When Do We Learn to Love?

1-baby-love

A beautiful picture that summed up what I was writing by webneel photography http://webneel.com/baby-photography

I did a little snooping around in books, and inevitably on line to find out what age we learn to love.  In short, it all seems a bit confusing.  There is a general agreement children show signs of love from birth.  Some differences on how that is shown are there, but they seem more gentle variations.

What is interesting for me is; at what age do we select our “language of love”?  If we examine them they each seem to link to a very different time in childhood development.  I have multiple conjectures about what this might mean; and the main two are almost diametrically opposed.  They are:

  1. Our language of love becomes settled when our brain development recognises “love”; so Touch would be very early and Words would be very late.
  2. Our language of love becomes settled when we have we have stopped developing our ability to learn/sense new forms of love; Touch being early and Words be late and effectively more emotionally expansive.

They seem mindbogglingly oversimplified and I’m sure neither reflects the truth.  There’s no doubt that the environment you grow up in would have some influence; even your genes may be at play here.  What is certain is that we all have a language and our own tone/accent.  Where and when we learn it is another matter.

There is a path somewhere between our childhood and our adult relationships that should be explored.  Maybe it’s out there and I’ve missed it; I’d love to hear from someone if it is.  If not I am sure there are subtle gains to be made in relationships and happiness.  There’s a challenge for you “real shrinks”.

I Love You, but I’m not “In Love with You”

i love you but i'm not in loveHow often do we hear that phrase; in the movies, books or any other “romance” related piece of media?  It is usually the line given just before someone walks out on a relationship.  It is usually done such that we feel sympathy for whichever party we are meant to feel for in that context.

If it is the person saying, should be really feel any sympathy?  To answer that question we need to have a look at what we mean by being “In Love” and “Loving someone”.

If we buy the idea that we have to be “In Love” with someone then we have reduced ourselves to victims of the chemical rush; the pheromone lottery that comes with meeting someone.  In truth we have just wrapped up lust in a respectable package to make ourselves feel better.  Okay, perhaps it is lust with a little bit of I like these things about this person.  But whichever way you look at it you are ignoring the “bad things” about the other person.

So what happens when the ‘two year’ honeymoon starts to wear off?  Well, we start to ease of on the bombarding the other person with every language of love and start to settle down to our own native language.  Guess what, so does the other person.  Now if you talk different languages both of your emotional batteries will start to wear down.  As that battery runs low you become intolerant of the other persons flaws and you stop being “In Love”.

Maybe you still see lovable aspects to the other person, so you can still “Love” them, but you’re not “In Love” with them.  Now you have to make a choice; are you driven by you animal nature, a victim of chemical reactions; or are you going to love the person with those flaws AND maybe the amazing positives?

If you choose to stay and put in the effort to be “In Love” the person then you are in a state of “volitional Love”.  When we look at the great writings on love this is the type of love they are talking about.  Love where you have chosen to exercise all the attributes they talk about; not the drugged up phase of “being in love” where it seems to happen by default.

This is not an easy place to be.  It takes work; from both parties if it is going to succeed.  But the rewards are far greater.  When you know the other person has chosen you; all of you, including the flaws; and is making an effort to speak your language, rather than come at you like a junkie looking for their own next self-serving fix.

This may explain why arranged marriages have worked in cultures that frown on being “In Love” and place more value on “Love”.  Sure, there may be underlying socio-economic forces, but you can still choose whether you are going to emotionally engage with that person, or not.  Maybe we need to decide if we are going to love someone, or run away for the next easy fix.

 

 

Drunken Language

love cocktail fireI often speak of the languages of love, and having finally read the original book cover to cover I will be making posts in detail later. However, while chatting to someone about the 5 languages of love and they raised the point of how we behave when we’re drunk. Needless to say that got me thinking.

One area in the book that is difficult is finding ways to truly work out what your “language of love” is; and liking sex does not make it ‘physical touch’. Gary Chapman proposes several ways to decipher your preferred language. However, for some, we may have stumbled on a simpler method – get drunk.

Alcohol initially suppresses the areas of the brain that control or ingrained social mores and conventions that prevent us from taking certain actions. For plenty of reasons we choose not to be overly expressive of love when sober. Put alcohol in the mix and let the brakes off of that part of your brain and BINGO – the truth will out.

 

Words of Affirmation – stumbling around telling everyone that you love them; no, really love them.

Quality Time – following that centre of your love around; often to ‘inappropriate places’.

Receiving Gifts – ask for a sip from other people’s drinks or people to buy you a drink.

Acts of Service – making sure other people have a safe way home; buying everyone a drink.

Physical touch – grabbing your buddy in a head lock and telling them, “I’m doing this because I love you.”

 

I’ve tried to quickly match the drunken behaviour with the love language. I’d be happy to hear if others have a different opinion. Maybe it’ll just get you watching your friends (or your own) drunken behaviour a little more closely.

The Reciprocal of Love

onefifth-reciprocal

In my last post I talked about the 99 ‘ataboy principle.  To summarise you need to do five good things (of equal “value” to make up for one bad thing).  That’s great in principle as long as the other person doesn’t start on the reciprocity cycle.

