Love is an overused word that has a diverse and varied meaning depending on the context in which it is used. We say we love our family, love our spouse, love our car, and love pizza. Are all of these really love? And what is love after all? Is it a feeling, a thought, or maybe a choice?
Knowing what love is can help us better understand it and help us cultivate it in our lives. After all, whatever love is, it is most certainly a verb, not a noun. It is something we do, rather than something we are. And we all know that deep love is more than just feelings, but what?
Let me introduce you to the triangular theory of love. This was developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg. The triangular theory says that love consists of three components, they are intimacy, passion, and commitment. Since passion has many negative connotations, I prefer to use the word affection.
Intimacy speaks of the connectedness we have with the other person. This is intellectual as well as emotional. It can also be genetic, which causes actual neurological connections to be formed in the brain between parent and child, for example.
Affection speaks of the emotional attraction and feelings. These emotions can range from feelings of friendship, family love, and sexual feelings. In one sense the emotional is the hardest to express, but the clearest felt. We know love by how we feel about the other person. It is also the affective part that assigns value on people and things.
Commitment is the volitional part of the equation. It is the decision to give the other person’s interests a priority. In marriage this is the decision to be faithful to one another and build the relationship. In many ways, this is the aspect of love that is usually missing in modern marriages.
Enough theory, what difference does knowing these three components make? If you want to grow your love and build your relationship with another person, you now know how. You now have the recipe of love. Mix equal parts intimacy, affection, and commitment and stir it with real life circumstances, and you have love. Or maybe not. Cooking love is harder than just knowing the ingredients.
We need to know more than what to do, we need to know how to do it. First we need to not try to change the other person. You can only control you – work on you. As long as we are waiting for the other person to change, we are part of the problem. The fastest way to change a relationship is to change yourself.
Next, look for moments to connect. Notice when your spouse or child try to connect with you. For example, they come into the room for no apparent reason. They seem like they want to talk. Pay attention to invitations to connect, moments when they are symbolically holding out their hand. Accept the invitation and connect and build intimacy.
Sometimes family can hurt us the most. We want to love them, but they hurt us badly. What can you do to overcome that. You could try lovingkindness meditation. First picture then in your mind’s eye. Then on the next four breaths do the following. On your first in breath think “May they be”, and on the out breath think “safe.” On your second in breath think “May they be”, and on the out breath think “happy.” On your third in breath think “May they be”, and on the out breath think “healthy.” On your fourth in breath think “May they be”, and on the out breath think “content.”
Since commitment is a decision, it is more under our control. Often we think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but the grass is greener where you water it. We are all fooled by the artificial beauty and illusions of wild romances. These are fantasies, and not realities. The reality is that beauty and ugliness is in the eyes of the beholder, and is molded and shape by modern consumerist culture. Don’t be fooled.
Commitment means keeping your word, it means putting others before yourself.Commitment involves self-discipline and inward integrity. And these all come back down to, “Do onto others as you want them to do onto you.” Or better, don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself.
The enemy of love is not hate, it is selfishness. We can easily go from loving someone to hating them, but moving from selfishness to unselfishness is not so easy. Selfishness is when we put our interests above others. This is the way of the world, but it is very unspiritual. Growing up means leaving the stage of independence to the maturity of interdependence. We need each other.
The recipe for love is equal parts intimacy, affection, and commitment. These are things that can be nurtured and fostered by a spiritual practice. Becoming aware of other people’s invitations to connect, practicing lovingkindness meditation, and making a decision to be true to our ethical commitments is the beginning of cooking love. Top it off with a generous dose of wisdom and compassion and you have a nourishing meal of happiness.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.