6. Is this love or am I in sacrifice?
There are two types of sacrifice: unhealthy sacrifice and healthy sacrifice. One is based on fear and the other on love. Knowing the difference is a key to knowing how to love and be loved.
Over the years, I have counseled people who tried to use unhealthy sacrifice to save a marriage. It appeared to work at first, but love and dishonesty are not good bedfellows. I have seen lovers try to play small in a relationship so as to heal power struggles and avoid rejection. I have seen children get ill in a desperate attempt to heal their parents’ relationship. I have seen business leaders nearly kill themselves for their cause. Unhealthy sacrifice is often well intentioned, but it doesn’t work, because it is based on fear and not love.
Healthy sacrifice is a different story. To be happy in a relationship, you have to be willing to sacrifice fear for love, independence for intimacy, resentment for forgiveness, and old wounds for new beginnings, for instance. Above all, you have to stop giving yourself away and learn how to give more of yourself. You give yourself away when you are not true to yourself, when you play a role, when you don’t speak up, when you don’t ask for what you want, when you don’t listen to yourself, and when you don’t allow yourself to receive. The key is to remember that whatever you are trying to achieve with unhealthy sacrifice can also be achieved without it.
7. Is this love or am I in a role?
Two people in a loving relationship will play out any number of roles together. These roles are interchangeable, spontaneous, and worn lightly when both people are happy and all is well. Indeed, you barely notice that these roles exist. However, when things are not okay, the roles are more fixed and rigid. They are your position and your point of view in the relationship. They affect your capacity to give and to receive. They can cause you to polarize and to oppose each other. This is painful, as you no longer feel like you are on the same team. This perceived separation can cause power struggles and more conflict.
Roles that are fixed and rigid cause hurt and pain in relation-ships. These roles usually begin in childhood, born of a fear that you are not loveable or that there is not enough love to go around. Role-playing is a strategy-your ego’s best effort-for winning love and avoiding pain. Unfortunately, taking on a role is a strategy to get love that prevents you from being able to give and receive love. When there is a problem in a relationship, your homework is to find out what role you are playing, and also to consider what good things could happen if you stopped playing this role. Here are some examples of roles that cause polarity and conflict:
- Am I loving this person or am I playing the role of the provider or the martyr?
- Am I loving this person or am I playing the independent role or the dependent role?
- Am I loving this person or am I playing the role of the parent or the child?
- Am I loving this person or am I playing the role of the rescuer or the victim?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to be positive or being contrary?
8. Is this love or am I trying to change the person I love?
Have you tried to change your partner recently? How did you get on? Were they suitably appreciative? I imagine you didn’t get a thank-you note for your efforts. Have you tried to change your children? Were they receptive? Did it work this time? Children are willing learners, except when they don’t feel loved. Have you tried to change your parents again? After all, they’re getting older now and so they should be weaker and less able to resist your campaign. Has anyone tried to change you recently? How did you feel about that? Did you feel more loved? Are you feeling even more love for that person who wants to change you?
A common mistake in relationships is the belief that your love will change a person, eventually. You can’t love someone and want him or her to change. For a start, when you try to change people, they do not feel loved by you. If anything, they feel judged and rejected. Love does not seek to change people, because love does not find any fault in a person’s true essence. Love can help a person to grow and to bring out the best in him or her; but you will not see any of this if you do not love the person unconditionally in the first place. The paradox of love is that when you stop wanting each other to change, you are changed, and this change enables you to love each other more.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to fix him?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to improve her?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to save him?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to heal her?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to get him enlightened?
9. Is this love or am I trying to control this person?
The joke goes, “When a man and woman marry, they become one. The trouble starts when they try to decide which one.” Every relationship experiences what is commonly called a power struggle. This is true not just in marriage, but also in relationships between parents and children, between in-laws, and between siblings, for instance. In a power struggle, both people have to learn to give up trying to control each other so as to experience true friendship and love. When a power struggle is healed, it helps both people feel more equal, more connected, and more loved. Control is a form of fear. When you are tempted to control the relationship, it’s because you’re afraid that you are unloveable and that you might lose someone’s love. Unfortunately, the more you try to control a relationship, the less loving it feels. If only one of you is authorized to take the lead, make the decisions, and drive the car, so to speak, you run into problems. Too much control makes the other person passive or passive-aggressive. The more you control someone, the less attractive and interesting the person is to you. Controlling the relationship makes it less exciting and less fun. Control stunts growth. It kills the aliveness. The relationship is a dead fish.
Here are some points to consider:
- Am I loving this person or am I playing it safe?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to protect him?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to protect myself?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to keep the peace?
- Am I loving this person or am I trying to hold on to her?
10. Is this love or am I trying not to get hurt?
If you believe that love hurts, you will be afraid to love and be loved. This fear of love makes you want to protect yourself against love. Your ego creates an arsenal of defenses that stop you, for instance, from loving too much or loving too easily. You employ these defenses to feel safe, in control, and emotionally insured against any injury. And still you get hurt. And hurt again. Eventually, by some act of grace, you consider the possibility that these defenses are the cause of your hurt. And so it is, because defenses are made of fear and fear keeps you stuck in the experience you are trying to escape from.
Until you realize that love doesn’t hurt, love will always appear to hurt you. That will be your story, anyway. If you are willing to let go of your story, even for just a moment, you can start to have a different experience of love. When you open your mind to the possibility that if it hurts, it isn’t love, you stop being so afraid of love. As you begin to dismantle some of your old defenses, you notice that the course of love runs more smoothly. Each time you let go of another defense or an old wound, for example, you experience more love. Eventually, your defenselessness opens you up to an experience of pure love.
Excerpted from my book, Loveability.