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With so many things in the world that we consume depicting unhealthy, and sometimes downright abusive relationships as the pinnacle of romance (looking at you 50 Shades of Gray) it is important to examine how we are loving, and why we love the people we do. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we love from a place of selfishness, and it is important to examine ourselves and break poor habits. This is undoubtedly true when it will also affect another person—we are rarely ever only responsible for ourselves.
While there are many signs that you are being abusive, or are in an abusive relationship, we don't really talk about what loving selfishly is. In the following few points, I would like to examine some ways to prevent ourselves from loving selfishly, or to identify that we are being loved selfishly, so that we can fix what needs it, or walk away if that is what is needed. But first let's talk about what I mean when I say "selfish love."
What I mean is loving someone for something that has nothing to do with them as a person. For example, if someone asks you why you love someone, is your answer about something they do for you? Or is it about them as a person? Their character, and who they are as an individual? If it was the former, you might be loving selfishly without knowing it. Here are five things you can do to examine your relationship and find out if you are involved in a selfish love.
As always, I am not a medical or psychiatric professional, these are based on my experiences and observations, and this list is not exhaustive. If you are in a situation that involves domestic abuse, please do not stay, place a call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (US) 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) today. Don't wait.
1. Make a list, check it twice.
Take 15 minutes out of your day and write down all the reasons you love your counterpart. Please note this is not just for romantic partners. You can apply this list to friendships as well. Don't hold back, free write your list. Anything that pops into your head. When you are done you should have anything from 1 thing to 100 things. Now read the list, and remove all the things that only have to do with you. We will revisit them later. So anything that says, "Because of how they make me feel" or "They make me smile" place them to the side. Look at your list now. Is there anything left? If you have more than five things on the list after you remove the things that are about you, you're probably doing alright. If not, then you will. Let's look at the ones we placed to the side. Instead of saying "How they make me feel" say something that is centric to them. So something like this, "Their attentive nature" or "They have a fantastic sense of humor." "They put others first," "They love freely." Remove yourself from the situation and focus only on them, not forever, and really not even outside of this list, but it is easy to forget that love is two sided, and we need to consider more than just ourselves when we are thinking about how and why we fall in love, romantic or otherwise.
2. Bask in the flames.
We all find connections in commonality, and there is something to be said about that. However, where we truly love in an unselfish manner is when we take an act of interest in the things we do not share passion for. Is your significant other or friend really into something you know nothing about or don't care about? That is perfectly healthy. What isn't ok is tuning them out when they talk about it. They are talking to you about it because they love whatever it is, and also you, and want to share it with you. Adversely, don't let them tune you out when you are talking about your passions. I don't like MOBA games, but when I was with someone who was really into them, I let them talk to me about it, and while I now have a bunch of knowledge about DOTA that I will never ever use, I listened, because they cared about it and I cared about them. It's important, and your person will be happier to speak to you about other things more openly, if you allow them to speak to you about the things that excite them without judgement.
3. Look with your eyes and your hands.
There are more ways to engage with someone than through your words. Take a minute, take five, if you can spare them, and look at the person who is taking up space in your heart and see them like they were brand new. Walk your eyes down the curve of their face, the sweep of their neck, the folds of their hands. Reach out and place a hand over their heart beat, and make sure that there is room for you in there. That the home they made for you is still intact. Gaze upon them with intention, with wonder and awe. Touch their face. See their smile. Notice the differences between how they looked when you met and how they look now. Ask yourself if you noticed the change as it was happening or if you are just noticing it now. The slide of your hand down an unclothed arm can make all the difference when it comes to connecting. This observation is not sexual, no. It is honest. It is where you find the truth that your soul whispers to your mind. Your mind sometimes is just too occupied to hear it. Ask yourself as you look if you deserve them. Ask yourself if they deserve you back. In order to love selflessly, you must selfishly take these moments to observe, to rediscover, and to discover anew.
4. Watch your mouth.
It is easy as humans become comfortable with each other to become loose with your speech. You must remember at all times that your words are bullets in the gun that your mouth can be. Do not forget to keep the safety on. Do not forget never to pull the trigger unless you are aiming to slaughter. An offhand remark can kill. When you are speaking to the one you love, take care of their heart as you would have them take care of yours. Do not lie, that is not helpful to anyone. But proceed with the mindfulness that if you are not careful you could destroy everything you have worked so hard for. Treat language as a conduit for love, and nothing more. Treat your voice as though it were a blade. A scalpel can aid in healing as much as it can end a life.
5. Let the moment linger.
Do not be eager to part, to do the chores, to get to work. Don't neglect these things, but stay just a moment longer. If you are aiming to love a lover less selfishly, when your coupling has ended, do not get up right away. Touch, enjoy the heightened sensation that release brings. Look at them, see if they look back. A gentle touch in passing, a hand left to linger on a shoulder can change the tide of a day. Make eye contact that lasts. Revel in togetherness for as long as you can. Feel your connection to this person as a real and tangible thing. Swim in the depths of your dual paths until your fingers get wrinkled. Saturate your day with embraces, with kisses in stolen moments, with an inside joke. Understand that just as you have let this person share in you, they are letting you share in them. Feel things, experience them, and don't be too eager to jump to the next item that requires your attention. Life is a finite resource, and if you think too much on what must be done and not enough on what you are doing you will lose something more vital than just your time.
I hope you have found this list to be helpful. People are not exploitable resources, be careful with the hearts other people place in your hands, and be cautious about who you hand yours over to.