The underpinning of a significant relationship is healthy love. I’ve found this to be true of relationships with family, significant others/spouse, friends, etc. As with most human experiences, I don’t think I’m alone in making this observation.
The dominant feeling we feel or think about when we refer to love is how good it makes us feel to be loved. But there is an additional aspect to love that is more subtle, respect. Because although we may just want the feel-good feeling we get when we know or feel ourselves to be loved, respect is something that is present and must run both ways. That means that the relationship is not about us (me), but about us—the real us, both people– in that relationship.
By way of example, I’ll share briefly about my experience with my Mom and her depression. In 2010 my Mother began suffering from depression. When she (and us, her family) would look for a cause, nothing could be found, no illness, no life-changing event, nothing. That is the way of depression, sometimes it’s just there. It became an all-consuming goal for my father, my brother and I to try to help her get out of it.
Eventually, I came to realize that I couldn’t help her get out of it, no matter how much I loved her and how much I wanted her to get better, or tried to help her with it. And, no matter how inconvenient it was for the love that has always been present between my Mom and I that this depression thing was getting in the way of it, there wasn’t much I could do. Now it became about respecting what she was going through exactly because I loved her, and trusting that somehow she would work it out with the help of her doctor and her medications. For me, then, it became about loving my Mom enough to concentrate on what she needed, not what I needed: for her to feel better so I could feel better, so I could feel loved.
So my “job” or role in that became one of making sure that I was there for her in many little ways, without taking over or managing her illness. Along with that, I had to be available in some way for my Dad to be a sounding board. None of this hands-off-but-there posture comes easy to me—my nature is not one that let’s life unfold naturally; I’ve had to learn that. And my training as a lawyer does not exactly help either.
This kind of step-back attitude is easier when it is filial love. For marital relationships, or relationships with a significant other, it can get trickier. What if love and respect in that type of relationship means stepping back when the other person just wants to walk away? Not so easy, but not impossible. Maybe then we need to look at self-respect in that relationship as well as respecting the wishes of the other, exactly because we love them and ourselves. If it’s not working out, and we find that there is nothing we can do to keep it together, why fight it? Why make it a hell for the other—and ourselves– to have their space, to maybe even have it away from us? Why force it?
These kinds of questions in breakups is what sometimes reminds me of the expressions like “the love of my life” or “soulmates.” For me those expressions are a lot like the fairy tales found in Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty; they cause more emotional trouble than the benefit of living by them. I’ve always felt that “the love of my life” is the person I’m with, not someone I met a hundred years ago but is no longer here for whatever reason. Can you imagine? If I think this one person is the love of my life but now they want out, what am I left with? A loveless life? Of course not; fortunately, love doesn’t fit into a box that gets carried away. So I can respect that person walking away so that a space is created for one who may have the opportunity to be the next love of my life. Again, not easy, but not impossible. Thinking about this might make a break-up (and divorce) easier.
All this thoughts came about because I’ve notice that my Mom has been getting better, actually wayyy better! I am thrilled to see her doing things that she enjoyed before, not automatically but with an actual zest for them. And who better to be the architect of her own life than her, without a meddlesome daughter like me trying to do what she thinks might be better for her? It wasn’t easy for me but apparently it wasn’t impossible to just love her and give her the space/support she needs.
Feel free to share your experiences in the comments. I learn a lot from those who share what they’ve learned.
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