practical things do you do to maintain connection with your mate?
Don’t stop dating even when kids come.

I work hard to date J and try to imagine what it’s like to look at him as a man off the street that I’ve never met before.
We will go out on a date night leaving the toddler behind, so we can give each other our undivided attention.

It may sound silly to "schedule" time together (AKA "Date Night"), but it's no different than scheduling something important on your schedule.  It's a reflection that it's a priority and if it is written down, chances are, you're going to do it!
We go on a special date at least twice a month.
Our life can be busy running three kids around here and there. Date nights and even a night away at a hotel keep us connected.
The majority made some mention of quality time. They prioritized spending time together, usually outside of the home and away from household responsibilities. But they not only used date night to stay connected. They also shared how they work at the romance.
Don’t be afraid to stay sexy and wear sexy at home and out on a date.
Candy, gifts, backrubs etc. Basically in marriage there are two paths- easy and hard. --- don’t need it to be a fairytale but don't need it to be a low budget film either.
There are some practical things such as writing notes to each other, sending each other texts through the day, always being willing to listen to each other's heart
So far, it all sounded pretty simple to me. Keep up the romance. But  just knowing what I know from counseling, there are periods of drifting in relationships. Like I shared earlier this week, you can’t sustain the same intensity of the honeymoon period for the life of the relationship. So, I wondered, what happens if and when the feelings fade.

How do you cope with the periods where the loving feeling just isn’t there?
Rough patches come with the territory and after 15 years as a couple…We had to get back to the basics, which started with something as simple as stating our "high" and "low" of the day and what we appreciated about each other.  This seems easy, but let me tell you, it was hurtful when we couldn't share what we appreciated about each other!  That was the wakeup call our relationship needed.  It gave us a reality check to talk about what needed while focusing on our strengths as a couple.  After time, it got easier and easier and we reconnected again and our relationship is that much stronger for it! 
There will be dry seasons, where you're just "going through the motions",  but you keep pressing in, doing what you know to do...eventually the love is so much stronger, it's's wonderful again...and it's a different level of love
Love is a choice not a feeling... Choose to love and then feelings will come back.
When I don't feel anything I go back to loving on him and the feelings come.
What amazes me is that many of these women didn’t know each other. They didn’t consult one another or see each other’s responses. Yet, a clear theme emerged. Keep choosing to love. Do the things you did at first. Remember when you ran up phone bills and drove hours to see each other. Remember surprising each other with gifts and touching each other tenderly. Remember when you didn’t just listen to respond but you listened to understand. Remember the sacrifices you made for each other, not out of compulsion, but out of genuine care. Remember the eyes of love with which you viewed your mate and make it a point to see them the same way.
Valentine’s Day seems to be a celebration of the early stages of love- the butterflies in the stomach, the passionate pursuit, the lovey dovey feelings of falling in love. But anyone can fall in love. To stay in love requires an intentional choice of loving the way you did at first.
You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Turn around and do the things you did at first.
-Revelation 2:4-5

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Friendship Love

According to ancient Greeks, there are four types of love. Agape love is unconditional, sacrificial love. Storge love is the family love that relatives have for each other. Eros love is passionate, sexual love. Phileo love is friendly, brotherly love. In our culture, Eros (sexual) gets the most attention and to many, it’s seen as the superior love. It’s certainly most characteristic of Valentine’s Day. Today though, I want to pay homage to the incredible specialness of Phileo (friendship) love.

They say you’re born into your family but you choose your friends. It’s about not only loving, but liking someone, and that choice begins early. Picture a three year old starting pre-school. Perhaps it’s her first time interacting with kids her age. She’s nervous at first, but then boldly walks over to another child and says, “I like mac-n-cheese,” to which the other excitedly replies, “Me too! Mom made some last night.” The rest of the day they share toys, hold hands, and run, not walk, everywhere together. The task of making friends continues throughout school into adulthood. In fact, one’s ability to connect socially has a huge impact on their overall psychological adjustment. Even once we find a mate, even after we procreate, people still find a strong need for friends. If romantic love supposedly completes us, why is it we are still drawn to other types of relationships? The reason is because romantic love doesn’t complete us. It’s beautiful and wonderful and fulfills a unique purpose in our lives. It’s just one type of love though. There are other ways of knowing and being intimately known and one way is through friendship.

Think about it. You can let your guard down with friends. You can share with them uncensored. Often they hold parts of your history before your mate comes along. They know what makes you laugh and what makes you tick. They know when you’re being real and when you’re being phony. They know your true opinions on matters. They see you through the seasons of life. They show up for the delivery of your first child and pick that same child up from school if he’s sick and you’re stuck in a work meeting. They make the difficult calls letting people know your mom has died, so it doesn’t fall on you.  Sometimes they’re in your life longer than spouses and do the work of healing you after a divorce. Basically, true friends offer you incredible love and a love like that is nothing to sneeze at.
This Love Week take some time to celebrate the Phileo love you have in your life. True friends are an amazing gift and should be just as treasured as a significant other. I’ll leave you with this prayer that I prayed for myself the other day. As you go forth in each season of your life, may you always find the grace to make real friends.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Crazy Love or Just Crazy?

