Updated: Jul 26
We all long to love and be loved, but doing so takes skill and practice.
Offering our non-judgmental presence to another creates a foundation for love and intimacy.
The capacity for self-soothing is an important way to resource ourselves when triggered.
Philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual traditions have long suggested what life is all about, to love and be loved. This is an attractive and compelling ideal, but how do we actualize our longing for love and intimacy?
Here are four practices for building a foundation to love and be loved in a robust way.
1. Being attuned and present
Being attuned to our own needs is important, but loving relationships aren’t just about what we can get but also what we need to give. One vital thing to give is our non-judgmental presence and attentiveness. Love involves seeing people as they are rather than how we’d like them to be. We draw upon inner resources and caring presence to extend ourselves toward their world.
Seeing and being present for others means attuning to their feelings and needs. This requires cultivating the art of deep listening—both to their expressed, unexpressed, or poorly expressed needs.
Few of us are skilled enough to express our emotions and needs perfectly. Being loving means listening with the ear of our heart so that even when communication comes out imperfectly or a little clumsily, perhaps with a tone of irritability (as long as it’s not abusive), we attune to their imperfectly expressed needs without getting so defensive.
Love is nurtured as we attune to the person before us. Our capacity for loving presence increases as we cultivate a capacity for inner quiet, equanimity, and self-soothing so that we can be present with another person without the reactivity or defensiveness that leaves a person feeling unheard and discouraged. Of course, none of us are perfect, but we can learn to notice those moments when there's a surge of defensiveness so that we can workwith it rather than act it out.
John Gottman's research suggests that love is nurtured as we allow ourselves to be affected by each other. This means developing the capacity to respond to another person rather than just react. Attuning to a person includes seeing what they need to be happy; responding means giving them what they need if we can do so without harming or overextending ourselves.
If our partner asks us to be a little neater, help with the kids, or be more gentle or affectionate, can we hear that without judging them as being too picky, needy, or selfish? How does their request feel inside? How does it land in us? Perhaps we feel good knowing that we have the power to make our loved ones happy. Or does their need trigger something inside us that feels inadequate—or perhaps triggers a need of ours that is not being met?
3. Self-revealing communication
Needs and wants often clash in our relationships. After all, we’re two unique individuals with different histories, wounds, and habits. That’s why we need communication skills. Marshal Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication(NVC) offers one helpful method for communicating effectively. As we practice communicating our feelings and needs in a kind, skillful way, we create a climate for trust and connection to grow.
Communicating the deeper feelings of our hearts and our tender longings requires self-awareness and courage. When we experience a real or imagined threat to our safety and well-being, we’re prey to the fight, flight, freeze, fawn response, or the please and appease response. We attack, withdraw, or become inauthentically compliant when we’re not feeling heard and respected, which fuels destructive cycles that escalate conflict, unhappiness, and isolation.
What we’re often up against in our important relationships are the hair-trigger reactions of our reptilian and limbic brains, which are designed to ensure our survival and safety. It takes a lot of mindfulness to notice our instinctual reactions–our sympathetic nervous system arousal–without acting them out. This requires pausing and slowing down enough to uncover our deeper, more vulnerable feelings and needs–and then find the courage and skillful words to express them.
4. Self-soothing practices
When our need for connection and being understood are not met, we might notice an impulse to attack our partner or retreat to the television or computer. It’s very helpful to develop the capacity to soothe ourselves when we’re feeling stressed, angry, or hurt. As we cultivate inner resources, we’re better able to stay in our body and remain connected to ourselves rather than lash out or stonewall, which escalates conflicts.
The capacity to love and be loved is nurtured as we find our way toward soothing ourselves. For some, meditation, yoga, or tai chi are helpful practices for staying resourced. For others, journaling, artwork, running, working out at the gym, or being with animals is soothing and self-regulating. Or we can remember to just take a deep breath as we notice ourselves getting triggered. As we find ways of being with ourselves when our needs clash or we’re not getting the mirroring we want, we’re more able to stay resourced, rather than regress into a defensive posture.
The more we can attune to each other, be responsive, develop kind, skillful communication, and soothe ourselves when things don’t go well, the more safety, trust, and connection get embedded into our relationships. As we practice these skills (which doesn’t mean being perfect!), we can move toward actualizing the love we want.
Courtesy of author John Amodeo, original article published on Psychology Today.