Tis’ the season of red roses and chocolate covered hearts. We are grateful for tangible expressions of love and care, but how many of us would prefer a different kind of gift? Of course we each give and receive love differently, but here are 4 ways to give the gift of love. These gifts are universal. They can be given in our romantic relationships, friendships, child, sibling and family relationships.
Listening: Can you practice listening to understand rather than listening to respond? One of our favorite tips for more effective listening is to practice noticing the emotion of our loved one. Are they experiencing fear, sadness, joy, or hurt? Our brains are keyed into noticing physical and emotional threats. When we sense anger from a loved one, the brain registers it as a threat and can immediately shift into defense mode. When we are defensive, we aren’t able to listen effectively. Practice slowing down and noticing what might be under the anger. If I can sense fear or hurt, I may be more able to stay more present with my loved one’s emotion.
Openness: We all have moments of keeping our thoughts and feelings to ourselves. Sharing openly is vulnerable, and vulnerability is of course scary. When an emotion gets “too big” many of us respond by turning down the volume. This can look like withdrawing from our most important people and shutting down. Practice moving towards your loved one rather than away from them. Of course this is uncomfortable, but it becomes more possible with time. If you’re wondering what to share, see if you can notice one emotion that you are experiencing and share it. It may also be possible to share what the action urge is when that emotion shows up. Ex. Right now I’m feeling overwhelmed, and when I feel overwhelmed I want to shut down and hide.
Validation: This involves making sense of something with our heads. Can I say “It makes sense to me that you feel this way?” If we’ve understood the emotion of our loved one it’s usually more possible to respond in a validating way even if we don’t agree. We can validate even when we have a different opinion. Validating is not agreeing, it’s acknowledging legitimacy to someone’s experience. If you’re having a hard time validating, more listening to understand may help.
Empathy: If validation is making sense of something with our head, empathy is making sense of something with our heart. This involves digging deeply and having the courage to connect with painful emotions. Is there a part of me that can understand some of the pain you are experiencing? Empathy looks like stepping into someone’s pain with them. If a stove is hot, we pull our hand away. Staying present with pain goes against every natural instinct but it’s an incredibly loving gesture and can ultimately create powerful healing and safety in a relationship.
Of course we hope the gift of L.O.V.E is given all year long. We know these are not always easy gifts to give, but we know they are worth developing.
If you'd like a deeper dive, here's a link to one of our favorite books on the logic of love and the science of emotion by Dr. Sue Johnson
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