Linda: In the following story, you can see that being aware of how we give and receive can make a huge difference. For an exchange to work, the receiver has to consciously make room to receive what is needed, welcome fully what is actually available in the present, and feel the gratitude that appears when one receives deeply. This way of consciously receiving inspires the giver to gather, offer, aim, and release to the other the fullness of whatever he or she has to give.
Antra: One evening early in our relationship, Rich was working on his doctoral thesis. He was seated at his desk, deeply absorbed in writing, when I came over and asked in an anxious tone, “Do you love me?”
Rich: Antra’s question annoyed me. I felt interrupted, and I didn’t understand what she wanted from me. I was not able to switch from what I was doing to tell her genuinely that I loved her. I felt put on the spot. Fortunately I was sufficiently aware to see that her question “Do you love me?” was actually a request for some loving attention.
Antra: He asked me, “Are you needing some love right now?” I thought about this for a moment and then, with some embarrassment and awkwardness, answered, “Yes, I’m needing some love right now.”
Rich: So I asked her another question: “Are you ready to receive some love right now?”
Antra: I looked inside myself and saw that I was experiencing a lot of anxiety, and that I actually wasn’t ready to take anything in. So I said, “To tell you the truth, I’m not ready to receive your love.”
Rich: So I asked her, “Could you make yourself ready?”
Antra: I took a few moments, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and opened up a space of greater receptivity inside myself. Then I heard Rich gently asking me to open my eyes when I was ready. When I opened them, we were both open and available to each other.
Rich: The way Antra looked at me when she opened her eyes was irresistible.
Antra: With his whole heart, Rich said, “I love you.” I was able to fully take it in and let myself be fed by his love. It was completely nourishing.
George Valliant, a highly respected researcher from Harvard emphasizes the capacity to be loved, and points out that among all the strengths that an individual might have, that the capacity to be loved is the “Queen of the Strengths.” When we are conscious of how we give and receive, then everything that is shared, no matter whether it is positive or negative, feels like a great gift. We can find our way out of anything because we have faith that everything is workable, and that whatever happens is all grist for the mill.
One major challenge for couples is to see how they can offer their pain and anger to each other in a way that lets them connect, rather than disconnect. And when you distill love down to its essence, it is simply attention. Our love is renewed by consciously and skillfully giving and receiving attention. We come to understand that the quality of the attention we give and receive is what determines the level of fulfillment, connection, and love that we experience with each other. To have a terrific relationship, it is necessary to be generous of spirit to give love abundantly. And it is a secret of great relationships to become a most gracious receiver as well.
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