Loving Well

The lover’s perspective on life is binocular rather than monocular, plural rather than singular, communal rather than individual. The lover lives within an experience of life in which the “we” is as real as “I.” In love, the rigid structure of our personality, our limited sense of what is possible, our defense mechanisms, our habit of competition and one-upmanship are transformed. It is as if there is a chemical element in love that dissolves our hardness of heart, an elixir that reverses our spiritual arteriosclerosis, says Sam Keen in “To Love and Be Loved” (Bantam, 1997).

He says that because an enduring relationship is destined to confront the inevitable joys and sufferings of the human condition, the narrative of love can never end with a superficial “and they lived happily ever after.” It will be a Technicolor tale that includes longing, struggle, frustration, ecstasy, pleasure, pain, betrayal, fidelity, alienation, reconciliation, loneliness, communion, folly, wisdom and every human emotion. So long as we remain in communion, we will always be in the process of co-authoring a never-ending story.

Keen offers some questions for those who wish to challenge themselves to improve in the giving and receiving of love:

  • How do you remain creatively engaged in those periods when you do not like the persona or behavior of someone you love? How do you ride out the times when you are disapproving, angry, bored or disappointed with a mate, a child, a friend?
  • What kinds of love relationships do you seek? Are you relatively content, or are you filled with strivings?
  • Which of your loves, enthusiasms and passions are steady and wholesome? How much of your past and present belongs in the chapter of your autobiography entitled “Destructive Desires?” What addictions and irrational cravings (for alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, fame, work, food and the like) cause suffering for you and those you love?
  • One measure of love is the degree to which it unlocks the tongue, allows us to talk about anything, creates wholesome speech. Where are you tongue-tied? What of great importance do you not talk about? What inner dialogues do you habitually have that you do not share? What are the unfinished conversations in your life? What would you like to say to your father, mother, brother, sister, lover, child?
  • Whom have you wronged, betrayed, ignored, injured, manipulated or used? Where do you feel guilty for what you have done or ashamed for what you have left undone? For what and from whom do you need forgiveness?
  • Who has wronged, betrayed, ignored, injured, manipulated or used you? Whom have you forgiven? What ancient wounds still fester? What resentments do you still harbor? What would have to happen for you to forgive those who have trespassed against you?
  • How do you fight and make up, signal that you are sorry and that you forgive? With words? Gifts? Gestures?
  • What do you do when you realize that you have been wrong and you wounded someone else?
  • Which of your intimate relationships are mutually renewing? Which are depleting?
  • What are the unstated conditions in your intimate relationships? Fill in the blank: “I will continue to love you if……”

“For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparatory.” Rainer Maria Rilke

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