The foundation of love is connection. This truth is keenly felt during the initial stage of love: the falling. As we fall, it’s as if the world obscures and leaves only two. If we fall further still, the two become one. Bliss.
Undeniably, this is a wonderful aspect of life. Yet the heights of infatuation are based less on skill and more on biology. While in the honeymoon phase of a relationship, our brains produce intoxicating neurotransmitters that induce euphoria. We become drunk on love, literally. Unfortunately, as we all know, this euphoria doesn’t last. Whether slowly or in spectacular fashion, we eventually sober.
Without the skill to maintain our initial connections, we are fated to continually suffer from disappointment and isolation. Thankfully, a better way exists. This improved way is only made possible through a shift in attitude about what it means to love. Erich Fromm and his “The Art of Loving” provide us with an illustration of what this attitude looks like in practice.
“Most people”, according to Fromm, “see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving.” In other words, most people conceptualize love as a receiving rather than a giving. This misconception inhibits our ability to create and maintain deep, meaningful connections.
According to Fromm, the art of loving consists of certain basic elements that one provides to another. These are care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. This post will center on knowledge.
Without knowledge, it would be impossible to address the needs of another. Just as we all have individualized values, tastes, and interests, we also have individualized insecurities, challenges, and aspirations. If we hope to support our partners, we must seek to understand them. In this pursuit, the goal is to penetrate from the surface to the core.
To illustrate, on the surface, an individual may appear angry. Yet, to someone who knows them well, they know that the anger is a manifestation of something else, something deeper. Instead of anger, they know that it’s anxiety or embarrassment or sadness or fear that their loved one is experiencing. Because they know this, they can respond accordingly.
This may seem like a basic concept, yet given the complexity and depth of a human, getting to know someone in a meaningful way is far more involved than it may initially seem. It requires the sacrifice of time. It requires that we provide our undistracted, undivided attention. It requires that we withhold judgment. It requires that we cultivate the skill of listening.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey
What this means is that people don’t listen at all, and when they do, it’s only in brief spurts. If this is your current method of communication, you’re doing it wrong.
It’s impossible to get know someone, it’s impossible to understand someone, and therefore it’s impossible to connect with someone, if you don’t listen to them. And just as you’re continually evolving, so too are the people around you. If you stop talking, if you stop listening, you’ll drift toward becoming strangers once more. As a result, the process of getting to know your loved ones never stops. Ironically, this effort – to perpetually connect – will soon become one of life’s greatest joys.
The goal of listening is to see the world through the other’s eyes – to understand, to empathize. To do this, you must listen, without distraction – without a television on, without a phone in your hand, without judgment, without interruption. Just sit down and shut up, literally. If you don’t understand what your partner is talking about, ask them. Ask them to clarify until you understand.
On top of that, don’t rush to give advice. Men are especially guilty of this. We become immediate fixers. When someone opens to us with a problem, we automatically try to repair. Although noble, this is almost always ineffective. Stop trying to fix, instead, empathize.
Empathy means to comprehend another’s thoughts, to feel another’s feelings. It means to see the world from another perspective.
Keep in mind that it’s vitally important to remain non-judgemental. Judgement is basically rejection and if someone dares to divulge themselves to you, the worst thing you can do is criticize. If you do, you’ve basically told your partner that it’s dangerous to take that risk, and chances are, they won’t make that same mistake again. As an imperative, remember this: don’t judge; rather, empathize.
Of course, as your partner offers themselves to you, you must offer yourself back. This is intimacy, which means to create and maintain an atmosphere of closeness, safety, and acceptance.
Know your partner, know your friends, know your family. This process is an invaluable avenue toward holistic health and greatly improved relationships.