As human beings we are built to reciprocate when some does us a favour.  But what about when someone does something “wrong”?  If they’re keeping a score card they might start doing a bad thing to match your bad thing.  Now that is speculation because there is somewhat of a moral dilemma doing research into how people might do reciprocal bad things to each other.  However, empirical evidence would suggest that exist blood-feuds, culture clashes international conflicts are grounded in a tit-for-tat of unpleasantness.

In a relationship this can all fall apart when one side doesn’t realise they’ve transgressed, thus isn’t aware they are expected to produce 5 unreciprocated positive actions.  The failure by the other party to provide a reciprocal positive action is felt to be a negative.  Now we have one party that felt it was aggrieved and expecting the 5 pieces of penance and the other who now feels wronged because their positive actions have not been returned; hence expecting 5 acts of penance from the other side.

It doesn’t take much to see how this becomes a positive feedback loop. [NOTE: The use of positive here might seem like a good thing, but when trying to control something a positive feedback loop means things get more out of control; which is a very simple way of explaining it.]  Now things can spiral out of control with each act of restitution not being responded to positively; after all it is only one of five expected; and the failure to get a positive response leads to an expectation of 5 more positive acts to make up for ANOTHER transgression.  If we keep this up then everything our partner does is assumed to be an insult (see Up Your Own RAS).

The only way to break this loop is forgiveness and a willingness to listen.  An argument, friends or a counselor are about the only ways you break this depending on how long it has been going on.  So next time you feel you’ve started down this path have that conversation, expect to be upset, be prepared to apologise and most importantly be prepared to forgive.

99 ‘ataboys

Dog with a bad conscienceThere is a saying that it takes 99 ‘ataboys to make up for one “Oh SH!T”.  Relatively modern psychology has dubbed this the “Negativity Bias”  and suggest the ratio is closer to 5 to 1.  For most of us that might come as a relief.

Unfortunately, the old saying might be closer to the truth.  The 5 to 1 ratio is about not slipping into the red on the emotional account, not earning any “brownie points”.  You need to do, or say, 5 positive things to every negative thing that you do.

Most of us probably think that’s pretty easy.  Well it should be, but what if we’re already in the dog house about something; you know, that “Oh, sh!t”?  The trouble is we’ve probably set the other person’s RAS into “see the negative in everything” mode.  So when you think you’re doing something positive they see it as something negative.  Add another 5 potential mistakes to “do something positive” list.  You might even be doing something bad by not doing something you should.

Breaking out of that cycle usually needs external intervention.  Friends and family might help, but if they’re seen (or assumed) to be favoring on side over the other then it just another bad on the list.  This is why counselling can work.  It is not a short term fix, rather a long term job to train ourselves to see the good things that people do for us rather than just the bad.

PS: On the reverse side of this is the sense of being “taken for granted”.  The good things you do for someone; shopping, cooking, washing up, pay the bills, take the kids to school; all get lost, so they don’t count against the bad things.  Well, I think there’s another post in that.

Up Your Own RAS

Everyone is; that is up their own RAS.  Your RAS, Reticular Activating System affects the way you view the world.  Wikipedia  only gives the most basic idea of the potential of this part of the brain.

This part of brain filters what notice.  Simple things like filtering out background noise; the fact you’re wearing clothes (did you notice them now?) and what pings out emotions.  Many methods of self improvement work on reprogramming this part of the brain.  A successful change in a relationship needs the same push.

I could spend some time going on about this, but let’s keep it simple.  When you start a (romantic) relationship you plug the RAS to see all the good in the “love of your life”.  This positive feedback loop keeps you “in love”; then life happens.

The emotional planets align and your significant other does something that cause the RAS to subtly reprogram.  This can be a simple as the slow down in the relationship and falling back to our default love language which doesn’t resonate with the other person.  Before long the only thing we see are triggers that set us off to see the bad/worst in the person we loved.

Sometimes this is a good thing; you know, those people that you were madly in love with that we really shouldn’t have been.  Sometimes its a bad thing, we leave someone we love because we can’t get past the negative waves that hit us day after day.

We can change this negative loop, if we want.  I’ll come back to that in another post; but for the impatient search the web for “psycho-cybernetics”.  It’s not as hocus-pocus or rocket science as it sounds.  It started from getting people to feel good about their plastic surgery and is the core of much “self-help” and CBT.

 

PS: Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

PPS: For those of you looking for a less religious motif: Have a Happy Festive Season and a Prosperous New Year

 

I Just Called to Say, I’m Sorry

sorry callTwo apologies in one day, well that’s the fast moving world of cyberspace. Well, more a case of how slow is real life compared to the potential short attention span that the web let’s us become obsessed with. And I’m sorry I can’t feed the monster at the speed I want; because I know that people out there are ready to devour the slightest morsel, and I have over a hundred unfinished/unpublished posts.

I’m not ready to criticise those who spend much of their time connected online, sometimes it is a generational thing, others use it as a way to distract themselves from a life that is somehow unfulfilled without a constant distraction. Others find the constant barrage numbing and fatuous.

