The A's of Love
A few weeks ago in this space, I speculated about a couple books written by David Richo. I bought one: How to be an Adult in Relationships. I'm glad I did. It's a delightful blend of east and west, psychology and spirituality. In the first chapters, he discusses five keys to mindful loving: Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection and Allowing. He calls them "graces of love." (p. 28)
For any of us to develop a healthy sense of self, we need to receive these five A's. "Attention from others leads to self-respect. Acceptance engenders a sense of being inherently a good person. Appreciation generates a sense of self-worth. Affection makes us feel lovable. Allowing gives us the freedom to pursue our own deepest needs, values and wishes…That tender and ever so gingerly ventured bid to be loved is precisely what makes us humans so lovable" (p. 27)
For most of us as we develop, we receive the five A's imperfectly from parents. To the degree that our childhood needs go unmet (and they always go unmet to some degree), we enter romantic relationships from a stance of hunger, looking to our partners for fulfillment. Here are some quotes I found interesting.
"The perfect partner is the mirage we see after crossing the desert of insufficient love." (p.25)
"The recurrent fantasy, or search for, the 'perfect partner' is a strong signal from our psyche that we have work to do on ourselves. For a healthy adult, there is no such thing as a perfect partner … A relationship cannot be expected to fulfill all our needs; it only shows them to us and makes a modest contribution to their fulfillment." (p. 25)
"Moderate is the key word for giving and for receiving the five A's. A nonstop flow of them would be quite annoying, even to an infant. Our fantasy mindset makes us long for just what we would soon flee. Hence, what seems like an unsatisfactory compromise is actually the adult's best deal." (p. 25-26)
"In healthy intimate relationships we do not seek more than 25 percent of our nurturance from a partner." (p. 22)
"In full maturity we do not demand perfection at all, only notice reality. We access our resources within. A partner who cooperates in that is a gift but no longer a necessity. The five A's begin as needs to be fulfilled by our parents, then become needs to be fulfilled by our partners, and someday become gifts we give to others and to the world." (p.27)
Richo strikes a nice balance here. We can't kiss our own foreheads. We all need to receive the five A's from outside ourselves in order to internalize a healthy sense of self. If, however, in our hunger for the A's, we romanticize love and attempt to get all our needs met by a single soul mate, we choke the flow of love we seek.
The psychological path to an adult self requires that we find nourishment in a number of different places and that we grow to become reliable sources of sustenance for ourselves and others. Along the way, we discover that, when we give, we have.
The spiritual path to full maturity requires that we consciously release ourselves into a larger flow of love – the heartbeat of the universe. And then we know: giving and receiving are one.