Friday I posted the first in a series discussing how we balance Give and Take in Relationships. We looked at the very valid question “How do we balance needs of one individual with the rights of the other?” Today we continue with issues of motivation and patterns of behavior.
How do we set aside models of power and control for models of love and service?
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
— C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves)
True love and service involve risk. There is never a guarantee that the loved one will offer love in return, or if they do, that their love will last forever. We don’t like uncertainty, and often we turn to patterns of power and control to get what we want. “If I can’t control their affection, I will control their behavior.” We settle for conquering the other instead of working to win at life together.
Unfortunately, winning all the arguments does not make us happy. It might make us feel good for a little while, but no lasting joy was ever brought by always being right or getting what we want. And sacrificed on the altar of winning are heaps of relationships that otherwise stood a real chance.
In order for me to win, my love must lose. By always insisting on being the winner, I make my lover the perpetual loser. I may be superior, but I cannot ever claim to be a lover. Lovers do not seek to destroy the object of affection. Enemies do. I may always win, but in the process I slay love and make my lover my enemy.
Power and control may make us feel safe, but we end up shutting the door to real fulfillment that only love can bring.
How do we begin to set aside the patterns of power and control to embrace love and service instead?
We begin by accepting that there are battles we will lose. We cannot always win, mostly because we are not always right. Trust me, if you have been in a relationship any length of time, your lover already knows that you are imperfect and will not be taken by surprise at this revelation.
Knowing that we will lose sometimes enables us to pick our battles. Decide what is worth fighting for and what you can let go. Are you fighting over needs or wants? Learn to fight fair. Ask yourself if your partner is fighting for a need or want. Learn to set aside your wants for their needs. Then become a champion of their needs, fighting on their behalf.
There will be times when we will experience pain because of our vulnerability. Your partner is not perfect either, and they will say and do things that will hurt whether or not they are intentional. As such, you will need to prepare yourself to offer forgiveness. In cases of big hurts or betrayals, it may take some time before you are able to fully extend your trust and return to a place of openness in that area, but be willing to try. (I am absolutely not talking about patterns of abuse. If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help from a qualified counselor.)
Love seeks what is best not only for me, but for my lover. This is not the job of one partner, but both must be working toward a partnership that benefits the other. This being said, it often takes one partner to begin the journey toward love and wholeness.
Look for the next post in this series asking: How do we honestly communicate our needs, including saying no, without manipulation?