That difference in pace can make for troubled relationships. I’m not sure if there is a link, but my opinion is that the web feeds the extroverts amongst us, with constant flows of data and soothes the introverts as it allows them to control the rate of exposure to interactions without appearing anti-social.

That is all well and good if we can accept our differences. However, he danger is that all this hinders our socialisation and we fail to realise that everyone else is not the same as ourselves. We lose sight of the reality of the five languages of love and other subtle differences that we should celebrate as we try to turn every relationship we have into a homogeneous reflection of ourself.

I’ll drop in the reference if I can find it; someone once said that cities have taught us how to be intolerant. In cities, of which cyberspace is the largest, we can seek out and surround ourselves with people like ourselves with no need to tolerate someone else’s opinion, politics, religion, dress sense, humour, etc. When you live in a village or small town you have to tolerate these things because there is an economic reality required for being tolerant.

The internet, no fault divorce, maintenance payments and the other economic support provided after a marriage breakdown are just a microscopic reflection of that cultural paradigm. There is no social or economic pressure to learn or be tolerant, you can escape a relationship with less effort than it takes to stay in it (see Efrat’s cloud).

The choice of paradigm is ours. We need to check to see if the one we are living by best leads us to happiness; married or not.

I Used to be Indecisive, Now I’m Not…

confused quote

So much so I’ve changed the title, changed the first paragraph and changed how I feel many times. A bad thing or a good thing? Read on and let me know what you think.

The little blurb above is because I just couldn’t bring myself to start with “I’m sorry”. It is a reflection of all of life that I feel genuine regret in not posting something worth reading to that small band of followers I have. I don’t really know any of you, yet I feel a real sense of responsibility to giving you something to think about.

With a family and pets, what seems like 2 jobs and the impending holiday season I just haven’t had time to commit “pen to paper”. The reality is that I have also chosen to prioritise keeping my marriage together over writing for other people. That creates some friction with my self image, with the selfish desire to maintain, well save to be honest, my marriage, rather than pass on my experiences to others save their relationships.

Maybe I just don’t have the flowery words to describe the contradictory waves of emotion I feel about life being almost too much for me. Love, fear, depression, sadness and even joy; how do you put that rush of feelings that shift and slide minute by minute? I read some blog posts and you can feel the single-minded emotion behind it. At the moment I can’t get it all in one place because I stumble from one feeling to another in moments; at least three times in the time it has taken write this paragraph.

At the best I am letting everyone down by being less than I can. You the reader, my wife, my customers, my friends and my children all get less than I can give at my best.

I am working to get my act together and that is the reason for this blog. It is about getting what I know and learn out there for other people to avoid the mess I’m in; even if that means fighting a whole social trend. I may not be able to practise what I preach here 24/7, but that is half the point.

I’ll keep writing if you keep listening…

About Love

This post is just a beautiful summary of the difference between Romance and Love. I know, I know, I do a lot of talking about sex, but all in the context of Love. what happens is too many relationships get lost because we have come to expect Romance and her 2-by-4.
Are you in Love or blinded by Romance?

Half Way Down the Bunny Trail

IMG_7622A while ago, Sue had an epiphany about me.

“Love will never find you while you’re on this dating quest,” she emphatically stated.

“I know,” I emphatically agreed.

We were both drinking wine.

***

I’m officiating a wedding this weekend for a friend I’ve known since we were nineteen. She calls me the HIgh Priestess and wants me to wear butterflies in my hair. She wants me to talk about love.

It’s a huge topic. At once simple and elegant. Unavoidable, yet hard to find. It’s bigger than all of us, but within us all. A magic trick. Fairy dust. A winking glamour who hovers in corners, saucy enough to tease us with her smile, blithe enough to appear when we least expect her, and when we need her most.

Love has a close cousin Romance, who is well-meaning, though very competitive. She likes sports and though she says she’s…

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This be the Verse

A poem by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.super_funny_hilarious_pictures_crazy_fun_laughing_stupid_parents-18562

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

  And add some extra, just for you.

 

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

  And half at one another’s throats.

 

Man hands on misery to man.

  It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

  And don’t have any kids yourself.

My deepest thanks to a friend that introduced me to this poem.  Those first two lines echo my life. Please don’t misunderstand, I love my parents and as I get older I even appreciate more and more how hard they tried to make the best of everything that came their way.  I think our superego is underdeveloped when we are younger and we are far too selfish, which brings our troubles forward into adulthood.  Look at this site and this post (Maslow, Changing Needs with Time) for better understanding of that superego thing.

A moving and brief account, that ties in with this poem, comes about half waydown the page of this post ( http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/populartopics/couples/462-the-art-and-science-of-love ) where the blogger refers to how her father had beaten her for running away.  We feel a deep empathy with the writer, although at this point in my life I can understand the maelstrom of emotions going through her father’s head and why he reacted like he did.  I suspect his motive was love, which inspired fear of loosing her and anger at the lack of responsibility and consideration for his feelings. It is hard to imagine what damage he carried from his parents that his gesture (and response) of love should come with such a negative overtone.

Take a moment to reflect and seek help looking for the mess in your past before being too critical of your own children.