Do you ever listen to someone talk about their relationship and outwardly you’re smiling and nodding, but inwardly you look like the emoji with the bug eyes? You sit there wondering, Do you hear yourself? To them, their relationship is a rollercoaster ride of passion. To you, it sounds like being trapped in a funhouse with creepy clown music. It’s not exhilarating at all. It’s downright frightening. My general rule is to mind my own business and not judge other people’s relationships. Everyone is different after all, right? While that’s true, there are some basic characteristics that make relationships healthy or unhealthy. Here are just a few examples of what might feel like love but isn’t.  

Every relationship starts with a honeymoon period. It’s euphoric. The crack-like high of a new relationship is like nothing else. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s actually very useful for bonding and building the foundation for a long term attachment. However, healthy relationships move beyond the honeymoon phase into something more sustainable. If you feel like you need to maintain that high, then you might have unrealistic love expectations. This is why people say, “I love him, but I’m not in love with him anymore.” If that’s what you believe, then you’ll likely chain smoke infatuation your whole life and never find the love you need.

If you’ve ever had a thing for bad boys, you can relate to this. The bad boy is mysterious. He’s inconsistent in his pursuit so he leaves you guessing. He flirts, but then ignores you. He hangs out with you but then doesn’t call or text you for several days. When he gives you attention you’re elated. When he seems to share it with someone else you’re devastated. Maybe he keeps you on a pedestal. It feels amazing but at the same time you’re terrified of falling off. That feeling of not ever knowing what will happen next or how long it’ll last isn’t a lover’s anticipation. It’s anxiety. True love makes you feel secure and safe. You should never constantly wonder if your place is secure.  
Have you ever watched a couple argue, possibly even to the point of a physical altercation, then turn around kiss passionately? It’s like they can’t keep their hands off each other. Their sex life is marked by intensity but so are their fights. They might even pick fights with each other in order to get to the “make up sex.” Perhaps they excuse their dysfunction as cultural. “Oh, don’t worry. We’re Irish/Italian/Colombian (fill in the blank). We fight hard but we also love hard.” They believe their crazy exchanges are a sign of how much they care. Their partner gets under their skin, but they can’t imagine not being together. Allow me to clear this up for you once and hopefully for all. Love doesn’t hurt- not physically and not emotionally.
There’s something really endearing about someone looking out for you. We all want someone to care and to have our back. But possessiveness should not be mistaken for protectiveness. Possessiveness is more about control. When a person needs constant communication of your whereabouts and who you’re with at all times, that’s unhealthy. A person should feel free to maintain some sense of independence.
Us against the world mentality
It’s important for couples to have a strong “us” identity. There’s something profound to be said about partnering together for a shared purpose. There’s that. Then there’s the unhealthy “us against the world” mentality. It sounds romantic but there’s a downside. When you feel like everyone is against you, then it’s easy to fuse together and push everyone out. Couples that isolate themselves from others end up making themselves more vulnerable because a two person relational system is more unstable than a community of people. Plus, if you realize the connection is toxic and want to get out, you’re less likely to leave because that person has become your sole support.
It’s possible that some relationships experience elements of these traits at different times to varying degrees. That might not mean it’s time to end things necessarily. They are red flags though and signal that balance needs to be restored in that area. All of us have been socialized to accept a lot of things in the name of love that aren’t very loving at all. In order to start getting the love we want, we have some de-programming and re-learning to do to distinguish true love from crazy love when we see it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why Singles Don’t Need to Hate Valentine’s Day

Last February I enjoyed writing my Love Week series so much that I thought I'd do it again. This week I'll have several posts dedicated to love. I thought it would be appropriate to start with why singles don’t need to hate Valentine’s Day.

Many singles feel like this little one when it comes to Valentine's Day. Even if you can honestly say you are 100% content in your singleness and happy with your life, the simple fact that everyone else around you is getting flowers and gifts and you’re not makes you feel like the nerd at the school dance. Sure, your mom might love you. Your friends love you. Your kids and pets love you. But without the “special love” of a romantic partner, you’re made to feel like the awkward kid looking on as everyone else is asked to dance. Let’s challenge that feeling by acknowledging a few facts.

1)      Not everyone in a relationship is happy
Despite appearances on Facebook and Instagram, not everyone who’s booed up is happy with said boo. We already know this. It’s easy to forget though when we feel left out. You have to remember, social media does not accurately depict the full story. In some cases, the more posts you see, the more people are struggling.

2)      Even if they are happy-ish, things aren't perfect
Let’s say your married friends have a romantic evening planned for Valentine’s Day. Guess what? If their kid comes down with the flu and decides to projectile vomit everywhere like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, those plans are out the window. So, while you’re picturing a five star meal followed by steamy lovemaking, the reality is a hazmat suit and cleanup duty. Talk about killing the mood.

3)      Everyone has the bad habit of comparing
Singles might compare themselves to couples. But couples also compare themselves to other couples. Suddenly, a dozen roses delivered at home just doesn’t compare to the room full of flowers their coworker received at work. The annual Outback dinner might as well be McDonald’s compared to another friend’s outing to Ruth's Chris. It’s silly. But we can easily fall into the bad habit of comparing.

My point is this. It doesn't even matter what's going on with the couples of the world- whether they’re happy or not, what they’re doing or not. It's about you being okay with you and celebrating the love you have in its various forms. Singles of the world, I charge you: Start your own traditions. Bake for coworkers. Send cards to fellow singles and let them know how loved they are. Throw a party. Take a self-care day. Just don't wallow. Don’t whine. Don’t wish you weren’t single. And most importantly, don’t hate on couples for getting a day. Put your big kid britches on and deal because bitter is never a good look.